Many readers write to me asking how to let go of failed relationships. When a relationship ends, why do we find it so hard to let go? We think that we’re trying to let go of the other person. The reality is that we’re not clinging on to the other person, but to something else – the past, the future, or our ego.
A. Clinging on to the past
Letting go can be hard because of the memories we have. We refuse to accept that the beautiful togetherness we used to share is no more. We want to resurrect the past, to enjoy once again what we had.
Our fear is that if we let go of this person, all that we treasure in our shared past will be no more. The memories that used to bring us so much happiness would now only bring misery. Each memory brings with it the reminder that our partnership has ended. We want to hold on to the person that keeps this past alive for us.
B. Clinging on to the future
We also cling on to the hope we have for the future – our vision of the future as it would be with this other person. We think that our happiness lies with this other person. Or perhaps it’s financial, physical or emotional security we seek, and don’t know where else to find it.
Letting go in this case is scary because we are cutting our lifeline to that future we want so much. Once we let go of the person, all the dreams we shared would disappear as well. The only way we know to keep our dreams alive is to hold on to the person for dear life. We allow that person to be the sole keeper of our dreams.
C. Clinging on to our ego
Sometimes we can’t accept that our judgment of the other person’s character was wrong. Or we refuse to believe that we are less attractive than someone else our lover left us for. Our ego feels injured, and will only be salved by proving that we are not wrong. This proof requires us to hang on to the other person. Their staying will prove that we are indeed worthwhile.
How to let go
Realise that it is not really the other person you cannot let go of, but something else. What is it that you are clinging on to – your past, your future, your ego, or perhaps all the above? It is essential to be honest with yourself, even if you don’t want to admit the truth to anyone else.
A. Letting go of the past
In theory, we know that the past is past. In reality, we project the past onto our future. We want things to remain the way they were, or at least to re-play themselves in more or less similar variations. So how do we let go of the past?
Understand that every second in our life has been recorded in eternity. Once we have loved or been loved, that love is never really lost. That energy remains in the universe. So the past is never really past – it is always a part of the world and a part of you.
This acceptance brings a calmness because we can rest in the assurance that the ‘past’ is there for us anytime we want it. We can draw on our memories with pleasure instead of pain. Because the past is not gone but within us, even if the person we shared it with is elsewhere.
B. Letting go of the future
Your life holds infinite possibilities. Of all the paths your life could take, why do you think that only this one specific path will make you happy? Walking down that one path means you don’t take all other paths. What if other paths would have made you equally or more happy?
Learn to view life as an unfolding of possibilities. Nothing is really lost, because every path not taken means you are merely taking another path. You have infinite futures ahead of you, and all of them are equally good. In fact, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are merely your personal judgments of each possibility. As far as life is concerned, these are merely alternate realities that are all open to you.
When you stop judging this future as ‘good’, and that future as ‘bad’, and instead learn to treat every event as an adventure, you’ll find that there is nothing to let go of. Or rather, letting go of one possible future enables you to grasp another possible future.
C. Letting go of your ego
Gaining control over our ego instead of being controlled by it is one of the best things we could do. Accepting that we have an ego, that it will always be lurking within us, and coming to peace with it – all this is the work of a lifetime.
When a relationship ends, we tend to think that we have failed at it. This is because for some reason, society views longevity as the main criterion for a relationship’s success. If we could learn to define successful relationships differently, we could accept that an ended relationship is actually a successful one. Then ego wouldn’t get in the way of letting go as much as it does.
Final thoughts on how to let go
If we truly love a person, we want what is best for them. If someone wants to leave us because they are unhappy, why would we hold them back if we loved them? We would want them to find a better life for themselves. True love does not cling on. Love lets go.
So if you’ve having difficulty letting go, it’s probably not love but attachment that you’re experiencing – attachment to the past, to the future, or to your ego. Detach from these, and you will be able to let go of the person you love.
21 replies on “Why Letting Go is Hard and How to Let Go”
I have been involved in a new relationship for 9 months and find myself having to let go. We have shared some really good times together and fear that I may not ever again experience the wonderful times we had. I truly love my friend but know deep in my heart she will remain emotionally unavailable. After reading some feedback, I realized; if I truly do love her, let her go. After all, it is what she wanted. I will always wish the best for her. I can now start to heal knowing I have given her one last thing that makes her happy.
I have struggled with letting go of a past relationship for 9 months. For the first few months, it was devastating, I would be depressed all of the time, missing her, missing the moments, just miserable all of the time. Now I find myself trying to relive it (the past relationship), as if it were the present, to avoid having to let go, and face reality that it will never be again. Now it’s got to the point where reality has finally caught up with me, and now has me completely devastated once again, only this time I have no way out. Ive been seeing a therapist, taking medications, anything possible. But im so deep into the depression, that at times It feels like there is no getting out.
That is a good way of describing it. We aren’t really letting go of the “person” it’s just the ideas that come in the form of ego or past that we are letting go of, which is a rewarding experience many times.
