Most of us struggle with letting go, not because we really needed that thing (relationship, situation, job, environment, behavior, etc.) in our lives, but because the concept of letting go is so overwhelming.
We know we have to “let go” of things that are not good for us, but aren’t quite sure what it means to let go, if we are ready, when we’ll be ready, the consequences, or even how to go about doing it. The idea of letting go sounds like something we have to do physically, emotionally, and simultaneously. But the truth is, it doesn’t happen overnight.
We may imagine letting go to mean having to cut our ties, burn bridges, and run away as fast and as far away as possible, “then everything will be alright…” Sometimes we might even think that letting go means completely giving up on our goals, ambitions, hopes, dreams, or precious relationships. We may even see “letting go” as denying the importance of that person/place/thing in our life. Seeing “letting go” in this way is overwhelming, to say the least, and very unattractive. Letting go on those terms makes sitting in our discomfort far more appealing. Fortunately, letting go is none of that. It might help to understand what letting go really entails, and how to do it effectively (or at least less painfully).
You see, we often see the thing in front of us as the cause of our unhappiness, and thus jump to the conclusion that it must be immediately removed from our lives in order for us to be happy. I’ve seen two extremes: some will stay in that place that we believe causes us a great deal of unhappiness, thinking there is no way out of it, so we might as well suck it up. And some will completely escape the situation because they believe there is no way to find happiness in that given situation.
Eight months ago, my husband left me. For some reason, I really thought that he would be nicer, given that his new life was free from all the things he said he hated about me. He blamed me for making him so angry. Surprisingly, even after 8 months apart, his anger has worsened. He became more verbally abusive. He lashed out more often. He blamed me for even more things (crazy random things like his cell phone not working). His attitude and words were filled with such hatred and, I have to admit, every word he said felt like it was a spear lunged into my heart and laced with poison. My heart hurt for a long time. I thought, “What did I do to deserve this? Why is he causing me so much grief? When will he finally stop hurting me and let me be happy…?” Even ignoring him didn’t stop the attacks.
I lost a lot of sleep over every text he sent, every glare he gave me when picking up our son. After loving and caring for him for so many years, all he did was hurt me and hate me… I was truly unhappy. I tried being nicer, more generous. I spent countless hours going over our texts, wondering what I did or said that was so wrong, and planned how I would respond next time to elicit a better response. Maybe I could say or do something that resulted in him being more kind…more…loving?
What I thought was the cause of my unhappiness (his attitude and behavior), however, was actually not the cause at all. I had to dig deep, but really questioned myself. Why does what he say and do bother me so much? Why does it change the way I feel about myself? Why do I let this affect my health, and energy? Something had clearly triggered something much deeper inside of me, and I had to figure out what it was.
It took many months, and tons of therapy to realize that I was holding on to some kind of subconscious need inside of me for validation. I needed his reaction to me to validate my worth. What I really wanted to do was move to a different state so that I never had to see him ever again. I even considered quitting my job. I thought that my happiness depended on him changing.
I found that it is the letting go of THAT which makes letting go so hard. That thing inside us that says, without that changing, or without this condition, etc., I will suffer… I will be unhappy…my life is pointless… I thought I needed him to be a kind co-parent, for the sake of the kids, at minimum. But what it really was, was an unspoken need to be validated. To prove that I wasn’t a failure, a bad wife, or a bad mother. I rationalized my need for him to change by saying things like, “if he doesn’t change, he is setting a bad example to our child. So he MUST change. He MUST learn how to be kinder to me.” In reality, perhaps life would be better if he was more kind, less hateful and angry. Unfortunately, that’s just who he is and I don’t need him to change in order for me to feel good, or even confident, about my life, my value, and my future.
Letting go of that need drastically changed my life, my happiness, and how I saw him. After a while, it didn’t matter what he did or said. It was just him, doing his thing, and saying things that reflected, not me, but a really dark place in his heart that wasn’t ready or willing to heal. And perhaps it never will. And that is fine because my happiness doesn’t depend on it.
We hold on so tightly to that sense of identification we feel, or our attachment to the outcome that we become almost blind sighted from alternatives and positive solutions.
It is a great challenge, but one worth trying, to dig deep into what it is that we are really holding on to and why, and then…let it go.
What’s interesting is that once we finally do manage to let go, we realize that we never actually let go of the thing we thought we needed, but our attachment to it. Originally I thought I needed to let go of my husband being a real meanie, when in reality, all I needed to let go of was trying to define my value according to how he (or anyone else) treated me.