“Let go. Why do you cling to pain? There is nothing you can do about the wrongs of yesterday. It is not yours to judge. Why hold on to the very thing which keeps you from hope and love?” ~Leo Buscaglia
In my personal experiences with trying to change things about myself and my life that were no longer useful I came to realize that I was hindering my own growth and positive change by refusing to let go. It’s a weird paradox, you know, this business of letting go to move forward. I’ve always had this idea that I was obligated to remember things of my past, whatever was still accessible to my conscious mind, whatever was embedded deeply in my emotional memory because these things were there and wouldn’t go away, so they were supposed to be there, right? Even though many of these experiences, feelings, things of my past were uncomfortable to recall, scary, limiting, outdated, outgrown, painful, subjugating, I still believed that they were supposed to be there, supposed to be recalled, supposed to be relived, supposed to be held on to. After all, they made me who I am, right? I thought, These memories or ill-feelings will always be with me, I need these things to move forward because they are me and I am them, right? Absolutely WRONG.
Albert Ellis, the famous psychologist who developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), calls the musts, shoulds, have tos, supposed tos and other forms of absolutist thinking irrational beliefs because, essentially, to believe that something must be a certain way or a thing is supposed to happen a certain way is ridiculous. I’m learning that when something makes me uneasy, it’s calling my attention to it. This attention, however, is more useful when it’s solution-focused instead of being attention that simply wallows in or reinforces these uneasy feelings. If the thought of someone from my past makes me uneasy, the idea isn’t to experience the uneasiness every time I think of that person with no resolve, but to begin to ask myself probing questions about why this person makes me uneasy while simultaneously thinking about how I can think about this person in the future without the ill-feelings and uneasiness. If the thought of this person makes me upset, and I choose to remain there for however long I choose to remain there, carrying those unpleasant feelings into unrelated business ventures and personal relationships, then I’m sure to taint my participation in those experiences as well, and that’s not fair to these experiences or to me.
The Lure of Holding on to the Past
Let’s be frank: there are people who seem to enjoy “drama,” who seem conflict-driven, every time you talk to them there’s some mess brewing in their lives, they haven’t changed in 5 years, and when you finish a conversation with them you always seem to have a headache because their life is just too chaotic for you. Some of these people are still talking about the same job that they hate, the same boyfriend that they can’t stand, or something that’s no longer working for them yet they still choose to keep this thing around and still choose to tell anyone with an open ear about how much they hate being in the same situation. It gets exhausting listening to these kinds of repetitive rants coming from the same people.
Now, take a deep look at yourself and think about times when you’ve complained about the same person or people over and over again, either to another person or to yourself. Think about the ill-feelings that you have failed to resolve within yourself, even if you’ve ceased talking to others about this person or experience, that make you incredibly discomforted. Sometimes it’s easier to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing; the brain can be wired this way with repetition of the same thought processes. Sometimes there’s a perverted attachment to the pain associated with certain people and experiences because our levels of self-worth are so low that we’ve come to believe that this is what we deserve, and may even believe that this pain “feels good” because we’ve behaved this way for so long that it becomes “comfortable,” but more accurately, familiar.
Make a Decision
This is one of the most critical junctures of this blog post and in letting go to move forward (just like you do on monkey bars): you have to be sick and tired of being sick and tired if any real change is going to come about. If you haven’t decided that you’re really ready to move forward, that you’re sick and tired of being stuck in the same spot because you’re afraid of letting go of the bar behind you so that you can actually reach for the one in front of you, then you’re not going to really understand the rest of this post. Making a decision to let go of the past means that you’re damned-near willing to try anything healthy that will allow you to grow in a positive direction, and free you from feeling like you’re subject to the whims of your emotions and the memories of things that have already happened to you, events that you can’t change. I’ve noticed that in my personal experience, once I decided that I was done with letting my past run my life, ideas, people, experiences, books, videos, correspondences, inspirations, and synchronistic encounters were presented to me along my path, helping me to formulate my own ways of letting go and moving forward that I have chosen to share with others in this post.
