Updated: Dec 1, 2020
One thing that many of us are encouraged to do from a young age is to fight for what we want. Although this is a good lesson in so much as it gifts us resilience and the tenacity to not give up, it also embeds a principle of not letting go. Letting go is as much a fundamental human necessity as the ability to fight. We need both functionalities.
I, like many of you reading this, remember cramming around on rope swings as a kid. Our neighbourhood swing was crudely hung from a tree in our local woods, it was frayed and somewhat precarious looking. It was only a few feet from the ground, but I distinctly remember hanging on to it for dear life, suffering rope burns, blisters and that feeling in my ribs, as if I was being torturous pulled on a medieval rack, all in an effort to avoid the small and (in reality) marginally uncomfortable drop to solid ground when I eventually let go. We do this in life, holding onto what is painful and that which causes us harm, usually through fear of the unknown. This is because pain may often seem more comfortable than the unfamiliar and because our focus is on what we could lose and not on the things that we could gain by letting go.
There are many facets of our lives that we hold onto in this manner. These could be painful memories, beliefs of self, relationships, grudges, replayed scenarios, jobs or even sentimental objects. The one thing that they all hold in common is that although they were bought to our lives by circumstance, holding onto them is a choice.
If you find that you are holding onto something or someone that is causing you grief & pain, and you are looking for ways to consciously move forward into a new healthier way of being, then here are a few tips for you.
Recognition is usually the first step to any plan. Part of this is acknowledging the truth of your situation and/or the people involved and recognising what is healthy for you in moving forward. It may also be recognition that you want to evolve or have evolved and no longer feel comfortable with life as it currently is. Either way, ask yourself if the aspect of your life in question, is fulfilling your needs, making you happy or serves a purpose in any way. Then consider if releasing yourself from these ties, would be more beneficial.
Sometimes our rose tinted spectacles, blur the reality of our situations, so be mindful of thoughts such as “it will get better”, “it may change with time”, are these realities, or stories that you tell yourself to keep you within your comfort zone?
It doesn’t have to mean complete elimination
Letting go does not have to be an all or nothing approach, although there are some instances where this may be beneficial. Letting go can be a release of expectation, attachment or the significance we place on a person, situation or memory. It can be a resolution to create distance as opposed to eliminate completely.
Letting go is not the same as giving up
Letting go is releasing old habits, ways of thinking, beliefs, relationships and situations, that no longer serve you. There is a subtle differentiation in the empowered choice of letting go and the defeat of giving up. With this point, it is worth noting that strength is not only a prerequisite for fighting but also for knowing when it is time to let go.
Letting people go
Many times, letting go involves partners, friends and family members. This is a delicate subject and one that should really be explored on an individual basis, however, there are times we hold onto people that have already let go of us. In these situations, our belief of self, our love and likability, can come into question. “what did I do wrong?” “why am I unlovable?”. In these situations, understand that you are worthy in your uniqueness, that it is your compatibility to another individual that is in question and not necessarily you or the other individual. However, it is THEIR inability to love/like/accept you as you are, that needs to be realised and let go of.
This can be especially difficult when it is a family member, increasingly so if it is a parent. The need of a child to be loved and accepted by a parent, can have devastating consequences if this need is unmet. In these situations, understanding that your worth/lovablity is not defined through the eyes of another (not even a parent), but defined by the way we accept ourselves. In accepting ourselves and being authentic to who and what we are, we have a far greater chance of meeting our “tribe” and detaching ourselves from those who cannot embrace our worth.
"I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped."
(Fritz Perls, "Gestalt Therapy Verbatim", 1969)
Dial out those judgmental messages
Guilt is a doozy ain’t it!? That little gremlin that feeds our internal dialogue, telling us any act of self-care is selfishness. Staying in a situation, relationship or with a set of limiting beliefs that is causing untold hurt, is self-harm. Therefore, the antithesis will always be self-care not selfishness. Let go of both the internal and external messages of judgement and do what nurtures your growth and happiness.
Know its normal and natural to fall apart before you rebuild
Letting go can be messy. We are hardwired to follow the path of least resistance, therefore if letting go seemed like the path of least resistance we would choose it every time. The truth is, it can turn our world upside down and spur emotional and behavioural changes that are difficult to deal with or adapt to. When this fear overcomes you, remember it is equally tiring, emotional and messy, living a life that feels unhappy, lonely or tumultuous. Stay resolute to your long term ideal and ensure that you have adequate support in place throughout the process if needed.
Few things in our lives are static. The world and people around us are constantly changing, evolving and sometimes we outgrow the pot in which we plant ourselves. In the situations where we no longer feel comfort, consider whether you have created a sanctuary or a prison for yourself and remember either way YOU hold the key to change.