Letting Go: How to Master the Art

Letting Go: How to Master the Art

We humans know how to fight for the things that are important. We fight for relationships, for people, for jobs, for things to stay the same. But here’s the thing – they don’t always fight as hard to hold on to us. One of the greatest sources of hurt is holding on to things that are trying to let go of us. The harder we hold on, the more it hurts. The problem with this is that we have nothing free to grab the things that will be good for us when they come our way.

If you’re in the midst of a knock down, you will get through, but first you have to release your grip on whatever it is that’s holding you back. You can’t know the possibilities that lie ahead until you open up to the world and let it show you – which it will.

Think of it like being in a boat that’s sinking. You know you have to let go of something but you can’t. You won’t. If you’re honest, you know that the things that are heavying you are dead weights, but you do remember a time, once, when it felt good to have them around. That was a while ago though and now you can’t actually remember the last time they brought you joy – real joy that you could relax into because you knew there was plenty there. Meanwhile, your boat keeps sinking and with all of that weight on board, there’s no way it’s moving any closer to land.

I could tell you the heartache and sadness that comes with letting go is part of your ‘journey’ (though I won’t because I actually hate that word when it’s used like that). I could tell you that the lessons you’ll learn will set on track for the life you deserve. I could tell you all of that, and it would be true, but I also know from having been brought to my knees before, that none of that seems to matter when your knuckles are turning white from holding on.

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Here’s what I also know about letting go. The most terrifying part is just before you loosen your grip. Once you let go, momentum will take over. For a while it might be bumpy, but that’s all part of the re-align. Once you’ve made the move away from the things that are hurting you, the things that will be good for you will find you. It might take time but it will happen. It can’t help but be that way – we’re all wired for balance and have everything we need for that inside us. Here’s how to stay strong during the let-go.

  1. Make the decision.

    The hardest thing about letting go is making the decision and feeling okay about it. The ‘what-if’s’ will kill you and talk you into tightening your grip every time. That doesn’t mean they’re right. Set a time limit (‘If I’m still unhappy in six weeks …’) or a condition limit (‘If this happens one more time …’).  There are some questions to ask yourself to sure up your resolve:

    •   Do I feel bad more than I feel good? If yes, it’s time to let go.

    •   What has to change for me to feel happy and secure? Have I ever seen this before?

    •   Is this person, job, relationship is capable of giving me what I need?

    •   What do I get from staying? Is it something real? Or something long gone. When was the last time I got this?

  2. Change ‘Can’t’ to ‘Won’t’. 

    There’s a difference between giving up and knowing when to let go. Giving up is ‘I can’t’. Letting go is, ‘I won’t.’ The difference is subtle in sound but enormous in impact. Giving up comes from a place of defeat. ‘I don’t have the capacity or the ability to do this. I’m spent.’ Letting go, on the other hand, comes from a position of strength. It’s a decision to cut yourself from the things that weigh you down. Fight for them, and fight hard, but know when to stop.

  3. You’re not doing something wrong. You’re doing something brave.

    If you’re questioning whether or not to let go of something that’s been there a while, it might feel risky and it might feel wrong. It might even feel selfish. But it’s not any of those things. It’s brave. Really brave. If you’re at the point where you’re hanging on to something that doesn’t feel right any more, or that’s hurting you, one of the bravest and strongest things you can do is to listen to that, especially in the face of the clamour that keeps giving you reasons to hang on tighter. There’ll probably be a few of those reasons, but that doesn’t make them good ones.  It probably makes them habits – and you don’t want to ruin yourself over a habit. 

  4. Know what’s stopping you. Then move it along.

    What’s holding you back from letting go? Are they your reasons or someone else’s? If you’re stopping yourself from letting go because of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ and ‘what will they think’, stop right there. Some people will might have a problem with you letting go and moving on, it’s true, but it’s most likely because you’re doing something that they themselves are too scared to do. Taking flight by letting go of the things that weigh you down can have a way of triggering those who are weighed down themselves. But don’t let that stop you. When you’re flourishing there’ll be nothing left for them to say. For the most part, people tend to be generous and want to see others happy. They either won’t care at all about what you do, or they’ll have great respect for your courage and will be willing you on.

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  5. The three choices.

    If you’re unhappy, you have three options:

    •   change what you need (sometimes that means letting go of expectations – not always easy to do);

    •   change the environment in which you’re trying to have your need met (either by leaving the one you’re in or by looking elsewhere); or

    •   accept that you just won’t be happy (but be honest – can you really live like that?).