Your comment is an excellent summary of the point this post tries to make. Thank you.
This post is well so said. you laid out the reasons of why we can’t let go so logically and systematically. i recognise i am one of the types. then you talked about the solutions of how to deal with each aspect. The thing I like about your post is – you don’t simply point out a problem (it’s easy to point out a problem), but you offer a way out (this is the crust of handling a problem). Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.
Thanks for your generous comment. I’ve found it so hard to let go that I had to practise so often that I could finally come up with something concrete to write about it! Glad you appreciated knowing a way out. Hope these approaches work for you.
Sorry I haven’t written for a while.
Hope you are well. (Hmmmm …. Well – I guess I know you are “well.” Maybe I should say: “Wishing you Wellness….”)
Typical of me, I decided one day that I have to sit down and read all your posts, starting with No. 1 and proceeding in a logical fashion. … Blah, blah, blah.
Reality is, I get one in my email. Read it. Click on some link in it and read that one. … And pretty soon I am lost in a web of partially read posts and all over the place.
It used to frustrate me … that I couldn’t read through your posts in an orderly way.
…. And today, the same pattern. Except … except today I am smiling and I feel happy. (Goodness – I’ll have to stop that! It might be catching!!)
Anyway – that is all a long preamble really. So, I read this post and then that one and nothing happened in any order. I still ended up here. Which is where I wanted to end up anyway.
So, to get to this post (your’s, that is): We have the Past, the Future and the Ego. Strangely I don’t feel the influence of the Past or the Future too much. It’s the Ego.
The distant past does make me smile sort of. I did lots of silly things and experienced a lot of hurt. But, strangely, I do cherish it. I feel more complete for some of the suffering – like I have some dimension now.
What I wish I had done was learn from it. In not learning from it I condemned myself to repeating it and to also walling off things in order to avoid pain in the future. I think somewhere else you called it “getting off the train.” Well, I got off and I never got back on.
The recent past is what is hurting now. I want to feel enriched by the experience, but all I can feel is the pain. Which is dulled now, anyway, because it is too hard to live with that intensity of hurt.
Or, maybe, it’s not so much the past as it is the ego. The more I read of things, the more I feel totally controlled by my ego. I thought if I recognised this, then it would go “poof” and disappear. I would walk out into a new life.
Ummmmm…. well, that was a bit silly I think.
So I guess this is where all the hard work is. Every time I read your posts I think: “Gosh, if Daphne can do it so can I.” More or less quickly followed by: “But I’m so far behind, it’s hopeless …” (That would be the ego speaking, I imagine.)
Oh – and the future. Well, if I had to do a rapid word association with “future” I think the first word that would pop out of my mouth would be “fear.” Ridiculous, perhaps, but that is the emotion. And, yet, I am kind of resigned to it – as in: It will be what it will be.
So, for me, this post is probably addressing the root of what I’m struggling with:
I miss what has just passed. I long for having that joy again.
I’m afraid for the future. I dread the solitude it seems to contain.
And my ego is saying – I am the victim again. I must have something wrong with me. I am a failure. I am controlled by it and just reacting to it all the time.
What I have learned from your post is that I think I can cherish even this recent past. The pain is being caused by ego. The love was pure. It still is. It is still out there and I think it is still nurturing.
The future is actually full of possibility. The fear is just ego resisting that possibility (if that makes any sense.) The future will always be there and so will all the possibilities. I can chose what I want or need from whatever is available at the time.
So it is really about managing the ego. I don’t know how to do that. … Yet.
Thanks for your post, Daphne. You have amazing insight. Reading what you write just spreads calmness everywhere.
…. now, where was I in the sequence … ?
I am so happy that you are finding this useful. It’s readers like you who make writing this blog so worthwhile, and I’m really grateful that you took the time to comment. Letting go is very very hard, and I struggled with it a lot and still do. The good news is, it gets easier with practice! Thanks Tunde for leaving a comment.
Tangled webs indeed. And those webs trap so much of our time and energy. Thanks for your lovely comment as usual.
You’re really good at changing focus. It’s a skill that not many people have. I’m getting better at it, hopefully!
Your comment really warmed my heart, and I just had to reply right away even though it’s past midnight here. Thank you for sharing something so personal. It must have torn you apart to have to let go of someone you loved so much. yet like Jocelyn said, every death makes possible a new birth. I love what you said – that when you heard the goodbye with unconditional love, there was only acceptance. It’s when the ego or dreams get involved that the struggle starts. So true! And I’m really happy that you have a new love in your life. I really appreciated reading about that on your blog, and look forward to hearing about developments in your life on that front. Love and joy to you too, Megan!
You’re so right that somehow we tend towards attachment. And I love the way you put it – that love transcends the boundaries of time and space. Indeed it does! It envelops us more than we realise. Thanks for this wise comment.
Yes, it’s letting go of part of ourselves that is truly difficult, not letting go of someone else. It’s because we’ve allowed that someone to become a part of us, that it’s hard. Yet love does often bring about that kind of ‘joining’. Your attitude of every death bringing new birth certainly helps!
