There are things that happen in life that hurt. Things that make you extremely angry, sorrowful, distraught, bitter, and filled with grief. Things that tear you up inside and change your life forever. Sometimes life just isn’t easy. And that’s ok.
These painful experiences, though, do not have to define you. They don’t have to consume you. They don’t have to make you lash out, retaliate, or turn you into someone you don’t want to be. Even when these intense feelings are legitimate and it feels like you should hold on to them for dear life because you deserve to feel the way you do, you should let them go. Holding on means these emotions will haunt you forever, they will dull the light that shines within you, and they will etch away at your wellbeing and perhaps make you flat out miserable.
So how do you let go?
Write Out Your Feelings
Writing is incredibly therapeutic and can help you articulate feelings you may not be able to verbalize. When I find myself spinning in anger and negativity, I journal. Put pen to paper and describe what happened and why, the specific emotions you are feeling, and ideas on how you can move on. Imagine what you would to say to the person; yell and scream through your written words so you can fully express yourself and start the process of letting go.
There isn’t a person on the planet who hasn’t done something to hurt someone else, intentionally or not…including you. Everyone deserves to be forgiven. That doesn’t mean you have to forget (although I believe there are benefits to doing so). It doesn’t mean that you condone or excuse the behavior. It’s truly about reconciling what happened and forgiving so you can move forward. Holding on to intense emotions is a big burden to bear…a burden that will most likely all fall on squarely on your own shoulders. You can bet the person who hurt or angered you reflects on what happened far less than you do, if at all.
Or perhaps it’s yourself who you need to forgive. Even when you make hurtful decisions or terrible mistakes, you deserve to forgive yourself. Beating yourself up does no good as it doesn’t change or undo the situation. Plus, much unnecessary pain is created by holding onto the past. The biggest battles I have fought have been with myself and there is no way to win this kind of battle. Reflect on what happened and why, accept responsibility for your part, apologize if you need to, and then let it go.
Stop Being the Victim
No matter the situation, you have a choice on whether or not you are going to be a victim or be responsible for you own life. Shit happens. Sometimes it’s really bad shit. The kind you don’t deserve. Maybe you were in the wrong place at the wrong time or the situation was completely out of your control. Or maybe the decisions you made up to that point created your own circumstances. If you don’t want to be a victim, take charge of your reactions and choices. You can decide to hold a grudge, stay angry, retaliate, lash out, or fall apart. Or you can make a different choice. It’s up to you.
One of the most powerful tricks I have learned is from the book “The Art of Possibility: Transforming Personal and Professional Life” by Rosemund and Benjamin Zander. In it, they describe the practice of ‘being the board’ which is done by visualizing your life as the board (think chess) on which the game of life is played upon rather than being a piece (think pawn) that moves along the board based on the rules of the game, or as the person who is masterminding the game, trying to win (but may lose). When you are the board, life moves beyond winning, losing, or limiting your opportunities because you can’t move where you want to move, be what you want to be, or because you are afraid (therefore playing defense) that the bishop is going to take your queen. Being the board opens you up to endless possibilities because it allows you to take full ownership of everything…EVERYTHING…that happens in your life. For me, this has been incredibly powerful. Whenever I find myself feeling like something is impossible, getting defensive, or wanting to blame someone else, I ask myself “how am I the board?” This phrase triggers me to think bigger, allowing me to see my role in the situation and take responsibility for my decisions and actions. Note: this is not about blaming yourself when truly terrible things happen to you that are completely out of your control…it’s about fully owning your life so that you can let go, heal, and live a happy life in the wake of these types of events.
Be More Present
I personally live by the mantra forgive and forget, but I recognize forgetting can be difficult and not always appropriate. But focusing on the past means you are not living your life right now. When memories of your anger or pain creep in and you find yourself taking a deep dive into the past, take a few deep breaths and say to yourself, “That was then and this is now. Today, I am focused on my happiness and doing my best in this moment.” As Eckhart Tolle so articulately puts it, “You cannot be both unhappy and fully present in the now.” Don’t know how to be in the present? Here are some practical and easy tips.
Ask For Help
There is nothing wrong with asking for help if you find yourself stuck and miserable. In fact, it’s the bravest, most honorable thing you can do. Seek counseling, coaching, group therapy, or simply talk it through with someone who you trust is going to give it to you straight. Remember, this life is your life. If you are miserable, don’t keep doing the same things that aren’t working. Take charge, get support, and start the process of letting go.
Letting go isn’t easy, especially if your anger or pain has been your dearest friend for a long time. But it’s unhealthy to live your life being defined by these deeply felt emotions. It not only impacts you but everyone around you. When these kinds of emotions take up space in your heart and head, there is no room for happier, lighter, more freeing ones to enter. The biggest gift you can give yourself, those around you, and the future people in your life is to find a way to move past the experience and live a more fulfilling life.
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