We’ve all been there: you’ve finally ended a relationship with a person (or a job, or anything else). You know, logically, that putting this behind you is the best decision for you and your future, but you still can’t seem to let this person go.
Why is it so hard to let go of someone you love? Read on to learn about why it’s 100% normal to struggle with letting go, and for some practical tips to overcome it.
The Reason Why It’s Hard to Let Go
Relationships are one of the things that make life meaningful. Love doesn’t go away overnight, even when the relationship ends. It’s natural for it to take some time to be able to fully let go of anyone or anything that was once special to you. Loss comes in many forms, not just death. And every loss comes with a certain level of grief.
Letting go of someone you love also isn’t just about that person. It also signifies a big change in your life, and maybe even your identity. Even if you know that the relationship wasn’t for you, it can still be hard to let go of it. Change is scary. Letting go requires you to move on from something that was familiar and comforting and enter into the uncertain future. And that’s difficult, and maybe even terrifying, for anybody.
If you’re having a hard time letting go of someone in your past, don’t beat yourself up. It’s human to grieve changes, even when we know they’re right for us. Not being able to let go is normal, but there are ways to move past this stuckness and take a step into your future.
5 Ways to Practice Letting Go
As people often say, sometimes the best way to learn how to let someone go is to just give it time. However, in the meantime, you can use these 5 practices to thrive through the process of letting go and come out the other end the best version of yourself.
First, try to practice something that’s called radical acceptance. This is a skill that’s used in dialectical behavior therapy, a treatment method that helps people with intense emotions and relationship problems.
Accepting a situation doesn’t mean that you like it. But some things are simply out of our control, and trying to fight it only increases our suffering. The classic example that’s used to illustrate this idea is a storm arriving on the day you’d planned to go for a picnic. You can be as upset as you want to about the weather, but that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a storm outside, and your picnic is canceled.
Acceptance is the difference between saying: “I hate the rain. Why does it have to rain on the one day that I’d planned something special? This kind of thing always happens to me. Why me? Have I done something to deserve this?” and saying, “I’m really upset that my picnic needs to be canceled, but there’s nothing I can do about it. How else can I salvage this day?”
The same applies to relationships. It’s natural to feel heartbroken over any loss. But trying, in vain, to change that’s out of your control will only lead to more suffering. Try practicing radical acceptance by saying, “I don’t like this, but this is the way it is.”
Let yourself feel
Acceptance doesn’t equal denial, however. Make sure that in your journey towards acceptance and letting go, you're not forcing yourself to feel differently about the situation than you really are. Healing takes time. You’re probably experiencing a lot of different mixed emotions after losing someone you love, including grief, anger, and maybe even relief.
Don’t deny yourself those feelings. Pushing emotions down is not a solution; repressed feelings have a way to come up in one way or another, often when you’re least expecting it. Instead of trying to ignore or avoid your feelings, allow yourself to feel them. Crying is healthy for both your physical and mental health.
Journal about it
Many people write in a journal when they’re feeling distraught or conflicted about something. Journaling can give you a free, safe space to explore your thoughts and feelings and uncover what might be behind them. Often, the best ideas are your own. Journaling about how you feel and what might help you let go may lead you to the solutions you’ve been looking for.
Some ideas for prompts to use while journaling include:
- What is keeping me attached to this person/this relationship?
- When I look deeply, what, specifically, is it about this person that’s hard to let go of?
- How can I give myself what I miss about this relationship?
- What would it mean for me to be able to let go? How would my life be better?
Focus on something else
Yes, it’s important to feel your feelings when you’re trying to let go of something or someone. But trying to force yourself to let go doesn’t work, either. If you’re having a hard time letting go, try focusing on something else for a little while -- like yourself.
Instead of spending all your time thinking about how you can let go, start simply focusing on becoming the best version of yourself. Focus on your physical or mental health. Put effort towards meeting your short- and long-term goals. Make time for your neglected hobbies. You may find that, before you know it, you have naturally started to let go of what’s in your past.
See a therapist
Finally, if a long time has passed and you don’t find yourself any closer to being able to move on, then a mental health therapist may be able to help. Therapy isn’t only for when you’re having a mental health crisis. Therapists can help you cope with hard times in life, even if you don’t have a mental illness. Seeing a therapist can give you space to explore why it’s been so hard for you to move on and what you can do about it.
It’s hard for all of us to let go of someone or something we love. But as life changes come our way, we must learn how to cope with them. Often, something even better is waiting for us on the other side.