7 Secrets of Letting Go

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As challenging as it can be to move on from a bad emotional experience, here are seven ways to help make the process more than a bit easier.

It’s not uncommon for folks who have undergone trying circumstances or experienced trauma of some kind to have difficulty “letting go” emotionally and moving on with life. Such difficulties are especially common in the aftermath of a toxic relationship. (For more on this, see “Moving On After a Toxic Relationship”.) Letting go of a relationship which has been painful but in which you’ve nonetheless been heavily invested is never an easy task. Sometimes, that’s because your emotional wounds are still fresh and you’re not of a mind to forgive the person or persons you believe inflicted those wounds. Sometimes, it’s because you’re not ready to forgive yourself. You might wonder how you could have been so naive or foolish to have allowed yourself to get into or remain in your situation. You might be beating yourself up emotionally for not knowing better. Still other times, your difficulty letting go has more to do with the natural tendency to remain with what you’re familiar so that you don’t have the even more daunting task of facing the unknown.

All this emotional and behavioral paralysis comes with a price: continued victimization. Still, as anyone who’s been in a bad situation knows, it’s neither simple nor easy to embrace the well known adage to “forgive and forget.” Make no mistake, moving on almost always involves much more than merely forgiving and forgetting. It requires properly attending to your wounds, finding the proper avenues for healing, and then embarking on the tough task of claiming and forging a new and more empowered life. All this takes energy, which in many cases has already been already significantly depleted.

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As challenging as it can be to move on from a bad emotional experience, there are some fairly straightforward things anyone can do to make the process a bit easier. Over the years, many folks have shared with me their secrets for getting “unstuck” and moving forward, and here are some of them:

Take an Objective Step Back
Spending months or years “immersed” in the trials of a problematic relationship can cause you to lose all sense of objectivity. You can even lose sight of what “normal” is. You have to distance yourself from the conflict you’ve been in to see the reality of it more realistically. So it’s important to take time out from thinking (or “stewing”) about the mess you’ve been in and to do your best to look at things from a distance. Before long, you’ll begin to see that mess and the world around you in a much different light.
Take some different perspectives on the ordeal you’ve been through. Most especially, reframe as many of the more “negative” aspects of your experience as you can into perceptions of a positive character. For example, change the thought that you’ve been played for a fool to the thought that you’ve been given the opportunity for new insights and a renewed appreciation of what really matters to you. Putting a positive slant on negative perceptions is not easy, and you might even find yourself not believing in what you’re doing at first. But sometimes you have to “fake it to make it.” With time, changing the way you see things from negative to positive will provide you with some increased motivation and energy to move on.
Accept the Lessons of the Past and Learn and Profit from Them
Life is all about learning and growing. As hard as it can be to accept at times, there are always valuable lessons to be learned from even the most unpleasant of experiences. But before you can truly profit from a situation you have to accept and embrace all that the experience has to inform and teach you. Sometimes, that’s a really difficult thing to, do but the potential payoffs are substantial.
Redirect Your Focus
Dealing with difficult circumstances can get you into the habit of focusing your attention and energy externally. And, as I mention in my books In Sheep’s Clothing and Character Disturbance, this is the very “formula” for depression, which can further hinder you from moving forward in your life. (For more on this see “Empowerment Tools: Invest Your Energy Where You Have Power” and “Preventing Tragedies: Time to Look Inward as Well as Outward”.) To really empower yourself to move on, you need to get in greater touch with your wants, needs, desires, aspirations, etc. So when you find yourself focusing externally, especially on people, places, and things you can’t control, it’s important to redirect your attention inward. And because you always have the power to do something differently, it’s best to focus your attention and energy on taking action. The type or size of the steps you take to make things different is nowhere near as important as merely taking some kind of action. Over time, step-by-step, and before you know it, you’ll be breaking the chains of emotional bondage and moving forward.
Uncover and Face Your Fears
Many times, we remain ensconced with the familiar old “junk” in our lives because we’re actually afraid of moving forward. Much of the time, just what we fear is not fully conscious. The unknown is always scary, so taking the time to reflect on what we might be afraid of and facing that fear head on can mean the difference between remaining “stuck” and claiming a new life.
Make Peace With — and Cut — Your Losses
Before we get to the point where we know we have to exit a bad situation, we’ve often invested a lot of time and energy trying to make things work. It’s really hard to walk away from such an investment. In In Sheep’s Clothing, I call this phenomenon the “slot machine syndrome.” (Also see “Moving On After a Toxic Relationship”.) To move forward you must first make peace with the fact that your prior decisions have come with a price (in time, energy, and often, money) and then resolve to cut your losses. This can make the difference between feeling completely “taken” and learning a costly but nonetheless invaluable lesson.
Seize and Value the Moment
You cannot re-live yesterday and you really have no power over tomorrow. It’s important to stay in the here and now. There’s no greater power than the power of now. Just recognizing and accepting that fact is empowering in itself. Once you experience the value of seizing every moment, it becomes much easier to keep your eyes forward and to resist the temptation to look back.

Letting go and moving on is a tough task for sure. But it’s a task made so much easier when you know the secrets to getting unstuck and moving forward. Hopefully, these tips from those who’ve been there will prove helpful to anyone who has been through some tough times and is having some difficulty letting go.

All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by on and was last reviewed or updated by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .

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