How to Let Go When You Don't Want To.

Image by Josh James on  Flickr

Image by Josh James on Flickr

Heartbreak sucks.

In my most challenging moments of losing something or someone I care about, I've felt torn between the knowledge that I must let go and my total unwillingness to actually do it, even though holding on costs me great pain. If you're reading this post, maybe you're in a hell you couldn't have prepared for. So let me begin by putting a spin on something all your friends have told you - something that you know is true but don't want to hear.

You're not GOING to get through it. You're GETTING through it.

This pain you feel, this aching, soul-deep brokenness that is your daily existence is the price of losing what you've given, and there's no avoiding it. You may wonder how you'll survive it. You may think that another moment in heartache so deep you feel it in your body is permanent, but it isn't. At least not in the way it is now, defining every breath you take.

It'll be with you for a time. How long? Who knows. That depends, at least in part, on what you do moving forward. We make choices that prolong our pain or that bring meaning to it, and eventually, gentle it. But no matter what, this is the price of getting through.

Depending on whom you're letting go of, you may never feel completely free, but you will practice letting go for the rest of your life, and there's even freedom in this. The letting go will get a little easier each day. So buckle in and prepare for a lot of deep breathing and a few tough nights. I wish there was a fast track, but I've yet to find one.

I don't want to let go.

I know what that feels like. I know that despite the crushing pain, you may not want to let go because the pain is attachment. At least there's still something there connecting you to her. Or him to you.

So if you're not quite there yet, think of these steps as self care. Don't try to push yourself into letting go of more than you can right now. It's a slow process. You'll be ready when you're ready. It's a practice. A little each day.

One of the things that helped me and has helped my clients is to think of letting go as becomign more of yourself. Start by gently easing into becoming your own person again with these steps.

1. Let go of reaching out.

I know, I know. Easier said than done. But hear me out. When I'm helping clients let go of a relationship that's ended, I encourage them let go of little pieces of contact at a time. First it starts with an agreement to no longer call. It takes some time to feel comfortable with that. Next, we move toward letting go of texting. After that, it's social media.

The digital landscape has changed the way we break up. It's much harder to do it now because you can see your former partner, all their new friends or adventures, and feel like shit in the process. Regardless, you can't stop yourself from looking. Like a train crash where you're on the tracks.

So let go of a little at a time. Start with direct contact, then move into phone conversations, text, and then social media as you feel stronger and stronger. Don't expect to do it all at once. And be careful about your inner caretaker. A lot of "reaching out" behaviors are just disguises and excuses to make contact with your former partner. One of the hardest thing about letting go is that sometimes you have to let go of friendship too, to preserve your own well-being and sanity.

2. Let go of the fear that it didn't mean anything.

If you've ever been worried that by not reaching out to your former partner, they'd think you don't care for them anymore, remind yourself that a lack of contact with that person does not mean they mean less to you. It also doesn't mean that it wasn't real. It was real.

It's just that it was also temporary.

Relationships end for many reasons. Sometimes they end when you don't want them to. Sometimes it's you doing the ending. And then sometimes it seems the world conspires against you and won't let you have the person you want despite that you share mutual affection and love.

Any one of these endings deserves to be as meaningful as possible. Remind yourself of what your former partner means to you. I know this seems counter-intuitive, to be thinking well of your former partner when you're in misery, but you're going to think of them regardless. Doing so positively promotes letting go by allowing you to be gracious and meaningful in pain.

3. Let go and get out(side).

Oh, no worries. Just the one thing you don't want to do. Don't want to go out to your old haunts. See your mutual friends. See all the happy couples who apparently didn't exist just a little while ago, but are everywhere now.

But you need to do it, regardless.

Find good friends who can stomach you being miserable for a while and still love you. Be in public with people you trust who will hold you, make you laugh, get angry with you or cry with you. Few of us can handle heartache on our own. We need others.

You'll feel like that little egg from the Zoloft commercial, but remember, this is you getting through it.

4. Let go of the old. Create something new.

One of the best ways you can let go is by creating some new energy in your life. One of the things about being in an intimate relationship is that you share most areas of your life with this person. They become entangled in all your rituals.

They know all the things.

So regardless of whether you feel angry or just sad about them, you need to create something new in your life that's only yours. New health habits. New hobbies. New rituals. New experiences.

The purpose of newness in your life is to differentiate yourself. You're creating something novel, which makes you feel discoverable again. After a hard ending, it feels like everything you have belongs to your former partner. It's not true. But it feels that way. So it can be useful to jar yourself out of that belief by doing something brand new for yourself.

5. Letting go is a practice.

There are some people in our lives who will be with us forever. Others are more easily let go, but sometimes, we encounter a person we'll carry around with us for the rest of our lives, like a song we'll never forget. And with time, there's something beautiful about that. There's space to appreciate the laughs you shared and the future you dreamed of.

But it takes work to get there. It's a practice. It's not an endpoint. And that's the secret. No one lets go.

We're always letting go.

So be gentle with yourself if it doesn't go as quickly as you think it should. You'll get better, stronger, more resilient. Return your heart to the present moment when it drifts too far for your own comfort. Remember where you are and with whom. Shed your tears and keep breathing. Keep moving.

You're getting through it.


Dr. Mathis Kennington