The Discomfort of Letting Go

Just last week, a client confided in me and said, “I really miss my boyfriend this week.  I’m glad we broke up, but I just miss him so much”.

“What specifically do you miss about him?” I asked.

Her response made perfect sense to me.  She missed having a partnership, a best friend, sex, dual income and help with parenting.  It was hard starting over, readjusting her budget and trying to juggle day-to-day needs for her children by herself.  But there were things she didn’t miss – the violence, the unstable emotional climate at home, the power struggle.

I guess I have had something on my mind lately: Sometimes letting go of something unhealthy is hard, uncomfortable and takes work.  A few years ago, I said goodbye to a colleague where I work.  I can’t say I wasn’t waiting for this moment for a very long time.  In fact, I often fantasized about how my work would be so much easier without this person.  It actually seemed surreal when we parted ways.  However, as the dust settled the gap in staff support became increasingly apparent.  Suddenly, my work place seemed chaotic and more stressful than I could ever imagine.  I felt burdened by the giant hole this person had left and I wanted nothing more than for things to return “to normal”. What’s tricky is that my “norm” was a really unhealthy norm.  After many years I had adapted to an environment that wasn’t supportive or good for me.

Virginia Satir, a family therapist, believed that families or groups set up a dynamic with each member taking ownership of specific roles.  Typically, our role becomes comfortable and safe even if there is a vague sense that it’s not the best or the healthiest.  Satir believed that members unknowingly feel a pressure to not break out of this dynamic, lest the system crumble.

I felt like this norm at work was ruptured and was distressed that our familiar system had crumbled.  Yet, my vague sense that there was long-term hope for the future stayed with me and helped me through this difficult, stressful transition.  I wonder if you have said goodbye to someone or something for the better and paid the price.  I hope that price pays off for you in the end and helps you move toward a healthier, happier life.

Other ideas where losing something takes work:

  • Saying “no, thank you” to that family member who gives to make themselves feel needed.  This can allow that person to find their own value and identity – but it also means no more money hook-ups, food/laundry help, free childcare, etc. for you.
  • Parting ways with an unhealthy job.  This can give you back your health, your family time and your sanity – but sometimes it is difficult to say goodbye to your “norm”, your co-workers and that stable and secure paycheck.
  • Saying goodbye to resentment.  It’s crazy how long we hold on to old stuff and how we might not even know it.  Forgiving and releasing this can be so healing – but it can feel scary not to have something so powerful to hold onto.  I know many people who have grieved losing this “purpose”.
  • Staying true to your sobriety.  We all know sobriety is great – but we don’t often acknowledge the protection it provides from deep pain.  Not having distractions like alcohol or other substances and working on just you takes so much work.
  • Leaving unhealthy friendships.  It seems obvious that we want healthy, “good-for-us” friendships.  But breaking up with friends is hard.  Sometimes, there is rich and sentimental history between you and parting ways can feel like an actual break-up.


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