Have you been told, “Just let go of it,” or tell yourself, “I have to let go,” but wonder, how? I’ve asked myself that question. Sometimes you want to let go of worry or an obsession with someone else. You may try to detach, but can’t. Other times, you can’t move forward after a major loss or you need to unwind from a busy work schedule.
Each case has different challenges, but fundamentally, they all require a shift in attention from the mind into the body and from the past or future into the present. Letting go can be a rejuvenating practice that brings the mind and body into balance for clarity, peace, and heightened functioning.
Depending upon what you’re letting go of, it can take moments or years. Letting go of a loved one isn’t easy, nor pain-free.
However, it’s human nature to avoid pain, even if the price is long-term misery. When the source of frustration, loss, or stress is ongoing, letting go becomes a process of developing a new, beneficial orientation toward life.
The Challenges of Letting Go
Letting go may require repeated efforts to shift your consciousness away from the problem. When you’re obsessing about or judging someone, you may need to detach and question some basic assumptions about your ability to control, or even influence, the person’s feelings and behavior. You may need to ask for what you need or want or set boundaries. Sometimes, worry and anxiety are due to underestimation of your ability to handle an obstacle or loss. Worry can be paralyzing and lead to depression and despair.
Generally, too much feeling or too much thinking can limit your ability to live your life. If you’re obsessing, it can be helpful to make contact with sensation, including emotion. When you’re overwhelmed with anger or another emotion, using your body – especially when you’re angry – or doing something that requires mental attention, like puzzles or math, can be helpful. In both cases, creativity is a wonderful way to uplift you, calm your mind, and soothe your emotions.
Steps You Can Take
When it comes to worrying and obsessing about a person or problem, understand the principles of detachment. (Chapter 12 in Codependency for Dummies goes into detail about nonattachment.) Analyze what you have the power to change and what you don’t. If effective action is necessary, take it. See my blog “How to Detach and Let Go with Love.”
Many people unaccustomed to daily prayer don’t think of asking for help, particularly out loud. This gesture in itself is one of surrender that relinquishes the ego’s hold on the problem and allows for new information or an altered perspective to appear. Prayer is effective to help you accept what you cannot change. The Serenity Prayer begins, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change . . .” Sometimes, you might have to pray for the “willingness to accept the things I cannot change.”
Writing about your feelings or writing them in the form of a letter can be a release from mental obsession. If you’re letting go of someone, write them a goodbye letter. This can be useful even to someone who’s died. You can dialogue with the person by writing his or her response with your nondominant hand. Read your words to a trusted friend, sponsor, or therapist for added relief.
When you’re too much in your head, shift gears, and do something physical that’s enlivening, absorbing, or relaxing. Put on music and dance, workout, or garden. Play and creativity also shift your autonomic nervous system and use other parts of your brain. Painting provided relief for me on September 11th.
Most people think they’re relaxed while still holding a great deal of tension. It’s helpful to lie down and allow your body weight to sink into the floor. Notice where you hold yourself and give in to gravity, and then let go.
Try progressive relaxation, starting at the feet and proceeding to your scalp and forehead. Tighten for five seconds and then release the tension in each muscle group. Afterward, scan your body for any area of restriction, particularly the eyes, stomach, and jaw. Discover where your body tends to grip. The slightest tension around the eyebrows restricts the flow of energy throughout the body. This can be a prime area for storing daily stress, particularly for people regularly viewing a computer screen.
Allow Your Feelings
Change can only happen in the present. Coming into your body and into the moment returns you to your power source. Interrupt your mental activity, place your hand on your chest, and ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” It may start with an awareness of sensations in your body. Emotion that’s been feeding anxiety, an obsession, grief, or frustrated attempts to fix or control a situation may surface. A deep release can also be accompanied by shaking or jerky movements – much like a cat twitching during his nap.
Once you’re in the present and centered in yourself, your perspective changes away from a narrow focus on the “problem” or person. You gain a more realistic appraisal of the situation, including your limitations. You reconnect to life itself, and often new opportunities and solutions present themselves.
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© Darlene Lancer 2012
6 Techniques for Letting Go by Darlene Lancer, MFT, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Monica, CA, and author of Codependency for Dummies