Letting go is hard.
I first learned this as a young child, exploring my grandmother’s basement, packed to the ceiling with carefully labeled and organized items as though she was preparing to seek refuge from the apocalypse.
Which, in many ways, she was.
She lived through starvation and disaster on the Dakota prairie. Later, she experienced the second World War and the Great Depression that followed. She felt the burden of providing for three children while also caring for a sister and a husband that faced medical crises.
All of this occurred long before I was born. So I puzzled at the multiples of cans stacked on a windowsill that approximated a grocery shelf when a fully-stocked pantry and fridge occupied the kitchen above. From my perspective as a middle class American kid, the grocery store was a constant. I simply couldn’t understand the need to create an additional level of food security at home even as I could see how deeply the need went within her.
Then my parents divorced. And for the first time in my young life, I felt that overwhelming need to hold on to something – anything – in an attempt to create that sense of security and certainty that I needed to feel safe in the world. In fact, that need was part of what drove my attachment towards my first husband. Sometimes I wish that hindsight could be aimed forwards.
At some point, most of us experience that sense of life pulling the rug from beneath our feet. We reach out. And grab on.
Only to realize much later that we’re still holding on long after it’s time to let go.
The following are possible signs that you’re still holding on when perhaps it is time to let go:
The person, object or situation no longer brings you joy or fulfills a purpose.
The first hosta that I planted in my old front yard brought me endless pleasure. I admired its immense green span when I pulled into the driveway and marveled at the unfurling of its new leaves. As the sun intensified over the ensuing weeks, the once-pristine leaves began to brown, turning shriveled and deformed in the face of the sun’s relentless beating. The plant no longer brought me joy. Instead, the sight of the failing foliage brought me guilt and shame and frustration. Even as I refused to admit defeat and replace it with something more suitable.
We all have a tendency to that, to stubbornly hold on to our choices even when we no longer find joy or usefulness with our selection. Life’s too short for placeholders and clutter. If it doesn’t bring joy (to you or someone else) or fulfill a purpose, why continue to hold on?
You show signs of anxiety when you consider letting go that are out of proportion with the actual loss.
Have you ever removed a pacifier, favored toy or security blanket from the hands of young child? Did they act as though you were threatening their very existence? This just goes to show how easily we assign great meaning to things that can be relatively inconsequential.
We use these things – whether people or items – much like first responders use gauze to pack a wound. We stuff them in around the bleeding spaces in an attempt to halt the flow of emotion. Their presence means that we don’t have to examine the wound. And we fear that if we remove them, we will succumb to the underlying injury.
The opportunity cost is beginning to be a burden.
I was in contact with a person who was in an on-again, off-again relationship. They were torn. On the one hand, they were afraid of being alone and were appreciative of the positive aspects of this particular partner. On the other hand, there were significant communication struggles and work that both needed to do to past this. Ultimately, this person decided to move on – literally – because continuing to say “yes” to this relationship meant saying “no” to many exciting opportunities that were presenting themselves.
Whenever you are holding on to one thing, you are preventing yourself from holding on to something else. Are you finding that you have goals that you cannot seem to meet because your attention is still directed towards this other thing? Are your hands too full to pick up what you desire?
You find yourself making excuses and becoming defensive when questioned.
My need for my ex husband was extreme. So extreme that I was not able to face the thought of losing him, much less confront the reality of who he was. I made excuses for his excuses and defended him to myself and others. And the one time someone asked if I was afraid about infidelity while he travelled? Let’s just say that they never tried to bring it up again.
We often feed ourselves the narrative that we’ve made choices and now we have to live with them because it’s easier than facing the fact that maybe we made the wrong choice and we have the power to change it. Denial is powerful and it puts up quite the fight when it feels threatened. As such, when you feel yourself gearing up for a battle when there are no weapons drawn, it’s a sign that you may be grasping onto something that would be better off released.
The fear of the leap is the only thing in your way.
It’s scary to take a leap of faith.
The thought of letting go when you fear that you may plummet seems like a fool’s mission.
Yet if you’re always holding on, you’ll never know what you can reach.
Related: The Danger of Holding On