    That’s it. There’s no other options. The only person who can make that decision is you. If you’re at the point where you feel unhappy more than you feel happy, it’s likely that one option will be a stand out. Make the decision that your days of wishing for more than you have are over and decide that nobody will limit you. If you’re not getting what you need where you are, the only way to change that is to move on. And that’s completely okay.

  6. Don’t expect change.

    Your best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Though people change over time, they change according to their own path, not someone else’s. People can change but only if it comes from them. If it comes from you, it will be temporary. The energy it takes for anybody to change is enormous and can’t be sustained long term unless the motivation comes from within.

  7. It’s okay to fall apart for a while. It really is.

    Letting go can feel like rubbish – not always – but mostly. If it was easy to let go you would have done it ages ago, and it wouldn’t have felt like a letting go, it would have felt like a ‘transition’. Accept that the road might get bumpy for a while but that’s not a sign to turn back. Sometimes the only way through is straight through the middle.

  8. Trust that you’ll be okay. Because you will be.

    We’re wired for survival, both emotional and physical. When we hang on so tightly to something the energy we could be using to move forward is stuck with the job of hanging on. Once you let go, that energy that was holding you back will start to move you forward. It might not feel like that for a while – letting go can be hard – but trust the process and remember the reasons you made the decision. Good days are coming, and you will see soon enough why your brave move was such a good one for you.

  9. What you’re scared of is already with you.

    We hang on because we’re scared of what might happen. If you’re hanging on to something that is trying to let go of you, it’s like that you’re already feeling something like what you’re scared of feeling if you let go. Fighting to keep something that’s not fighting to keep you is a sad, lonely, insecure and frightening place to be. You’re most likely already feeling the very things you’re scared of feeling. The difference is that you can’t do anything about it because rather than being able to use your energy to regain balance and move forward, you’re using it to maintain a status quo that probably doesn’t deserve to be maintained.

  10. Let go, and let the momentum take over.

    Hanging on is all about resistance. Let go and you’ll initiate a momentum towards rebalance. It might take a while, and it might get worse before it gets better, but there are new possibilities waiting for you when you are ready to be open to them.

  11. Have an anchor.

    Often when you let go, you’ll remember things as being better than they were. What the strongest evidence you’ve had that it’s time to let go? Was it a conversation, a feeling, a(nother) disappointment? Remember that. Hang on t it and remember it every time you feel the pull to hang on again.

  12. Cry. Go on. It’s good for you.

    Research by Dr William Frey PhD, a biochemist at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis found that tears of sadness contained stress hormones and other toxins that build up during stress. Other studies suggest that crying encourages endorphins, the body’s natural ‘feel good’ hormones. Reflex tears, on the other hand are 98% water.

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  13. Feel it fully.

    You’re going to feel sad, angry, maybe confused or scared. Whatever it is that’s in you, has to come out of you. Feel what you’re feeling fully. Put it on paper. Have a cry in the shower. Turn up the music and let it out. Do what you need to do to release the energy. Then you can move forward.

  14. What can you learn?

    About yourself, your expectations, the people who are good for you and the ones who don’t work so well. No experience is ever wasted. Learning from your experience is the best way to make sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes, find yourself in the same type of relationships or around the same sort of people. With the learning will come closure and movement forwards.

We’re all here to grow and flourish and we all deserve to be happy. Having to let go of things that were once important is part of life – a painful part, but normal nonetheless. None of us stay the same. We grow constantly. That doesn’t mean that everything in our lives will grow in the same direction or at the same rate.

Letting go is one of the hardest, but one of the bravest things we can do. With everything we leave behind, there is so much more waiting ahead. Be able to be ready with open arms when it comes.

(Photo Credit: Unsplash | Chelsea Francis)

54 Comments

Lauren

I have walked away from a abusive man three or four months ago . He broke me . Abuse was physical and emotional and I didn’t get the feeling everyone expected me to have walking away, I didn’t feel relieved yet I know I was brave and made the right decision. I am still in touch with this man, I don’t have the strength to completely let it go , block him and heal. I still love him and I feel so weak for it and I feel like my “ brave decision “ is a lie , a cheat. I am fully aware of the reasons why I had to leave, and how toxic is that person, he proved it and still does. We aren’t together anymore, yet not fully rid of each other , and I’m sure he’s feeling so in control. I wished the mind and reason were aligned with the heart ….I keep hoping I will heal one day and be able to close all contact and feel happy again . This blog helps so thank you

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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