The 4th Dimension - Letting go!

  • Cynthia Johnson

The fourth step of the Challenge of Change programme is Letting Go. Course participants often tell us that they find this the hardest step, or that they know people who seem unable to let go, and they wonder why.Letting go certainly can be hard, and we all have times when despite knowing it’s the right thing to do, we feel stalled. Why is it so difficult?

On the course we use a house as a model for the mind. The ground floor is where attention has been captured and the mind is clouded with negative emotion and distorted thinking.Going up into the loft is the third step in the programme, becoming detached, which gives you the clear-headed perspective to be able to let go.What makes that last step so hard is continued ground floor thinking, which can take many forms.

1. We think that our suffering makes others suffer too.

Paradoxically, one of reasons letting go is hard is that we just don’t want to!  Distorted ground floor thinking has us believe that if we continue to suffer, we remind the other party of how they have harmed us.

If I continue to be pained by the rejection, you will see how mean you have been to me and that in turn will make you suffer. 

If I continue to sulk and not speak to you, your day will also be miserable.

This thinking may also take the form of if I continue to show you I’m struggling, you may change your mind. But does it work that way? Often the other person has moved on and doesn’t even notice your suffering, or may believe, quite rightly, that an end to your pain is up to you. Do people change their mind because of our trapped behaviour?  And if they do, haven’t they just given in?  How will that play out in the long term?

2. We aren’t ready to let go because we don’t know who the new me is.

Letting go means moving on, and we may not feel confident about what this might entail.  Our role as the wronged party may be familiar; if we surrender that, how do we become a confident, capable party?

In my last job, I was the account manager of Gamma, with a large team and a large budget.  They put another layer of management above me, and I lost my status.  What does that say about me? What is my role now?  

A way out of the impasse is to acknowledge that everything changes, including the roles we find ourselves performing.Once you become attached to an idea like status, your sense of self becomes dependent on it staying the same or, better still, improving.Instead, it may go down.Does that make you any less worthy as a person?

The more emotionally invested we are in something, for example, our role at work, the more a rejection of that becomes a rejection of us personally. We continue to suffer because our ego has been bruised and we haven’t learned to separate ourselves out from the work in other words, we haven’t learned to detach.As we say on the course, we need to be able to see work as ‘the’ work, not ‘my’ work, or ‘an’ idea, not ‘my’ idea. We need to see feedback or alternative views as a critique of the behaviour or the idea, and not of ‘me’.Resilient people can make these transitions because they’re able to maintain a detached perspective.

3. We don't feel heard. 

Perhaps we aren’t ready to let go because we don’t yet feel heard. Does the other party know just how much I am hurting or how unfair this is? We want people to know how our pain feels.

I was Head of Marketing and you tossed me out! And this is what being tossed out feels like. 

Needing to feel that our suffering has been acknowledged is a trap that is hard to escape from.  Real forgiveness, real letting go, doesn’t require acknowledgement of suffering, it is done for and of itself.

"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison."

Nelson Mandela.

Next, we explore how to let go.


Photo by Armand Khoury on Unsplash

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