Fall is a wonderful time of the year. We leave the humidity, sunburns, and mosquitoes for crisp air, foliage, and all things pumpkin. The Fall is also a great time to focus on letting go. The trees are about to show us how beautiful it is to let things go, as the leaves transform into beautiful polychromatic splendor before they are released.
“Letting go,” like many things that are beneficial and therapeutic, is easier said than done. What does letting go even mean? What are you supposed to let go of? How do you let go? How do you know if you have succeeded at letting things go, or not? It can be seemingly intangible, which makes it more difficult to tackle.
To me, letting go involves freeing yourself from the thoughts or behaviors associated with the identified issue. Freeing yourself, releasing yourself, loosening the grip, putting down the burden you have been carrying, walking away, looking away from what has been hurting you, and accepting the need for change. Change is hard; our brains do not like change. Our brain strives to do what is easy and familiar, and letting go is neither of those things.
What are you supposed to let go of? This can be tricky, because it is different for everyone, a very personal and unique decision. The short answer is: anything that is causing you distress. Sometimes it is difficult to even pinpoint what exactly is causing distress. I can see how someone may answer “my spouse” or even “my children are causing me stress,” and letting go of them is certainly not the answer (well, at least not most of the time!) So a situation like that requires us to look deeper into ourselves and explore the cognitive and emotional distress that is at the core of these issues (if your children are causing undue stress, why do you think that is? Are you perhaps not making time for yourself? Is there a trauma from your childhood you’re afraid of passing on to your own kids? Etc.) We tend to want to blame others for our own distress, when, ultimately, we only have control over ourselves. Sometimes we need to let go of control, of expectations, of ideas that aren’t serving us, of habits, of comparison, or self-doubt, and sometimes of relationships.
There is a story that I sometimes use in therapy, called the Fable of The Bridge, by Edwin Friedman. It is worth a google search and a few minutes of your time to read. The story describes a man who is standing on a bridge, holding up another man who is hanging by only a rope. The first man has a choice to continue standing there, holding the rope, seemingly forever, or to let go and move forward. In this story, holding the rope was holding the first man back, and he ultimately decided that letting go was necessary. The symbolism here extends past the interpersonal dynamic of letting people go, and can also speak to parts of yourself that you need to let go in order to move forward. If you choose to read it, explore what areas of the story apply to your life.
The part of the story that is universally true, however, is that letting go is a decision. We sometimes view it as a permanent decision, which makes it scary. But in reality, we can always pick things back up (the specifics of the bridge fable notwithstanding). Our brains tell us that it is too overwhelming or too unknown to “let go” of certain thoughts and behaviors, and this prevents us from releasing our grip. I often encourage people to practice, do a trial run, even for just a day, or even for 5 minutes. Test the waters and see what it does for you. Likely you will find that it feels much better when you choose to let go of something that has been causing you distress, and when you allow yourself to see that simple truth, it will become easier to make changes. Sometimes this looks like consciously letting something go over and over, until finally it’s gone for good.
I encourage you to do an inventory of your life. Ask yourself questions: What is working for you? What is not working for you? Where are you spending your time and energy? What is causing you distress? What is weighing you down? What makes you feel insecure? What seems like it stands in between you and your happiness? It can be helpful to ask for honest feedback from family and friends. What do they think is weighing you down? If they could take one burden from you, what would it be?
It is also helpful to have a therapist walk this journey with you. A therapist is trained to hear what you need to let go of, and is also trained to present the choice to you in a way you can accept; a therapist will also assist you in working toward more lasting change.
As mentioned in a previous blog post about the power of words, I find quotes powerful, as they can sometimes spark a change or perspective shift. For that reason, I have included the following quotes about letting go.
“It hurts to let go, but sometimes it hurts more to hold on.”- Unknown
“Let go or be dragged.” – Zen Proverb
“One of the most courageous decisions you’ll ever make is to finally let go of what is hurting your heart and soul.” – Unknown
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
“Sometimes you don’t realize the weight of something you’ve been carrying until you feel the weight of its release.” – Unknown
Poem: Autumn Calls
As the days become shorter –
The wind whispers… “It Is Time.”
Each knowing we had to listen –
But How? And When? And Why?
Greens Gave way to Yellows – And Yellows to Orange.
And Oranges to Red – And So On ….
And The wind whispered … “It Is Time.”
Each in their own time gave way – As all ‘leaves’ do ….
Gently – Flipping and Twirling …
Travelling to that new place –
They had never been.
And again, The wind whispers… “It is Time.”
And they let go.
Somehow knowing. They had to.
To Live again in a newer and better way.
To Live tomorrow …
They could no longer stay where they were today.
They had to.
By: Julie Killion, MA, LPC, LCAS, NCC
Licensed Professional Counselor – Wake Forest