@ Dani (Positively Present),
It’s great that you can identify that you’re holding on to the past. Gosh I used to hold on to the past, the present, everything! So glad that you find the post helpful.
You said it, gal! We feel so much better when we let go. So much lighter, freer, happier. In fact, I’m getting to love this feeling so much, I’m almost falling in love with letting go! Thanks for your sweet, warm comment as always.
Glad you found it fascinating 🙂 I’ve found this ‘analysis’ to be my truth time and again, and so decided to just put it into writing. Thanks for your encouraging comment!
Hi Daphne – I’ve never quite thought of letting go as being made up of those three things, but I think you hit the nail on the head. Like you, I think I struggle with the Ego portion. Sometimes I just don’t want to think something about myself, I don’t want to admit it. But admitting it helps to release whatever you are holding onto.
You’re such a kind soul. Knowing that everything is recorded for eternity didn’t give me the same motivation to go out there and love more – it just assured me that any love I had in the past is not lost but still here. But yes, this knowledge is very re-assuring indeed. Thanks for sharing about your two girlfriends. It’s sad that good things can turn toxic sometimes, yet I’m so happy that you’ve learned to be grateful for what you did have rather than mourn what’s ‘lost’. And you know, it’s not really lost. Those relationships helped form you and so are forever ingrained in who you are today.
Isn’t ego the darndest thing? It’s so much a part of us and yet it’s not who we are. And yes it can be very hard looking our ego in the eye because often we don’t like what we see. I too don’t want to admit certain things about myself, yet once I do it’s so easy to let go and stop being that way. I’m so glad you understand.
First I love the way you say everything including our love is encoded in eternity and never lost. How reassuring that is. It makes me want to do even more loving deeds, say more loving things and just be more loving.
When it comes to relationships I had 2 girlfriends that I was friends with for years. Eventually they both turned toxic but I didn’t leave. Once I did I know that they I was addicted to the toxic relationships and couldn’t let go until I moved. I still love them both but now remember and smile at the good things we had earlier in the relationships.
This is such a powerful, beautiful and necessary post. My gosh, you covered it perfectly, with clarity and succinctness. I’m in awe.
In April, I had to let go of someone I loved dearly. He still loved me, but said he had to go overseas to take care of other obligations and was afraid of hurting me down the road. He thought we were better suited as lifelong friends. It hurt like a bugger the minute my ego or dreams of our shared future got involved, but at the time he said those words to me I was able to hear them with the unconditional love I knew underscored our relationship. I thought, “So be it; I want you to be happy and if leaving makes you happy, I’ll let you go.” The week after he left I was a wreck for a day or two. But then I did what you suggested in this wonderful post and was able to just move on. Whatever God had in store for me was on its way and this is how the new would arrive.
Turns out I was right, only the “new” wasn’t so new in many ways… but was a huge surprise.
We just never know what’s in the cards, but as long as we have fearless faith, detachment becomes easier, I think.
Love & joy to you, Daphne!
Good stuff. For me, the best way to let things go, is to find something more compelling to latch on to. It’s a focus thing.
Hi Daphne. It’s interesting how we hold on to the past when it isn’t something that can be changed. Maybe that is part of it… we hold on to what we WISH we could change. Oh what tangled webs we weave. Another very well put together post.
Hi Daphne, thanks for this post. Letting go is one of my greatest challenge. Infact, it’s like i’m gifted in not letting go especially of relationship. But i’ll take my time and go over this post again as well as other resources. Thanks, you’re doing such a great work!
So many wonderful thoughts and resources. I agree that letting go is a challenge for most of us. Thank you for a fascinating analysis.
Hi Daphne .. letting go – when we do – we feel so much better! You can be yourself, you can be stress free, you can do things at your own pace, you can find your way ..you can help yourself.
Once you’ve stepped over the threshold – you don’t want the hold that someone’s had over it .. it induces negativity .. don’t regret – there’s someone better ahead.
Good luck – life is tricky at times like these .. keep positive, keep light and peace in your heart ..
Thanks – Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories
This is a great post and JUST what I needed right now. I’m definitely the type that holds on to the past (not very good for someone who is striving to live in the present!) and I think your advice will really help me out. Thank you!
This is a different way of looking at it. Sometimes, we are really clinging on to something else, to someone other than the person we thought we loved. When we let go of someone, I guess we are also letting go of that part of ourselves that has grown with that person. There is a part within us that seems to die, and that’s why it’s hard. What can help us though is that we should believe there is a new beginning to every death and there will always be a part of us that survives, that part which is good and filled with love. Let’s let go of the bad and keep always what is good. 😉
I hope it’s that easy but we people are designed for attachment. We make a mistake of interpreting love in our own egoistic beliefs.
I believe love goes on deeper than being close or intimate. It transgresses the boundaries of time and space. As what you’ve said, letting go does not mean letting go of love. In fact it is one of the deepest meaning of love. 🙂