Why can’t I let go?

I often have clients who are stuck with something which doesn’t work for them anymore. Perhaps a relationship has run its course but they are unwilling to let go. Or a job no longer gives them the satisfaction it once did.

So why do we hang on for dear life when clearly it’s not doing us any good? It can feel like being dragged along behind a car on the end of a rope – we’re being battered and bashed but refuse to let go of the rope.

Mostly the answer lies in our need for security. No matter how destructive the relationship is, it’s familiar and there is a comfort in it. We might be in a stuck in a swamp but it’s our swamp and we know it well and have learned to live in the dirt. Sometimes there are good reasons to hang on – children, money, friends, stability -these are all really important to our wellbeing and that of our loved ones. In other cases, there’s really little to hold us there except our unwillingness to step into uncertainty and the fear of life being even worse. The job is dull and boring but it pays the bills. Love has died in a relationship but it’s someone to be with. We are terrified of making life worse – better the devil you know? Yet living life with little passion or excitement is unfulfilling and can bring us down. When we’re not committed to the life we’re living, we’re unhappy. Clients tell me they feel low, lack self esteem and have no sense of purpose.

Some years ago on a trip to Sri Lanka I attended a talk by a Buddhist monk. A very unusual monk as it turned out as the monk was a German woman who had previously been a nurse. She told the story of her life in the hospital. She worked on a ward where people had suffered really serious injuries and had had amputations as a result. During her time there she noticed a pattern in the recovery of the patients. Some were furious that they had lost a limb and remained angry and resentful, stuck in their grief for the limb they had lost. Others, after a period of grieving, started to accept their new life without their limb and began to look forward to learning how to live without it. The patients in the latter category had significantly better physical outcomes than the former. Acceptance that life was not going to be the same anymore was a huge factor in their recovery. A case in point for how our mental health has a real impact on us physically.

What can we learn from these patients? When we try to cling on to something we no longer have or no longer want, we suffer. The boyfriend that has dumped us or the job we’ve been made redundant. All these things cause us pain.

So how can we move on?

I often find that clients benefit from looking back through their lives in order to remember times when they’ve moved on in the past. Can you remember a time you overcame a difficult situation and made a new start? You were strong then and can be strong again.

It can also help to consider how you might feel looking back on your life when you’re 90. What would you think of your current choices? Would you be proud of yourself? Do you think you’d have any regrets?

Think about how things would be in a week, a month, a year, 5 years. We often take a short term view of events and often the immediate consequences of change are difficult. But if you can look a bit further down the road, perhaps you can see how things could be better.

Try to take a realistic view of the problem. Our emotions can convince us that things may end terribly if we move on – we call this catastrophizing. But it’s rarely the case that something turns out entirely badly. It may not be easy -but then staying where you are isn’t a walk in the park either is it? Who can you talk to who will help you get a more balanced perception of your situation?

When we find the courage to step forward into our new future we learn that we are stronger than we think and can make a new start by ourselves. Working with a good therapist can help you to let go, find a new perspective and get back in the driving seat.