My best friend and I share the same struggle. There are those who can fall in love easily and just as easily let go. They let people come in and out of their lives all the time and move on rather quickly. Me and my best friend are not these kinds of people. We let a select few enter our hearts and then keep them there forever. She’s in the process of letting go of a toxic person who was in her life. When I asked her why she couldn’t let go and what she was holding on to, she said she feared she couldn’t replace him. She said that no one is replaceable.
I understood this too well, because one of the biggest problems I have is that I just can’t let people go, at least not those I really care about. Because it’s so difficult for me to let someone out of my life, I tend to push many people away before they have the chance to get close to me. What she said helped me examine my own fears whenever I’m trying to let go of someone. I think it’s important to ask what you’re holding on to, and what you’re afraid will happen if that person leaves your life. When I was in the process of moving on from my first love, I wrote a list of what I was afraid of:
“I’m afraid I won’t have that [happiness and love] again. I’m afraid of losing our connection. I’m afraid of never talking to him again. I’m afraid that we’ll never be friends. I’m afraid of never feeling how he made me feel. I’m afraid of not getting everything I want. I’m afraid I won’t be wanted, liked, or even loved. I’m afraid that I can’t have both love and a healthy relationship. I’m afraid I won’t ever have him in my life again. I’m afraid of missing him forever.”
I can examine these fears from a different perspective now that I’ve let go of them. In Pamela’s Dussault’s article, “Why It May Be So Hard For You To Let Go,” she explains that fear is a big factor in why we hold on to someone we should be letting go of, “being willing to let go means they must face their fears of change in their life.” When there is someone important in your life, whether they are healthy or toxic, you know how life is with that person. There are things you expect every day, and habits you get comfortable with. When this person leaves your life, then how you live your day-to-day will change.
On Daphne Lim’s website Joyful Days, she points out that clinging to the past, the future, and our own ego is what prevents us from letting go. When someone is close to you, there are bound to be happy memories, as well as not so happy ones. But it’s a lot easier to focus on the happy ones. When someone leaves your life, you’ll probably question, “Do those memories mean nothing? Are we ever going to share happy moments again?” It’s so painful to look back and wonder if it was all meaningless. But it’s important to believe that no experience or person in your life was ever meaningless. Each person you’ve met has given you something or taught you a lesson.
Often times with someone who was important to you, you’ll both make plans for the future. And then when that relationship ends, you have to accept that those plans will never happen. My mom often tells me, “Expectations are premeditated resentments.” You had an expectation and hope for the future with this person, and now it may never happen, so you are hurt and probably angry. It’s incredibly disappointing when a hope is crushed. In this case, Lim says, “… we are essentially relinquishing our lifeline to that future we want so much. We know that once we let go of the person, all the dreams we envisaged together disappear as well… We allow that person to be the sole keeper of our dreams.”
Relinquishing our hopes and expectations of the future is actually about a lack of trust, according to Dussault, who says that we cannot let go not only because of fear, but because of a lack of trust in life. For those who are religious, this could be a lack of trusting in God. This hits close to home for me because I also greatly struggle with control. I feel the need to be in control of my life, and myself, and often times, in control of others. This way I can ensure my happiness and that things will work out for the better. But life does not work that way. There are so many things that are out of our control, and it’s important to accept and believe that things will work out for the best. If you trust in life, or God, or whatever higher power you believe in, then you’ll find a great weight lifted from you, and happiness will come to replace it.
Dussault’s greatest message is about love: “Love isn’t possessiveness… Love is free… so you can’t own love.” Possibly the most common reason for being unwilling (not unable) to let someone go is because you love that person. Dussault explains that we have a misunderstanding about love. We do not own love, and we do not own whoever we love. Our love is not what keeps that person in our life, nor is it what prevents them from leaving. Joanna Wordwick, who writes for Tiny Buddha, reiterates this message by saying, “That’s why letting go is the greatest act of love. It’s letting others be free.”
For those who are religious, we know that God gave us freewill because He loved us, so that we can freely choose to love Him back or not. For those who are not religious, this message is still important and applicable to all about how love is. To truly love someone is to allow that person to be completely free to love you back or not. It means that you do not control that person. You have no ownership over them. And this can be terrifying, because whoever you love has the power to hurt you so much. When you love someone, you have to relinquish the power and control you have in the relationship. What you really have to let go of is the fear of getting hurt, and instead accept that it can and most likely will happen. But the fear of getting hurt shouldn’t be why you push people away or cling on to them too tightly.
You can’t begin to let go of someone until you are willing to do so. And even if you manage to allow them to leave your life (which is their choice regardless of what you want), it’s still incredibly difficult to let them leave your thoughts and your heart. It’s a process that takes time, and the five stages of loss and grief can be a helpful guide – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Accepting the reality of what is instead of what you want it to be is possibly the hardest part. Though it is cliché, this popular saying has so much truth to it because it’s about acceptance and trust in things you have no control over: “If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours forever. If it doesn’t, then it was never meant to be.”
p.s. If you are looking for practical ways to let someone go, Tiny Buddha and PyschCentral might be helpful.
“Letting go doesn't mean that you don't care about someone anymore. It's just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.”― Deborah Reber, Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul