This article was last updated on January 31, 2017
We all have certain things we hold onto: unrequited love, anger, a desire for revenge, fleeting hope, etc. Some of us hold onto these things because it’s comfortable and familiar, while others may not realize they’re holding onto certain thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Regardless of the underlying reasons, the truth is, we’re only hurting ourselves, and in many cases holding ourselves back from bigger and better things. Letting go is one of the most empowering, self-loving things you can do to break free from toxic people and circumstances and limiting feelings and thoughts.
Remember, letting go is much different from giving up. Rather than a sign of weakness, letting go is a powerful demonstration of strength. If there are certain things you’ve been holding onto, we’re going to look at the healing power of letting go and the actions you can take to move onwards and upwards.
4 Ways to Practice Letting Go
While we preach the golden rule and wish everyone treated people the way they want to be treated, there will be times when people upset you. When someone hurts you, it triggers certain feelings; anger, sadness, and in some cases heartbreak. While we can’t control these feelings, the problems arise when we’re unable to let go of negative emotions and resentment.
You may feel like resentment is fueling your fire for revenge or making you stronger and better equipped to anticipate or handle similar situations, but as Ann Landers says, hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.
“Resentment refers to the mental process of repetitively replaying a feeling, and the events leading up to it, that goads or angers us,” writes Mark Sichel L.C.S.W. from Psychology Today. “We don’t replay a cool litany of facts in resentment; we re-experience and relive them in ways that affect us emotionally, physiologically, and spiritually in very destructive ways.”
You can’t move on from a given situation without letting go of your resentment. Sure, you may not want to be friends with someone who hurt you, but you can shift your mindset so that their actions no longer affect you in a negative way.
Next time you feel anger or resentment towards someone else, try to show them compassion and empathy. Instead, be the bigger person and practice kindness, this will help you let go of negative feelings and resentment and feel more positive and at ease. Studies show, “spending time each day to cultivate an attitude of compassion promotes happiness and life satisfaction and helps it come more naturally to kids and adults alike.”
Acceptance is the Answer
It’s natural to feel angry when something doesn’t go our way: a relationship doesn’t work out, you don’t get that job you wanted, someone else gets the promotion, etc. Again, it’s OK and natural to feel anger or sadness in these moments, but then we must make a conscious effort to move past them.
More often than not, we have trouble letting go of our negative reactions to a given situation, and this is usually due to a lack of acceptance. We don’t get the job so we dwell on how much we wanted it, the reason the outcome is wrong, and what we can do to change it. Remember the wise words of Eckhart Tolle who said in his book The Power of Now that when we are unhappy with our circumstances we have three options: leave it, change it, or accept it. In many cases, like the loss of a loved one or losing a job, we’re unable to change the situation or walk away from it, that leaves us with the third option: acceptance.
We can’t move on until we accept the situation, this doesn’t mean we have to like it, but part of letting go is accepting things exactly as they are and moving on. According to tiny buddha, “Practicing acceptance prepares you to live in this changing world, where you never know what’s going to happen next. Acceptance is like protecting yourself with your own shield.”
When you accept a situation for what it is, you stop trying to change it. The situation or circumstance loses its power, and you can move on and take the next right action. This helps to ease your negative feelings and your physical and emotional response. You may not be able to control what happened but you can control how you react. If you want to change your perspective, remember this quote, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
Decide What’s Important
Part of letting go is taking inventory of your relationships, behaviors, thoughts and beliefs. When you’re honest with yourself, you can evaluate the things in your life that serve you and the things that hold you back. Why are you holding onto toxic relationships? Why are you harboring negative or limiting beliefs? Why are you fighting to hold onto the past? “No time is better than the present to make a conscious decision to release these negative influences so that you can enjoy life as it unfolds precious moments each and every day,” writes Dr. Hyder Zahed from Huffington Post. “To ‘let go’ also means to give up resisting and struggling to hold on to meaningless issues in exchange for powerful and wholesome moments that come our way by allowing and accepting unchangeable realities that come by in our daily lives.”
Make a decision right now to let go of the people or things that no longer serve you. According to life coach Susan Fay West, “the mental and physical space we create by letting go of things that belong in our past gives us the option to fill the space with something new.” So give letting go a try and create the energy and space for better, more positive things like new friendships, romantic relationships, personal and professional growth, happiness and positivity.
Dealing With Loss
Up until now, we’ve mostly talked about letting go of negative feelings associated with life circumstances and other peoples’ actions, but what about letting go after losing a loved one? These situations are never easy, and you have every right to mourn the loss of someone important to you, in fact, feeling your feelings is one of the most crucial parts of healing. So, go ahead and cry, get angry, yell and scream; don’t try to ignore or stifle your emotions. Also, don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it.
Even after a loss, however, there comes a time when letting go is necessary. This doesn’t mean forgetting about the person, and there’s no pre-determined time table for when this transition needs to happen. Letting go is simply a necessary step in the healing process. “It’s a challenge for many people when it comes to letting go of loss,” writes Tabitha Jayne from Grief Toolbox. “This misunderstanding causes people to stay stuck in the pain of grief. What is misunderstood is that letting go of loss actually means moving away from the pain so that you are able to create a new and stronger connection to your loved one that will support you as you move forward.”
Grief from the loss of a loved one manifests as real physical and emotional pain. You’re entitled to your feelings but understand they can sometimes be extremely overwhelming and uncomfortable. If you think it will help, use available resources, like therapy and support groups. Like letting go, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, instead it’s a self-loving declaration of strength.
Letting go of anything can be scary and uncomfortable, but it’s a necessary, powerful step in personal development and growth. As Chris Nikolov says in his article on important life lessons, life is too short not to enjoy it. So, take an honest look at your life and determine the areas where letting go could help; you’ll be amazed at the wonderful things waiting for you when you create the space to let them into your life.