Have you ever had someone say to you "Let it go" or "Just move on" and it did not sit well with you? That is because you may not feel seen, heard, or understood by the other person. If you have been trying to move forward from a negative situation that causes you pain but you feel stuck, it can be hurtful or insulting to hear "Just let it go".
Letting go is very difficult because it is about the emotions and attachments tied to the painful experience in your memory. This is why it is not easy to simply let go. Emotions are ingrained in us. They are part of who we are. The more impact the memory has on us, the deeper the emotions and attachments.
We get attached to people, pets, relationships, events, items, and memories that provide a need or meet several of our needs. Additionally, we get attached to what matches our values. When the situation changes and our needs are not being met anymore, or we are being mistreated or abused (emotionally, mentally, or physically), or when something comes to an end, we are left with an attachment and a negative or painful experience. This is when life challenges us to either move forward, let go, or hold on. And even the most emotionally mature person can have difficulty letting go of a painful experience.
Letting go breeds resilience and emotional maturity. If you are in a place in your life where you need to let go but are struggling to do so, here are the steps I share with my clients on how to move forward and let go:
First, decide if you want to let go or if you want to hold on. You have to choose if you want to move forward.
Know there is no set timeline. This happens organically when you can release your emotions and attachments. So be gentle with yourself; this may take days, weeks, months, or years. It depends on how deep the attachment is and how strong the emotions are toward the situation.
If you have decided you want to move forward, think about what this person, relationship, pet, event, item, or memory means to you. What need or needs did it provide you? This explains why you got attached. Sometimes this can be difficult to identify but I help my clients work through it with a few important questions. Reach out if you are stuck.
Once you have identified the needs, think about how you are feeling. Are you feeling angry, sad, ashamed, guilty, or betrayed? Why do you feel this way? This links to your values.
Understanding all of this helps you to understand yourself, your reactions, your decisions, and your thoughts. Once you understand yourself and the situation, this helps you focus on what you can and can not control.
Next, identify the lessons you have learned and insights you have gained from the situation. This can be a difficult and painful step. And a humbling one. But it is also empowering as it helps you move forward. What is this teaching you? What can you change that is in your control?
The next step is Acceptance. This does not mean you approve of what happened. This means that you accept you can not change the past. What happened, happened. You know the needs it met, you know your values, you understand the lessons, and you have accepted the situation with all the emotions it caused. You are now ready to make peace with it.
***I want to acknowledge how difficult it is to accept something painful. I've been through a lot of adversity and loss. Sometimes it is very hard to embrace acceptance. For example, it took me years to accept the years of abuse, neglect, and trauma I experienced throughout my childhood. This was because I was not fully ready to accept. It is OK if it takes you years to reach acceptance.***
***You know you have reached the 'Acceptance' step when you no longer feel the same way about the situation. So think about it. Do you still feel angry? sad? ashamed? guilty? embarassed? If not, then you have successfully accepted and made peace with the memory. If you still feel the same way, you are still healing, and it may take you longer to complete this phase.***
8. Time to Surrender. And Let go. Once you have reached the Acceptance phase, you are ready to let go. Surrendering is so powerful. You are ready to let go of the emotions you felt; you have accepted the situation, and you are ready to feel differently about it. You may not feel happy, but when you reach this point, you should feel at peace. As mentioned above, when the memory comes up, you no longer feel the same emotions which means the attachment has been released. You have successfully let go!
Depending on your situation, as you work through the letting go process, you may have to set boundaries and limit contact with certain people and/or negative influences or situations. You may also want to find a trusted friend, family member, or therapist to support you through this process. Letting go is a journey that has its ups and downs, and having ongoing support will allow you to push through the difficult moments.
I've been through this process many times and have helped hundreds of clients through their journeys as well. Once you reach Acceptance and feel ready to Surrender, the peace you will experience at the other end is worth it!
I hope this helps someone out there. Reach out if you would like support in letting go.