How to Let Go of Someone You Love
No matter what, it's always hard to let go, but there is nothing harder than letting go of someone you love. Whether it's through death or separation, it doesn't happen easily. You might avoid letting go because it's too painful or you don't know how to begin.
This blog provides concrete tools for how to start letting go even when you don’t think you’re ready yet.
What does letting go even mean?
Letting go is an intense, confusing process much like grief. You don't know where it's going and every day feels different. On a good day, you think it's the right thing to do, but on a bad day the self-doubt can haunt you.
Letting go of someone (or something) often takes several tries before actually doing it. Some choose never to let go because even anticipating the pain is unbearable. Some stay in abusive relationships because it's less painful than being alone.
I am not advocating for anyone to stay in an abusive relationship. It's an individual choice that you have to make for yourself. Letting go often triggers a fear of abandonment. This creates a stuck point preventing you from being able to move forward.
So how do you start?
Here are the steps to guide you in how to let go.
1. Start separating your emotional energy from theirs.
A dear friend, Susan Espinosa, from Dream and Goal for It gave me this exercise that visualizes letting go. Close your eyes and imagine concentric circles around you with you in the center.
The people you trust most are in the center. Then, put the people you trust less in the outer circles and the people you don't trust in the circle furthest away from the center.
Now picture the person you're trying to let go of far enough away that you no longer feel them in your energy or inner circle (this takes practice but you will see a difference if you keep at it).
Visualize them at the edge of your circles, outside your city or even on the other side of the world.
This creates an emotional distance much like detachment. You're imagining their energy away from you which gives you your energy back.
It's not punishment. You're not sending them to the moon Alice (okay that really dates me) you are trying to get some relief.
2. Examine how the relationship wasn't working in order to learn from it.
When a relationship ends, it's an opportunity to take stock of what happened. Stressing over what the other person did is understandable but looking at your part helps you take those lessons with you in the next relationship.
Ask yourself, what worked and what didn't?
Can you identify dysfunctional patterns that you could learn from?
Was there any feedback that you could acknowledge as true?
Was there any red flags that got ignored hoping they would improve on their own?
Being able to learn from your mistakes improves self-esteem and creates emotional health in relationships. As painful as it is, accountability leads to healthier connections in the future.
3. Let yourself feel the grief associated with letting go.
The hardest part of ending a relationship is feeling the loss. The pain often brings up other losses. Honoring the pain is the only way to complete the lesson of what the relationship was meant to teach you.
Make an effort to sit still for a few minutes each day to let the feelings bubble up. Usually, it doesn’t take long for the pain to surface but having a good cry helps to release the stress.
Cycling through the five stages of grief:
Denial - being unable to comprehend the loss
Bargaining - trying to fix or change the outcome
Anger - feeling the anger of why the relationship didn't last
Sadness - feeling the loss and regret of the past
Acceptance - experiencing each stage long enough to accept the end result.
You may not like it but you can accept it.
4. Use writing to tell the story and put things in perspective.
Journal writing promotes healing. Telling your story creates a safe way to vent frustration and express private thoughts without worrying about feeling judged.
Writing helps to clarify what’s important and helps us to see our progress over time. Re-reading past entries can show where we have grown. It's also a way of getting to the root of the problem. As you keep writing, you'll get to deeper levels and sometimes make connections to past events that need healing.
5. Don't assume their thoughts since you don't know anyway.
Mind-reading is an attempt to sort out what went wrong. When trying to let go, you might be obsessing about how they must be feeling. Unfortunately, those assumptions create a victim story with you as the injured party. This story provides a righteous anger at first but quickly becomes a downer with friends if told repeatedly.
Most negative assumptions are rooted in our history. In other words, these thoughts are more about you and your past than the person you're obsessing over.
For instance, if you grew up being criticized and your partner gets mad at you, you might be afraid that they won't love you because when you made a mistake as a child, the adults withdrew love.
Remember, as much as you think you know people, assuming their thoughts isn’t a good use of your emotional energy.
6. Visualize their energy away from you and wish them well.
When you find yourself obsessing over the relationship, use your concentric circles to create separation. This also provides a way for you to get back to center.
Obsessing creates a type of tunnel vision where your attention is no longer focused on what you need to do, but on what you'd like the other person to change.
Instead, redirect your energy back to you. Imagine them on their way to a new life and wish them well. If you have to, fake it until you make it. It's your intention that counts!
7. Get plenty of support or try Al-Anon for relationship help.
Trying to let go in isolation makes the process harder than it needs to be. Plus, without feeling supported you are more likely to struggle with depression, confusion and self-doubt.
Use trusted friends to provide reality checks of why you're letting go in the first place. If you don’t have support, try Al-Anon, a free, support group for dysfunctional, codependent relationships.
When the pain is too great, consider getting professional counseling. If letting go is too difficult, there is something connected to it that needs your attention. It doesn't mean that you're weak or crazy.
The goal in letting go is to stop manipulating the outcome. Control provides a false sense of safety, and it depletes your personal power when attempts to change the outcome fail.
When we try to control others, it triggers the obsession to keep trying. It's a vicious cycle. You cannot control what's outside of you no matter how hard you try. If someone wants to leave, it's futile to make them stay. It also feels demeaning to keep chasing them.
Though letting go is a painful life lesson, it gets easier with practice. That's why having enough support is vital. In isolation, you tend to go back again and again hoping to change the end result.
Issues of control and people pleasing are aspects of codependent relationships. Click the image below for more help!
9. Increase self-care and lower expectations to keep centered.
Letting go is a process that depletes your energy. Physically you may feel more tired and less interested in fun activities. A mild depression is common so lowering your expectations helps you to be kinder to yourself.
Now is not the time to start new projects or make major changes. It's a time to be nurturing to yourself. Make time for the grief by saying no to extra activities which promotes rest and healing.
Giving yourself 10 minutes a day to cry can ironically improve functioning. You're not going to fight the pain anymore, you're going to honor it. Studies show that a good cry releases stress and helps to bring you back to center.
10. Be gentle with yourself, healing is a process not a destination.
This process of letting go is painful enough but beating yourself up for not doing it right, doubles your own suffering. Letting go becomes a rollercoaster of intense grief, self-doubt and fear. The only way out is through the pain. With these steps and the right support, you eventually get closure and that's where you'll find peace.
Wondering Why Your Relationships Aren't Working?
By Michelle Farris, LMFT