I have mixed feelings sitting down to write this post. My most recent loss still feels too fresh to allow out onto a page, but that, in a way, is why I wanted to write this post so early. I wanted to write from inside the storm, to be caught in the emotional whirlwind you might be in if you’re reading this. So, if you are trapped there, know we’re there together and that today, we’re going to learn how to let go.
Change is inevitable and without it we wouldn’t grow.
A volcano rains fire and creates destruction and loss, but its path leaves the land nourished and fertile – more apt for growth than it could have ever been before. It’s scary, but life would be mighty boring if nothing ever moved.
What we’ll talk about today is how to let go so that you can make space for that growth and move on, peacefully. And this will work for any kind of loss, it needn’t always be a person. It could also be a job, a habit, an era, an opportunity, a part of yourself, a home – anything. Loss takes many forms.
“To let go does not mean to get rid of. To let go means to let be. When we let be with compassion, things come and go on their own.” – Jack Kornfield
Never ignore your feelings
I’ve put this first because I can’t express how important this is. In any emotional situation, especially one with as much pain as loss brings, the most important thing to do is to feel your feelings. It sounds obvious, but suppressing and bottling our feelings is a very common defence against pain.
This defence can have many side effects. We end up teaching ourselves that it’s negative to feel. Eventually, this can extend even to good feelings, so that in the end, we feel nothing but numbness, and this limits our growth. Recognising and feeling your emotions is the only way to grow. Those are messages that need to be heard.
Every time we force the lid back on our emotional jar, it gets a little more full. Eventually it becomes so full that the lid doesn’t fit – the lid flies straight off and we find ourselves hit with the explosive force of long unfelt emotions.
So make sure you’re taking time to listen to your body. Talk it out with a friend or family member, write your feelings down, express them however suits you best, and see a professional if you need to. Learning to share and express your pain is the key first step in learning how to let go.
You are not your emotions, you just experience them
This is a tricky lesson to learn. Especially when we find ourselves in times of upset, it can be easy to spiral with our emotions. We attach tightly to them because, in times of change, our blazing emotions are the clearest, most consistent thing we have. When we’re at a loss, our emotions become a haven for us where we feel truly understood. And whilst, as I’ve said, feeling your emotions is of utmost importance, becoming them is not.
You experience your emotions, but you are not them.
Your emotions are real, but they are not reality.
Every emotion you feel is valid – every single one, every single time. But, it’s important to also stay in touch with what’s going on around you, to stay grounded and level-headed. It’s advice you’ll see again and again in this blog, but talking it out, writing or recording your feelings will help with this. Having to put your thoughts in order, to explain them, explore them, and even get a second opinion will help keep you on the straight and narrow.
Feel grief, not pity
I recently watched a fantastic little talk from Russell Brand (whose YouTube channel I highly recommend!), where he spoke about the difference between pity and grief. And I can put it no better than he did, “grief is a journey, pity is a destination”. Self-pity, whilst natural, isn’t sustainable for us, nor is it helpful.
When we fall into states of pity, we blame the world for having hurt us and reject all responsibility for the power we have in how we handle it. We may not have power over what in our life changes, but we do have power over our perspective which allows us to control how it changes us.
Somebody once told me that you must never let your pity party go on for longer than an hour – I live by that.
Focus on abundance
When things go wrong and we feel down in the dumps, we focus on the negatives – it’s only natural. We feel, so deeply, the loss in our lives that we concentrate on it, forgetting and dismissing the abundance of positives around us. So try to focus on that good – I promise you’ll find some.
Say you’re going through a breakup. Of course, you’re going to focus on the loss of that person. But also, around you, are all the other people in your life who you can now give more time to. You have opportunities that may not have been on the cards before. You have more time for hobbies, for learning about yourself, chances to meet new people.
Maybe it wasn’t how you wanted life to go, but it is how life is going. The good things start flowing when you realise that and start making the most of your new.
I recommend making a list of the positives around you, all the things you’ve learnt that you didn’t know before and when you can, all the things you’re grateful for – bonus points if you can include some of the things you’ve lost (eg. I’m grateful for all of the memories and lessons I experienced in that job, even though I don’t have it anymore). Keep this list on you and refer back to it whenever you feel lost or hopeless.
Reroute your energy
Looking at the list you’ve made, start doing little things to bring more of these things into your life. Take baby steps. Reach out to a friend, spend a little bit of time doing something you love, listen to your favourite music and when you get a little more energy, dance to it.
