We can’t let go of what we don’t fully own
“I keep thinking about this job I didn’t get, although I found another one. My friends tell me to let go.”
“If only we had met at the right time, Ben and I. I’m sure it would have worked. My sister says I should let go.”
“I just can’t let go of my resentment towards my dad.”
“I know I need to declutter my flat but every time I get ready to do it, I just can’t bring myself to let go of my old stuff.”
“I’ve tried really hard but nothing has worked. I keep myself busy and distracted. I’ve tried to just observe my thoughts, practising mindfulness. I just can’t seem to be able to let go no matter how much I try.”
You should let go. You must let go. It seems to be one of the most popular mantras of our age, but despite our best intentions and effort, it also seems to be one of the most difficult things to achieve. What is stopping us from letting go?
What would you say to someone telling you to just hold a violin and play a Mozart concerto? It’s absurd, isn’t it? It is just as absurd to tell someone they should just let go. Letting go is the end of a process, like playing Mozart on a violin. To play the violin, you first need to get familiar with the instrument, learn how to hold it, and so on and so forth. Another metaphor I also use with my clients is playing with a ball. You can’t throw the ball if you don’t first hold it firmly. The same applies with letting go. We need to fully explore and understand what is it that we want to let go of, and what is preventing us from letting go. We need to fully own what we want to let go of, and that can’t be rushed.
For instance, many clients feel stuck and can’t let go of resentment or anger that they're holding towards friends or family members. Anger is often (although not always) what we call a secondary emotion, which means that it covers up emotions we feel too vulnerable to experience. Together with a counsellor, they can explore these emotions, and also search for what would be at stake if they were to let go. What is it that they may lose after letting go, and how could that loss be approached? It might sound counterintuitive but we often are unable to let go because we are scared of what could come next after letting go. What we fear we may lose is not necessarily what appears more obvious. The sense of freedom coming from letting go can be very frightening if you’re not used to it.
There is always a reason why letting go can be elusive, and it is never because we’re stupid or lack willpower. If you find it difficult to let go, it is not because there’s something wrong with you. It’s because you’re a human being experiencing the complexity of being a human being, just like the rest of humanity. We often imagine that other people are better than us at letting go, and at many other tricky things life throws at us. Well, that’s a belief which might be worthwhile exploring and letting go of in its own time as well.
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