What do you need to let go of? I’m not talking about a few extra pounds or even the financial weight of credit card debt. I’m referring to the inner baggage that weighs you down and sometimes holds you, hostage. If you find yourself feeling like a bag lady, then in the iconic words of Erykah Badu – “Bag lady you ‘gon hurt your back draggin’ all them bags like that.”
I’m always excited to discuss this topic because I know the importance of releasing baggage, but also, I often hear from my community that you all want to hear more about letting go. This topic is especially timely since we’re coming to the end of the year and the end of another decade. You want to leave behind anything that doesn’t serve you in 2019 so you can enter into 2020 with a sense of freedom, a sense of lightness, and a sense of hope.
Why We Need to Let Go
The topic of letting go is crucial because it requires that you make a conscious decision to let go of, as my friend Amber says, all the nouns of our lives – people, things and places. There’s a process you must undergo to let go of the people, the places and the things that hurt you, that disappoint you, that cause you self-doubt, that cause you bitterness and that cause you anger.
Instead of holding onto the pain, replace it with something that will serve your future self. Replace the negativity with feelings, thoughts, and people that carry positive, affirming, and transformative energy. Replace it with opportunities that can let you be the person you want to be or have the experiences you desire.
It can be challenging to let go and it’s not always because you desire to hold on to pain and negative experiences. Here are a few reasons why you might struggle to let go.
It Hurts to Let Go
First, it’s hard to let go because it hurts. Sometimes your mind tells you that someone in your life needs to have less space and control over you. You know that consciously, but your heart and your emotions are telling you something else. When your heart and mind are at war it can create inner turmoil that holds you hostage in your feelings. Oftentimes when you don’t know what to do you don’t change, because at least your current state is familiar. You don’t have to risk feeling something new or unexpected in the future.
There’s Gratification in Holding a Grudge
Sometimes you can’t let go because you get some gratification by holding a grudge against the person, place or thing that did you wrong. You feel victorious over the situation when you replay it over and over and over in your head. You feel better knowing that you were victimized. That makes you a better person because you’re the victim and they’re the villain.
4 Stages of Letting Go of Pain
Once you acknowledge the people, places or things in your life that you need to let go of, it’s time to create momentum by developing a plan to make it happen. Here are the 4 stages of letting go of pain.
The first step is to accept that something wrong happened to you. This doesn’t mean that you’re okay with it or suddenly like it. Acceptance just means that you can see that it happened and that you are dealing with the associated consequences of the situation. Once you acknowledge the negative, you can decide that you will purposefully bring positivity into your life.
Once you accept the things that have happened to you, the next step is to forgive. While the things that you need to let go of might be considered heinous or unforgivable, usually it’s not personal. They’ve likely done similar things to others. They’ve likely showcased their unkind, inconsiderate and hurtful behavior to others. You can’t take it personally when it’s a character flaw on their end, not on yours. This doesn’t mean that you should just get over it, but remember that forgiveness is for you, not the other person. If you’re still holding on to pain someone caused you a decade ago and they’re out living their best lives while you’re festering on the pain they caused, who is winning? Not you. Instead of trying to control the negative things that happened in your life, accept them, forgive and focus on controlling the positive things that happen to you.
After you’ve forgiven, it’s time to express gratitude. While it might sound counterintuitive to express gratitude about something that was a bad experience, it’s an essential part of the process. Taking the time to identify a way in which the pain has led to or will lead to you being a better version of yourself requires self-reflection. What can you learn from experiencing this hurt? What can you learn about yourself? What can you learn about how you respond to triggers? What can you place in your tool belt to move you forward? I can share with you that I had a not so positive experience with co-workers a while back. I eventually learned to be thankful for the negative situations once I learned to assert myself on the job. It made me a better person and a better employee because when future difficult circumstances arose I was able to handle them easily with grace and confidence.
Sometimes you skip through the phases of letting go too quickly, especially as a woman of color. Hearing things like “buck up” and “you need to get over it” can make you feel like you don’t have the right to go through the healing process. But it’s crucial that you don’t rush.
Here are some activities related to releasing that I highly recommend:
- Write a Letter: I recommend that you do this for all of the people, situations, and experiences that you need to let go of. Write a letter to the person that hurt you expressing your feelings. You don’t have to mail it or give it to them, but getting your emotions out is much better than holding them in. Release the negative feelings and put them into the atmosphere instead of leaving them stuck in your heart. Give yourself the closure you need.
- Cry: Crying is a healing activity. You can cry until you run out of tears. Don’t feel any shame when you cry. You were given tears for a reason and crying doesn’t make you weak.
- Go to Therapy: I attended therapy during a time when I was experiencing depression. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made to now live as the healthy version of myself that I am today.
You Don’t Have to Let it Go Alone
Everyone’s process of letting go is different. Sometimes you need to heal completely in isolation. But, quite often letting go requires the support of your friends, family members, professionals or a community of people you seek out to support you along the way. Do it unashamed and unafraid. There is no shame in being human. There is no shame in exercising self-care by healing the things that hurt you. You don’t have to wear the strong woman mask all the time.
Here are a few resources to help you as you take your next steps in letting go:
- Join The Happy Finances Community: This is a free Facebook community I created that’s a safe space for women to join and get their questions and concerns addressed about finances but also other areas of life that create a healthy and whole woman. You’ll get feedback directly from me but also the wonderful community of over 1,500 women that has developed over time.
- Read Unmasking The Strong Black Woman: This is a book I wrote that will resonate with you if you find yourself thinking that you have to walk through life pretending that everything is okay when it’s not. Taking off the mask is essential to releasing the pain.