Learning To Let Go
We live in interesting times; pandemics, social distancing, uncertainty and fear of the future. Some of us have had lots of time off since we can't work, some have been doing lots of overtime as they're considered essential workers. No matter what you feel about what's going on in the world right now, I think it's safe to say that life will never be the same again. What's happening now really makes you stop and think about what's really important and what's worth your energy.
Being at home and limiting social and physical contact has been really hard for some. As I have hermit-like tendencies, I haven't found this part difficult at all. While I miss seeing some people (especially my parents and in laws, all of whom are elderly and at high risk), I've quite enjoyed the quiet downtime, getting back into reading, hiking, gardening, cooking and self-care. It's also allowed for a lot of introspection and realizations.
Maybe it's just because I'm older now, but I feel like my self-worth has increased. Not that I'm thinking I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread; more like finally realizing that my worth as a person, my feelings, thoughts and ideas, are just as worthy and important as everyone else's. When you spend most of your life trying to do and be everything for everyone else, you find you have little to no energy for yourself and your needs, and think "that's just the way it is." But really, in the end, how fulfilling is that, having spent your life living for others? I see it in many people and how living like that makes you feel drained, resentful, unappreciated and unimportant.
This is one of the reasons why it's important to learn to let go: let go of things that do not fulfill and sustain you; let go of old patterns of behaviour and ways of thinking that don't help you; let go of relationships that aren't healthy; let go of past sorrows and old things; let go of anything that isn't helping you to become a happier, healthier person.
Letting go is really hard; we tend to cling to things for "sentimental" reasons, to people that really don't have our best interests at heart, to ways of thinking, feeling and doing that don't uplift and help us because "that's how it's always been." Fear makes it hard to let go; we're afraid of what will happen if we lose something we think we need for our happiness and survival. Holding on is an ingrained habit, so much so that we may not realize we're doing it.
For some, things and material possessions are linked to their self-identity; a nice house, new car or the latest technology project an image of who they are or would like to be, so letting go of things for them is difficult. Some people love drama, wallowing in their emotions and the reactions they get out of others. Positive emotions are great, but negative ones get attention too which makes them feel good (just look at some of the things people post on social media to get sympathy and attention), so letting go of the constant need to seek validation outside of themselves is hard. It can all be a vicious cycle.
So how do we learn to let go? Let's look at a few ways:
Let go of the past: Hanging on to the hurt that someone caused you hinders our ability to heal and move on. Don't avoid your negative emotions; get them out and talk to someone you feel safe with, whether it's a friend or a counselor. If you can, create physical distance from the person or situation that makes you upset. Practice mindfulness and being present in the moment; when you think about a person who caused you pain, bring yourself back to the present and focus on something that you’re grateful for. Realize that in many situations, the person who mistreated you will never apologize and/or realize or even care about the hurt they have caused you. Dwelling on these things can rob us of our happiness, causing stress levels that can lead to serious health problems. Ask yourself, "Do I really want that person/situation to win and continue to affect me, or can I let go and move on?" The decision lies entirely with you.
Let go of things: I've had people tell me about Mari Kondo, who helps people declutter and get rid of things. She says things like, "If it doesn't bring you joy, there's no need to hold onto it." While that's all well and good, I can't say my underwear gives me joy, yet I have to have them anyways! Some people hang on to things for many reasons: sentimental reasons, because we don't want to seem wasteful, we feel like we might someday get around to using it, or we feel guilty about having spent money on it in the first place. You need to be in the right frame of mind to purge things, and I always find tackling one small area at a time to be the best. Start with easy stuff; gadgets you haven't used in years, old paperwork you no longer need, or stuff you didn't even remember you had. Then gradually move on to the harder, sentimental stuff. Ask yourself, "Why is this important to me?" Often, you will realize that your sentimental attachment to something can be fulfilled in other ways, such as calling or visiting the person it makes you think of more often. This also works to a certain extent for people who have passed away. Keep one thing of theirs that really speaks to you about that person, something that strongly brings back the good memories of them. You don't need a whole drawer full of stuff; celebrate their life, your love for them and everything they represent to you with one meaningful thing.
Let go of people: It may seem harsh, but sometimes it's better to let go of certain relationships. Some people may have changed in a way that has changed your relationship, and some people belong to a past which isn't about who you are now. Sometimes you have to let go of how you think that person/relationship should be; let go of the idea that you have control over other's actions. You can’t change another person, especially if they're unwilling to change, so don’t waste your time and energy trying. Accept that they are who they are and that maybe, who they are doesn't have a place in your life anymore. If possible, practice forgiveness, even when you feel that you’re the victim. You can't waste your life waiting for them to repair the damage they did to you. It is up to us to take responsibility for our own happiness; don’t wait for others to fix your life for you. Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” Surround yourself with those that fill you up with love, light and happiness and do the same for them.
Let go of the illusion of control: If you're a parent, you know that scary moment when you have to let go of your kid and let them explore the world on their own. It starts with their first step and keeps on even after they move out. Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former dean of freshmen at Stanford University, said, “Like every other mammal parent we need to raise offspring who can fend for themselves out in the world without us. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that our job as parents is actually to put ourselves out of a job.” You have to give up the illusion that you have control over how their lives will go; you can give them the tools to help them live their lives to the best of their ability, but what they do with that is entirely up to them. Other examples are bosses who micromanage their teams, people who keep grabbing control of conversations and situations, and those who stick to rigid rituals; they are all after a sense of control. During my ample free time at home during the pandemic, I was cleaning the house like mad. Then I realized that despite my best efforts, the fact that I live with my husband, my large dog and senile cat, the house will never be a spotless shrine to cleanliness and that's okay, because I can't control them or what they do, try as I might. Realizing that you don't have control over everything and being okay with that helps you to let go of things that just aren't worth your energy.
I know that letting go of things and people can be hard and often scary. I’ve had to let go of many things I thought I needed to survive, yet here I am, quite happy and still alive. Letting go gets easier with time and experience; once you realize how liberating it can be to let go of things, you’ll be able to let go before something or someone can cause you lasting harm. So loosen your hold, embrace freedom and learn to let go!