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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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