We all have to let go of something or someone at some point in our lives. In fact, I have come to realize that letting go can be described as a regular activity. When we were young, we might have had to let go of a pet. I remember going through this process when our dogs died (not all at the same time, thank God). I may not have thought of it as letting go back then, but it is what it is.
Sometimes, letting go is all about material things. Kids lose toys or break them. There is a kind of letting go in that process.
As teenagers, we let go of relationships – both the platonic and romantic kind. As young adults and young professionals, we might have had to let go of dreams: a promotion, a job that we’ve always wanted, partners, and so on.
Letting go is part of life. There is no going around it.
I recently read this article title “7 Ways to Let Go”1, and for anyone who is in the process of letting go of something/someone, it can help you get through this difficult time. It might not make the pain go away. I sincerely doubt it will. But it just might help you visualize the larger picture. In doing so, you might be able to actually learn from your circumstances, and avoid even more pain later on down the road.
- Live in the present. This is an oft-shelled out piece of advice. I can’t remember how many times I have been told “Live in the now”. I can’t remember how many times I have told others (and myself) the same thing. I think it is used a lot for a reason. There really is no way to bring the past back, and there is no way to ascertain the future. The only thing that you have is the now. More importantly, we have to realize that what we do now will affect the future.
But how exactly does one live in the present? It is, after all, so easy to say to someone, “Focus on the now.” When it all comes down, though, how do you actually do that? I am no expert – quite far from that – but I have learned to take things one step at a time, literally one minute at a time.
I believe that one of the biggest hindrances to living in the present is to keep badgering yourself with thoughts of “What if…?” Whatever it is that you are letting go of, you can only really let go of it on a constant basis, minute by minute in the beginning. Tell yourself: “For the next minute, I will focus on what I have to do and not dwell on [what I have to let go of].”
After a while, that minute can be replaced by an hour, two hours, today…Before you know it, you will be so used to focus on the present and not dwelling on the past nor the future. Sure, it will require great effort in the beginning. It might take days, weeks, even months for some, but the effort is well worth it.
- Trust the process. I have come to dislike this word: process. I know it is necessary, but with all the processes I have had to go through – my fault, I know – in the past years, it just gets old. Again, there is no going around it, though. If we do not go through the process of grieving, hurting, and eventually letting go, some issue or another will only return to bite us in the butt. Trust me. Been there, done that. No, I don’t have a t-shirt. Only seemingly endless days of pain and depression. This time, though, I do know enough to trust the process.
To add to this whole hoopla about going through the process of healing and trusting it to work out for you, I have to mention another thing we need to trust in: God. Some of you may not be big on God and faith, but since I am only drawing on my personal experience, it is all I have to offer. During the darkest times of letting go, there is one thing I can trust fully: God and his promise to heal the brokenhearted. You may want to think of it as the Universe, or your Higher Power. Whatever you choose to think, the idea is the same: you trust in an all-knowing Being who has your best interests at heart. And you know, this will get you through the toughest of times.
Another critical thing about the process is getting the timing right. As the author of the list says, if you let go too soon, you will not heal completely. That’s exactly what I was saying earlier. On the other hand, if you dwell for too long, you will only make it more painful when you could have moved on earlier.
- Expect regression. This is the reality. There will be days that you will feel like you’ve totally let go. Those days will feel good. You’ll feel empowered. However, there will also be days when you just can’t seem to get out of bed, when you feel like pain personified the entire day. The highs – and lows – can last for hours or days. The trick is in knowing that the lows will come, and that you have to ride them out.
When you feel the pain of your loss, just let it wash over you. Embrace the pain. That’s part of the process. Do not suppress it. Give yourself time to grieve. Over time – yes, it’s that word again – the lows will become less frequent and less intense. It may not seem possible right now, but it is reality.
- Lose control. Aside from “the process”, this concept is probably the hardest for me. I know that I like to have control over everything that happens in my life. I have made the mistake of trying to control situations, even people. The results have been disastrous, but sometimes, I still make the same mistake. At least now, I am aware of this problem, and this point reminds me that losing control is necessary. After all, there really are things in life over which we have no control. And yes, that includes the people in our lives.
I think losing control in this sense is not all about going raving mad. Instead, losing control simply means that you accept that there are things in life that you cannot do anything about. Easier said than done, but again, it is the truth.
- Make room. I can’t explain this better than the author of the list did.
My mom had a rule growing up that for every article of clothing that came into the house, one had to go out. The result was that my childhood closet didn’t look like my bedroom closet today. It was a tad tidier … a tad. This exercise was a simple ritual of making room for something new. If we can see the letting-go process as a transition to a new beginning, one full of potential and prospects–much like getting a nursery ready for a baby– then we can shift some of our energy and concentration from loss to opportunity. As Joseph Campbell says, “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.”
Isn’t that just beautiful?
- Break up the pain. This is one of the most practical things that we can all benefit from. As I said earlier, there are times when the pain becomes overwhelming. Why not try to break it up? There are cycles in pain anyway. There are periods when the pain is so intense that you feel it physically. There are periods when it’s “just” a dull ache. Break up those episodes and recognize them for what they are. Not all that you experience will make you double over in pain.
- Identify false beliefs. I suppose, as the author said, this applies most to those who are letting go of toxic relationships. I’ll let her do the explaining once again as I totally agree with her insights.
Inevitably we hang on to false beliefs about the person or about the relationship that impede the detachment process. In the past, when I’ve had to let go of an important friendship, I remind myself to focus on the facts, not the feelings. Her actions communicated a very clear message, even if I don’t want to accept that. At one point, I would write down the events so that I wouldn’t forget the hurt I felt when she would come back around and want to be my friend again.
Even though we may not want to focus on the “bad”, there may be times when we need to be realistic and see the situation for what it is. Even though you may want something/someone so bad, if the relationship does not allow both of you to grow and be happy, then you have to look at the underlying reasons. Just because you and another person do not work well together does not mean either of you is bad. It just means you don’t gel on certain levels. Accept that. Don’t romanticize things. You’ll find it easier to let go then.
At the end of the day, letting go is a decision. You can read that list over and over again till you memorize every single word. If you do not decide to let go, however, then you will simply find yourself in a complex web of hurt. You’ll get stuck and not enjoy what life has waiting for you.
Yes, it is difficult. Even when you have made the decision, the daily process will not be easy. If you stick to your guns, though, you will reap the benefits in the long run. What better time to start letting go of whatever it is that you have to let go of than now?