Over the weekend, I received a request via my twitter from the lovely Lady Grinning Soul for some advice on how to let go of people, situations and relationships that are bad for us. It was a brilliant, timely idea; something we all struggle with, but ultimately something that we all have to do.
While I’m not Champion of Letting Go by any means, I do have some hard-won wisdom on the subject. I thought a lot about my own experiences as I wrote this, and I was reminded me of a few important things I’d forgotten. So not only was this cathartic, it was also really beneficial for me. I hope it helps you guys, too.
I credit most of my ability to let go to Al-Anon, which is a program for family members of alcoholics. One of their key tenets involves detaching with love, which is straight-up cutting emotional ties to the person who is hurting you. You have to take the focus off the other person’s problems and put it back on yourself. Obsessing over another person and their behaviour–whether that entails substance abuse, partying, flirting, cheating, neglect, general fuckery, whatever–is not love.
The essential truth here is that you are not responsible for the actions of anyone else. Within the context of a relationship, for instance, this means that it’s not up to you to make sure that your partner doesn’t go to the bar and make out with a stranger. Within the context of a recently ended relationship, this means it isn’t up to you to make sure that the other person is “alright,” and it certainly isn’t up to you to police their now you-free life. You can’t MAKE anyone else do (or stop doing) anything. You have to focus on what YOU can do and how YOU can live with dignity & self-respect. This means:
- Not suffering because of other people’s actions/inaction.
- Not letting yourself be used by someone else in the name of “helping.”
- Not doing for others what they can do for themselves.
- Not covering up or ignoring transgressions.
Al-Anon taught me that detaching isn’t kind nor unkind. It’s not a judgement or approval. It’s about separating yourself from the hurtful effects of someone else’s behaviour. This step back will help give you the distance to see the situation as it really is, not as you want it to be, and allow you to make better choices in the future.
You’ve detached. Well done. Now you have to choose to let go, and know right from the start what that will mean. It means the end. It means this is done. It means no late-night phone calls, no faux-concern where you’re really measuring how much better you’re doing, no explosive emotional purges six months from now. View it like a surgical cut; it’ll bleed in the moment, it’ll ache while it heals, but in the end it’s going to be better and you’ll have a cool scar to talk about.
There is a time for everything. Immediately after cutting ties with a relationship, no matter how bad, you will feel lost at sea. You’ll feel sore and confused and lonely, or maybe you’ll feel angry, or maybe you’ll just feel empty. This is fine! Express however you feel (or don’t feel)–talk to your friends, write in a journal, keep a private blog. Do this as much as you want for two weeks at the most, but longer than that and you run the risk of getting trapped. Don’t get stuck in a pain-rut. We’ve all done it: All you do is talk about how much you miss this relationship, which causes you to remember how much it hurt to be done with it, which causes more pain, which gets all bound up with painful memories of the person, and next thing you know you’re stuck in an endless cycle of hurt. To bring back the surgical cut simile, what you’re doing here is pulling at your stitches. It won’t change anything, it will just make you hurt worse for longer and push the day where you feel okay again further into the future.
There will be a time, though it probably seems distant right now, when you will feel okay again. It’s probably around this time that the person who wasn’t great for you will make an attempt to get back into your life. Say no. Why would you want to re-establish a relationship that has already proven to be toxic? You’re smarter and worth more than that.
This person may have been wonderful at one point. But as Mama Malice always says, when a person shows you who they are, BELIEVE THEM. You’ve taken distance and time to see the situation as it really was. Don’t put yourself back in it again. Trust in the fact that there are other people out there who will bring out the best in you, who will be kind and loving and good to you, who will build with you the kind of relationship you want. Don’t go back to the bad because of nostalgia or because it’s safe.
This is another play straight from the Al-Anon handbook. It’s probably the hardest one, but it’s truly essential. You have to accept what has happened, forgive the person and let go of the resentment. This sounds very gracious but it’s actually for you more than for the other person. Holding a grudge or hating someone will corrode you from the inside out; it has never once been beneficial. I know–God, do I know–that this can feel nigh impossible. It doesn’t help that the closer the person has been to you, the worse the hurt and the harder it is to forgive. It can take a long time to get here and that’s fine, but it has to be done.
This doesn’t mean that you forget everything that has happened and accept the person back into your life with open arms. If they’re bad for you, it’s best that you don’t. But you have to make peace with what happened, whatever it was, so that you can forgive the other person AND yourself. It’s an essential part of healing, letting go and moving on.
All of this healing and painful forgiving doesn’t mean anything if you turn around and stake your fortunes on the next jerkwagon that comes along. Everyone has patterns, but repeating them once you know they’re bad is futile and silly. Look at your own actions and see how you could do things differently. You can’t control anyone but yourself, so make sure that YOU are in control, not insecurities or childhood hurts or fear. That’s a wonderful, powerful thing. Embrace it.
What do you think? How do you let go of the bad things in your life? Any additional advice for the currently struggling?
Let me know in detail, I love hearing from you guys.