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“Letting Go” Sounds Simple, But It May Not Be Easy

Jessica Pontis, LCSW

Humans are innately social creatures, we depend on one another for interaction, support, and community.  We live in intricate social structures that we must navigate day in and day out.  Our relationships with one another, while rewarding, can also be complex.  As a result of these complexities, we can feel hurt by the words or actions of others, sometimes ever our own.  Others may make us feel disappointed, unheard, unvalidated.  All these things can lead to breaches of trust, which have lasting impacts on our relationships with others, as well as future relationships.  This can also be true for our relationship with ourselves.  We too have the capacity to disappoint ourselves, invalidate our experiences, and leave our emotional needs unheard.  How then do we come to forgive ourselves and others when these breaches of trust occur?  How do we reconcile that we have been hurt in a way that yields to a space of healing, while respecting our boundaries that keep us safe?  How do we begin to let go of the hurt, while simultaneously understanding our needs?

In order to better understand the process of letting go of what has hurt us, it is important to first understand the roles that expectation and attachment have on this topic.  In Buddhism, attachments are a person’s attempts to control their experience in the world.  We do this by holding on to the preconceived idea of something or someone that we want to find either desirable or aversive.   However, this presents with certain challenges, as life usually has an alternative way of playing out, separate from our own desires.  While our attachments and expectations are good intentioned in that they help to alleviate anxiety by establishing some sense of control, this can lead to conflict as we will inevitably be disappointed when the path we envision is not the path that unfolds.  

When attachment and expectation is at the root of distress, it is important to begin to unpack how these attachments have led to our disappointments.  A good step in doing so involves some introspection into our own desires of how we would like ourselves and others to act.  This can be difficult, and it is important to give yourself grace during this process.  Understand that as you move through this process of introspection, that your desires are shaped by your experience, and the desires that you have are your minds attempts to keep you safe.  Be gentle with yourself as you begin to unpack the reality of your desires for yourself and others and understand these were created by your subconscious mind with the intent to protect you.  Meditating on what our needs are and the validity of our expectations is a necessary first step in letting go of our harmful attachments. 

The process of introspection is lifelong, and so is the process by which we learn to let go or hurt, while respecting our feelings and needs.  Navigating the balance between forgiveness and boundaries begins with compassion.  When we learn to be compassionate with ourselves first and foremost, we learn to minimize suffering.  The desire to transform through compassion starts to diminish our fixed attachments, and by doing so we learn to let go of disappointment and the disappointments of others.  When you learn to desire compassion for yourself, that begins to extend to others as well, and the relationship begins to transform into something bigger than any one person’s hurt.  By initiating this process, we learn to become more empathetic and attuned to our needs and let go of our attachments and expectations in a safe way.  Ultimately, we will learn to accept what is, and let go of hurt while still establishing and maintaining the boundaries we deem appropriate for our needs.

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