Addressing Self-Worth Issues
A high sense of self-worth is a difficult quality to just acquire over night; I believe that it takes an individual most of their childhood to develop a solid sense of self-worth through constant reinforcement and interactions with family, friends, teachers, and others in life. For adults that have struggled with issues of self-worth all their lives it may take quite some time to develop a sense of high self-worth through healing past wounds, affirming self-worth, making healthier decisions that enhance feelings of high self-esteem and high self-worth, and through other practices like prayer and meditation. It all depends on the person’s willingness to heal. Willingness also implies the readiness to let go of past hurts. It may take a person several years while another may wholeheartedly share that it took a shorter amount of time to develop a high sense of self-worth. Again, I would imagine it depends on the person.
Dr. Wayne Dyer, one of my absolute favorite personal development mentors, has a quote about self-worth that says: “Self-worth comes from one thing-thinking that you are worthy.” If you’re an adult that struggles with self-worth issues, this thinking that Dr. Dyer talks about has to be reinforced at many different times to become a way of automatically thinking about yourself. It’s like you have to rewire your brain to start perceiving yourself as worthy by reinforcing these worthy thoughts and beliefs in nearly all that you do. Dr. Dyer offers a great starting point, however: just think that you’re worthy. Even if you don’t quite believe it yet, tell it to yourself, envision what worthiness looks like for you, see your worthy self on the beach, out in nature, in a nice car or whatever strikes your fancy, and feel what that sense of self-worth feels like for you. Do this once a day or as often as you can, but try to make it a habit. Making the practice a habit helps the brain rewire the new message that you’re delivering to the brain with your new thoughts and your new behavior: the message that YOU ARE WORTHY. Also, remember, along your journey there will also be other amazing things that you attract into your life that only you can experience for yourself, and that will reinforce this message of your unconditional self-worth.
Redirecting Unwanted Thoughts
Now, you’ve gotten the message that you are hot stuff, you know it and ain’t afraid to show it, but for some reason you still keep getting these negative messages that pop into your head every now and then, of which you seemingly have no control. I would argue that this is years of programmed messages and patterning that your brain has undergone that is still working its way out of your brain’s neural pathways. The way to create new neural pathways, new ways of automatically thinking, is to redirect these unwanted thoughts when they arrive. It’s like this: you may not be able to stop the pitcher from throwing balls, but you have two choices. You can either get hit in the head and knocked out by one of those flying balls, or you can position yourself to prepare to hit these balls when they come flying at you. You choose.
The way I redirect unwanted thoughts is to first identify the emotion that I’m associating with the thought. Am I scared? Angry? Saddened? Once I identify the emotion associated with the thought, I then ask myself why I’m angry when I think about this thing or person. Here, I try to get a clear understanding of what makes me angry or whatever feeling I generate about this situation. Then I employ some forgiveness, both to myself and the person that I’m angry with. Then I remind myself that there’s nothing that I can do to change what has happened, so I might as well let it go. It helps A LOT if I am able to discern something useful, loving, and/or admirable about the person or experience that made me angry when I initially thought about it so that I can teach my brain to think about this person or experience in this new, positive light instead of continuing to harp on the negative thought I initially had about it. Then I remember my goals and the things that I want in my future. I remember that these things are more important to me than holding on to the old feelings that I can’t do anything with, and that no longer serve me. Once I’ve connected my future to these feelings and to the healing that I am seeking, I am truly ready to release these feelings.
