How to Let Go When Life Cuts You Loose
Our natural inclination is to hold on to the past as long as we can. Yet the quality of our future depends on letting go and moving on. Here are some ways to help you do that.
Just like the main character in the 1960s Broadway production of Stop the World – I Want to Get Off, we may long for something better in our lives, but never realize that what we really wanted was right in front of us all along. Too often, it is not until someone or something we cherish is gone that we truly appreciate and recognize the value of what we have lost. This might be our freedom, our marriage, a loved one, our employment or our health, but whatever it is, such a loss inevitably brings unwanted change and our natural inclination is to hold on as long as we can.
Losses always mean the ending of something, and even positive endings can come with a high price. Take, for example, the woman who gives up a successful career in order to have a child before she no longer can. While she may be ecstatically happy about the upcoming birth of her child, she also experiences the feelings of loss that come with giving up something so well deserved and hard-earned. Or, there is the family who moves to their dream home, miles from their old neighborhood or in another city. While there is excitement and anticipation about the new home, there is also a sense of sadness that comes from giving up close association with family and friends who will now be far away.
Some individuals attempt to avoid endings by tenaciously hanging onto the past, even when there are negative consequences for doing so. Consider clinging and controlling parents who are unable to let their children grow up and establish independent lives of their own. Not only does holding on interfere with their children’s lives, it can lead to a complete break in the relationship if a power struggle or conflict becomes severe enough.
Others attempt to avoid endings simply by dismissing them. Those who choose to cope in this manner completely ignore their need for closure. Refusing to acknowledge our own personal history and what we have learned from it is a guaranteed way to be haunted by the past and make moving on more difficult. We can never be completely disconnected from the past. The lessons we learn from it are both an anchor and a valuable resource that aids us in our life journey.
How well you cope with a life-changing event determines the direction and quality of your future. Your identity must become that of a traveler embarking on a journey to unknown and exciting places. Just like a river that must be crossed if you are to reach the opposite shore, you must find your own best way to get across the rough water. There are ways to make this crossing easier.
· Take small steps. Although adjustments to the way you live may now be necessary, this is not the time to make other major life altering decisions. In the middle of a catastrophic event we lose our ability to reason and think clearly. While we all like to think of ourselves as confident people who can handle anything, even the strongest of us can be brought to the verge of a breakdown if the trauma is great enough. Therefore, it is important not to make important decisions while your brain is still in a fog. Just take one step at a time and address only your most immediate issues.
· Give yourself enough time to adjust. To ease your discomfort you may be tempted to rush into something new before you have had time to finish processing the ending of the old. You need time to sort out what has happened and gain insight into what you now want. Old realities take time to replace and you may have no clear direction about what to do next. This is like going on a car trip without a road map—you can find yourself on some pretty rough roads or even at a dead end.
· Stop seeing yourself as a victim. Take responsibility for your actions and stop blaming others for unwanted changes that may have come without warning. Hard as it may be, if you can accept what has happened and see how you have contributed to it, or the role you played in it, your progress will be much faster. When you are able to see life’s challenges as a normal part of living instead of insurmountable obstacles, you will adjust better and have an easier time coping with them.
· Surround yourself with positive people; avoid the energy-drainers, the advice givers and those who insist on being a devil’s advocate. You do not need to hear how much worse someone else’s misfortune is when you are trying to cope with your own. Neither do you need to expend your energies defending your actions or trying to solve someone else’s problems. At this point you need all your energy and inner strength for yourself.
· Take care of yourself. Either emotional or physical, stress affects our well being. Through our nervous system brain cells communicate with the body by means of chemical messengers (neurotransmitters). When too much stress disrupts that communication, you are likely to experience sleep disturbances, aches and pains, depression and anxiety. If not addressed and resolved, stress can ultimately result in more serious physical conditions and even disease.
Changing your outlook may be one of the biggest challenges you will ever face, but it will also make the biggest difference. Instead of dwelling on doors that are closed, start concentrating on those that are still open. Don’t let anyone or anything stand in the way of your healing, and above all, don’t fall prey to blame and self-pity. You are the only one who can rescue yourself from the depths of despair. Life will be a lot easier if you don’t go there in the first place.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judith Albright is a stress management specialist in Ft. Collins, CO who helps people release emotional baggage and change negative beliefs that are sabotaging them. She is also the Chief Visionary for Limitless Living, www.limitlessliving.org, an online community dedicated to helping people live happy, healthy, motivated and inspired lives filled with infinite possibilities.