A week doesn’t go by that during a session, someone will say that they need to just let something go or that they have tried to let something go but they keep “picking it back up” or even that they are “taking it back from God’s hands”. Each time a client shares this type of thinking, I get the impression that the client believes that life hurts and heartaches are tangible objects that they willfully choose to carry around with them. There is a lot of guilt and self blame that goes along with the idea that we are unsuccessful in letting go of those things that bind us.
I find many errors in the belief that we will one day just be able to let go of certain pain and memories and that we are at fault if we still struggle from time to time with those things we were “suppose” to be letting go. Sadly, this let-it-go message gets preached from many pulpits across the country and people live with the burden that they are doing something wrong if they, at times, have to revisit the same old wounds. Emotional hurts don’t just go away because we want them to or choose to push them aside under the guise of letting it go. It’s just not how humans process things like disappointments, sadness or even trauma. Many people are left struggling with the initial hurt and the secondary guilt that they are not spiritually mature enough or tough enough to let it go.
Now, there are some folks who nurse emotional harm inflicted on them by life and people. We have all met these individuals and it is clear that they find comfort in identifying as a victim. I have found those folks to be the minority though. Most people want to heal and be free from regularly dealing with the things that have harmed them.
So, if “letting it go” isn’t aligned with how people are psychologically hard-wired, then what are steps for someone to take to work through past hurts? I will list out a few options that are good starting points:
1) Be Honest With Ourselves:
I recently saw a picture of someone that I had been close to many years ago but the friendship ended with a tremendous amount of hurt for me. I don’t live with a conscious daily thought-life of this former friend, but when I saw the picture, a lot of feelings came up. I had to be honest with myself and deal with them in the moment. Denying what I was feeling or trying to put a pleasant, but not authentic, spin on my inner thoughts was not going to do me any good in the long run. I looked at the picture for some time and then shared with someone close to me how seeing the picture was making me feel. What our culture and especially church culture teaches us is that I should have immediately pushed off my real feelings and replaced them with more “acceptable” feelings because my feelings of annoyance, frustration and resentment were not very pretty and lady-like, right? Instead I have been subconsciously trained by the culture that surrounds me that I should have immediately shoved down those feelings and pretended I felt things like forgiveness and grace. Instead I was irritated by the memories of a very difficult season. I am glad that I know better than to expect myself to just “let it go” and was able to metaphorically sit in my true feelings and then eventually came to be reminded that forgiveness had come to that friendship, even if restoration had not. But I didn’t leap frog over the annoyance, frustration and resentment that surfaced at first.
The person I had shared my feelings with had told me that I needed to “let it go” and that’s when I knew I had to write this blog! Instead of talking about what was happening for me, we instead starting talking about the true nature of emotional healing.
2) Healing Is A Choice:
We have to choose to not nurse our wounds and traumas so much that we can never imagine living life without them tagging along. Even though we are NOT just going to let it go, we have to let those emotions dissipate as they will do naturally if we give ourselves the right environment. How can this happen? We have to choose to stop associating with toxic people who keep inflicting more pain. we have to take ownership of our lives and not allow other people to ruin it and we must choose to allow the healing process to happen. How we live our lives will either help or hinder our recovery from life hurts.
3) Don’t Rush The Process:
True emotional healing, not just some temporary band-aid that falls off, takes time. That doesn’t mean we should accept being emotionally bound for years and years. We should be looking at “letting it go” as a gradual process that will happen slow and over time, but at a consistent steady speed. It’s not unlike watching a mossy green pool that has been neglected by the homeowners and seeing it become a clear blue inviting spring of water. Things have to happen for the moss to clear up and healthy water to take its place. This is similar to how harms and hurts are replaced by healing and wisdom. It’s a gradual process that requires us to do our part to turn the green emotional mossy pit into something better.
Next time someone tells you that you should just let something go or you find yourself wanting to give that advice, stop and really consider the implications of that statement. Hopefully we can start replacing the Let It Go concept with something more like Letting It Go. The steady consistent process of healing is much more authentic to the human experience.