I’ll give a clear example. Say I’m still angry with Suzy from my elementary school who used to tease me about my hair. (My hair has always been a source of laughter for others when I was young so it’s easy for me to bring this up as an example. No worries; I’ve healed in this area. LOL) And let’s say I realize that I’m still angry at Suzy because there’s a girl named Jenny at my job who reminds me so much of Suzy and I can’t stand her just because of the likeness. And Jenny reminds me of other people that I’ve encountered in my life because they all remind me of “people like” Suzy (talk too much, can’t be trusted, inconsiderate, attention-seeking, blah blah blah). Here’s what I’m suggesting:
1) Identify the emotion: We’ve already stated that it’s anger. You could probably throw fear in there, not only because fear is the basis for most negative emotions, but because there may be the actual fear of being teased by others.
2) Identify the reason or the emotion: From what has already been presented and from what I understand, the reason for the anger and fear is because of her teasing me about my hair.
—–Here, I’d like to go deeper. Why does the teasing anger you? Why are you still angry about it when it happened in elementary school? What does the teasing say about you? Did you deserve the teasing then? Do you deserve the teasing now? If you could go back to visit Suzy in this scenario, what would you tell her? Would it make you feel better? What could you tell Suzy to make you feel better? So forth and so on…
3) After this, I would immediately forgive 2 people (all parties involved): Suzy and me. Forgive Suzy for being a kid who teased people and hurt your feelings, and forgive yourself for believing whatever Suzy said about you, and for carrying it around with you for so many years.
4) Remind yourself that you cannot change the situation, and envision yourself letting it go. Envision yourself standing on a 50ft. mountain top, holding a bag with the memory of Suzy teasing you on it, filled with your anger, your feelings of low self-worth associated with this situation, your frustration, your feelings of blame, shame, guilt, etc. Take the bag and toss it out into the air, watching it become swallowed up by the vastness of the mountainous area where you’ve let the memory fall to its death. If you’d like, you can visit this mountain whenever you need to release something. This is your personal mountain.
5) Remember something nice about the situation. I doubt that Suzy was all bad. Try to remember something nice about her. If you can’t recall something nice about her, make something up. Give yourself an excuse to like her, even if you can’t think of one. This is healthy for you. If you’re religious, you can remember that she’s a child of God. If you’re spiritual like me, remember that we’re all One, so Suzy and you are the same, and she is, at the core of her, all things good, just like you are. Feel what this nice thought of Suzy feels like for you. Remember this feeling, and associate this new feeling with Suzy every time you think about her, as best you can.
6) Remember your goals. Think about the things that you would like to do in your life, what lies ahead, even if it’s being happy in every waking moment that springs forth. Remember that, and view that as more important than holding on to these negative feelings about an old event that you can’t change. Thinking forward allows you to forget the past because you begin to realize that the past is not really all that important, no matter how much you once believed it was.
Sometimes I have to do this more than a few times. I’ve decided that I’m OK with that. I don’t care how often I have to release unwanted feelings because every time I undergo this process I feel a little better. I also understand that with this practice I’m reinforcing positive thinking about an uncomfortable situation so that even if I can’t see the immediate results, I still know that I’m rewiring my brain and creating neural pathways or new ways of thinking that are more conducive to what I want to see in my future and what I’d like to experience in my present. It’s well worth the effort because either way I’d be doing something with these unwanted thoughts. I can decide to continue to harp on the ill-feelings, or I can choose to redirect the thoughts every time they come. Again, it’s simply a matter of choice.
Don’t get stuck on the monkey bars. Keep pressing forward!
I hope that this was helpful, and I hope you can apply some of this to your own life. If so, please feel free to share with me how it worked out for you, or, by all means, add your own thoughts about change and letting go. I’d love to grow and learn with you. J
Let’s Do Better.
K. Nola Mokeyane
North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service (n.d.). Self-Esteem In Children. Retrieved from http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs/pdfs/fcsw_506.pdf
REBTNetwork.Org (n.d.). What is Irrational? Retrieved from http://www.rebtnetwork.org/library/ideas.html
Warrell, Margie (2011). Neuro-plasticity: Want to Outsmart Your Brain? Retrieved from http://margiewarrell.com/blog/neuroplasticity-to-outsmart-your-brain/