Dear Dr. Allen – The Art of Letting Go
by Dr. Greg Allen
The art of letting go is an important psychological skill for mental health. There are many things in life that are hard to let go of. Pain, disappointment, rejection, failure, losses, mistakes — these are all weighty experiences in our lives that can be a burden for us to bear.
Not letting go of these feelings, and experiences can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, among other ailments.
Letting go is tied to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a concept I never heard about in psychology classes. Forgiveness can be a difficult concept to consider and even more so to do. When we have been wronged, treated badly, injured or had an unfair experience in life, it is hard to even consider forgiving the person or entity responsible for the injustice done to us.
As many of us have realized though, holding onto the pain and anger causes resentment to build up. Often, we realize that being mad at someone for hurting us causes us more pain than the person we are upset with.
My mother went through Nazi occupation and a devastating war tof liberation. Her frequent comment when our family was going through a hard time was, “At least we are not getting bombed”.
Of course, as American kids, we had no idea what she was referring to. As the years went on, we saw her pain and fear and self-protectiveness lessen as she talked about the war and her experiences and gradually let go. Letting go is a wonderful concept. But that doesn’t make it easy to do.
We have to focus on letting go of specific mental images, memories and then the emotions that are attached to the memories. In 12-Step programs, participants are encouraged to identify a ‘higher power’ and then release these types of problems to your higher power. People who believe in God, can let go to Him. People who don’t believe in a god, can find some other person, place or thing to let go of their pain, grief and past negative experiences. A supportive person can also represent the kindness needed to allow us to express these memories and feelings.
Forgiveness does not mean you forgot what happened, or that you will renew a relationship with that person, or trust them. It means we are letting go of bitterness, anguish, pain and the whole bad experience that happened. This letting go can be done alone by ourselves, too. Sometimes this letting go has to be repeated before we can feel the positive flow of emotions start happening. There are many people whose negative physical ailments disappeared after they let go of former bad experiences and chose to have a healthier mindset.
I know many people will read this and say, “You don’t know what I went through.” But this isn’t a competition for who was injured the most, or who has the worst story to tell. Instead this is a call to live a healthier, stress free lifestyle which can bring freedom to weary souls and traumatized individuals. Letting go and forgiving is a choice. As we do it, we can gain new found strength and inspiration, and live more freely.
Dr. Greg Allen is a licensed therapist practicing in Palos Verdes Estates and San Pedro. (DrGregAllen.com). He is the founder and director of Freedom4U, a non-profit that seeks to guide youth towards their life purpose and reduce risky lifestyles. (FreedomCommunity.com). He also directs the non-profit Hearts Respond, which helps LA Harbor families in social-emotional and creative areas. (HeartsRespond.com) To support these youth non-profits attend the Fleetwood Mac Tribute Concert at the Warner Grand Theatre on May 21. See websites for more info. ER