Why is it so hard to let go of some relationships? Do we feel like we won’t be whole without the other person in our lives? Perhaps we are concerned what others will think of us if we walk away? Maybe we think we are not capable without the other person and we need them to function? Could the idea of being alone be so frightening, that we would rather experience a constant low level (or high level!) of misery instead?
Many of us feel that we need a very strong justification to walk away from certain relationships. One woman feels that she can’t leave an abusive relationship unless her partner is also being abusive to the children. An older retired man still provides his drug addicted adult son all of his basic needs so he doesn’t look like a thoughtless and uncaring father. A young girl feels anger and resentment every time she interacts with her parents, but when faced with a chance to leave home, stays put. A young man feels hurt and hopeless every time his boss criticizes him, yet his work 'ethic' makes him stay.
What if we didn’t need a strong justification? What if simply feeling bad in a relationship is enough to decide to let go? Some of us stick around hoping that the other person will change, just enough, to make it worth it. And those of us that work to get the other person to change keep thinking, maybe this time it will work. What if we can’t change them, no matter hard we try? What if we can only change what works for us? When we remember that we are our best own source of what we need, we have a new place to choose from.
Recently, I had a high drama experience with my mother that triggered many years of old anger and disappointment that I had hidden from myself unable to face the pain. As the old hidden pain rose towards the surface and I allowed myself to feel it and express it, I realized that this is a person I never felt good in relationship with as a child or as an adult. As I recalled both past and recent experiences of feeling unsafe, used, betrayed, criticized, controlled, unimportant, manipulated and dumped on, a large part of me was ready to just stop being engaged in her life – once and for all. Yet, I found myself struggling to let go of how things have been between us. As I looked deeper, I noticed I was afraid of losing something if I let go. One thing I was afraid of losing was the respect of my friends and husband – what would they think of me if I stopped being a ‘good daughter’? I allowed that fear to flow up and out and then the deeper fear became clearer. My deepest fear was that I would never get to experience the ‘mothering’ that I felt so deprived of. Mothering meant being gently cared for and tended to, feeling safe, being supported, encouraged, nurtured, loved and appreciated – without needing to be different than I already am. If I let go of the relationship with this woman I have called ‘mother’, would I ever get to experience those feelings in my life?
I took some time then to look at how I already am providing those experiences for myself. I found at least one way I’m currently providing those experiences for myself in each area of mothering (cared for/tended to, supported, encouraged, safe, nurtured, loved and appreciated), and can now begin to actively pay attention to them in my life. I also have a few friends who offer these priceless jewels of love to me unconditionally. I am so grateful.
I remembered that everything I need is actually inside of me, not outside in some other person. I also remembered that from this place of knowing I can provide what I need for me, I feel free to ask for what I want, and say no to what I don’t want, clearly and lovingly without being attached to the outcome. As a child, I wasn’t able to provide those ‘mothering’ experiences for myself and then spent my entire adult life hoping and wishing that I could get them from my own mother. Letting go of looking outside for what I most desire has led me back to me. The one person that can do the best job of ‘mothering’ me is me.
Now that I no longer need to get my needs met this way, I can let go of my old relationship with my mother and let her be exactly as she is, without me needing her to be different. I can drop all of my past ‘expectations’ and allow her to just be herself, and respond to her the same way I would anyone else in my life. I can be present with her and engage with her as she is, instead of seeing her through my old eyes of unmet expectations. What a relief!
What relationships are you willing to ‘let go of’ today?