Keeping all your energy cooped up inside (you might feel like you have no energy at all, but these feelings can just make it numb – there’s always some there) can leave you feeling frustrated and restless. Finding somewhere positive to put this energy will help you start to feel better and connected to the world again.
Remember you’re still whole
When we lose things we held dear, it can feel as if a piece of ourselves has been lost too, but this isn’t true. The loss might cause us to change, but even still, we’re whole. We get to keep the memories of a time that was. We can still visit the person we were and the things we had in our mind. But even now, without them, you’re still you. Always.
Avoid playing the victim
Victimhood is difficult to speak about without belittling what someone’s going through. And it might be hard to hear, as victimhood makes people protective and overly alert for danger. But, almost always, we have a choice in our perspective and how we move forward. To me, that’s nothing but empowering.
Much like the pity parties we spoke about earlier, victim mindsets are comfortable because they allow us to believe we have no choice or ability to get ourselves out of the rut we’re in. We feel safe in our sadness, even righteous in it, we blame the world for hurting us and putting us there. And for a time, this might give us a break and let us process things thoroughly, but after a time, it becomes destructive. Sitting still will never get us out.
No matter the cause, you’re the only person who can heal you.
One of the ways we keep ourselves trapped in these mindsets is by fantasising – I do this, like a lot. We relish in faux-control by playing the situation, or alternative versions, out in our head over and over, framing the cause of our pain as the big baddy and ourselves as the protagonist. But this only encourages us to drag our feelings out, to elongate our suffering and to pretend, again, that there is nothing we can do but sit and watch.
Acknowledge these thoughts when you have them, but try to catch yourself with a gentle reminder that reality is as reality is. Write these thoughts down or share them with someone. Putting them out into the world makes it easier to stop them looping in our minds.
Learn to forgive
This is the most pivotal step in learning how to let go. Forgiveness can be really complicated. But it can also be really easy. I think, often, that it’s completely misunderstood. Forgiveness is not something you give to someone else for their benefit. It’s something you give to yourself. It’s how you free yourself.
Without forgiveness, you’ll hold onto harsh, cold emotions, resentment and destructive mindsets. You’ll carry that blame and anger with you into the future where it’ll continue to do more damage. That’s a heavy burden to carry.
Forgiveness isn’t an admission that anybody’s right or wrong – it is only the will to move on. In order to forgive, you need to tell the person, situation or whatever it is you’re forgiving, that you do. This doesn’t have to be direct, there are many situations where that likely isn’t best. For me (a not very vocal person), the best technique I’ve found is to write letters. This is the template I use:
- “Dear…” Make yourself write down exactly who or what this letter is to and try your best to picture it. Try to hold that picture in your mind throughout this process, it will help you attach everything you write to whatever you’re forgiving.
- “Thank you for…” Say thank you. Let it know that you’re grateful for any good it brought into your life and for everything it taught you. Get specific here, because this will help you become more compassionate towards it and help you release any regret or resentment you have.
- “I forgive you for…” Let it know exactly what you forgive it for and recognise that whatever you need to forgive exists. Sometimes things can hurt so much that we avoid ever really accepting that they exist – this will help you do that. Beyond just the situation, forgive it for not being able to be in your life anymore, forgive it for not meeting your expectations. Forgive it for absolutely everything.
- “And I forgive myself for…” – let it know that you also forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for anything you did. Forgive yourself for holding onto it, for having expectations, for any anger and resentment you may have shown. Forgiving yourself is just as important.
- “I hope that…” Say goodbye with good wishes for it in the future. Let it know that you hope it does well. If you can do this and really mean it, you know you’re walking away without any anger or resentment left. You’ll cement the distance you’re placing between you and walking away compassionate and most importantly, free.
When you’re done, you can do whatever you’d like with your letter. You might want to rewrite it later. Maybe keep it for a while as a reminder and get rid of it when you stop needing it. Be dramatic and burn it, just be careful! 🔥
Learning how to let go is a long-ass process. Whilst there’s much you can do to learn how to let go, it’s also in the hands of time. Go through the above as many times as you need to. If you walk away with anything today, let it be the reminder to stay compassionate and to remember that we’ll all be okay, no matter what. We’re in it together.
The only way is up. Love, Ella-Rose xx