Learning to Let Go

Letting go of someone you love or used to love is one of the hardest things to do. Sometimes, it can even feel impossible. After a breakup, everybody’s story is different, yet the process of emotionally letting go is something everybody can relate to.

I started thinking more about the process of letting go when I was trying to do so myself after a toxic two-year-long relationship with a woman I loved. She was six years older than I was and lived 5,000 miles away. She severely verbally, and at times, physically, abused me. She handled her anger towards me immaturely and irrationally, often provoking me as I screamed and cried about how much pain she was causing me. She was aware of the hurtful  nature of provoking me, yet she continued to do so while visibly watching the pain I endured. It took time, but after months of suffering, I finally worked up the courage to leave her. I initially felt great about my decision to leave the destructive relationship, and I felt content refraining entirely from communication. However, it was not long before the absence of her led me to convince myself that I needed her, and I became desperate to contact her again. I entered a  vicious cycle with myself, where ​anytime I would try to leave and stay away, I eventually found myself convinced that I couldn’t.

At the time, I couldn’t possibly understand why it was so difficult for me to stay away from someone who made me feel miserable. I didn’t quite know what it was that was pulling me back in. Despite  all the suffering I endured, I realized it is not crazy to feel the same longing to return to someone who you shouldn’t or can’t be with.

But why​ is it so difficult to completely let go?

Break-ups are like death:

It is always difficult for two people to be friends after they separate—even if they think that they can. For this reason, I view a separation more like a death. ​​By separating, we erase the presence of that person from our lives completely, which is both scary and difficult. Losing  anyone's presence in our lives permanently is difficult, but losing such a significant piece of ourselves seems unimaginable, making it even more difficult to let go.

The fear of familiarizing with the unfamiliar:

As Anthropologist Helen Fisher demonstrated through brain scans, the permanent chemical makeup of our bodies ensures that the desire for love and sexual desire never escapes us; love is the product of a chemical reaction in the brain and is embedded in all humans.* This craving is as powerful as hunger; without mutual desire, we often feel empty, and miserable, as we do without food.In the presence of love, our empty receptive “stomachs” are fulfilled. However, it isn’t always easy to find a romantic connection. Therefore, when we have a mutual sexual and emotional connection, we want to hold on to it so badly that we may neglect the fact that we just don’t feel the same way anymore. We become so accustomed to having this emotional reciprocation from this person on a daily basis that a life without it seems impossible.  


Holding onto that intimate connection:

I have always wondered why a FaceTime with my (now ex) girlfriend when I was upset would make me feel 10 times better than my best friend being in my room, hugging me, and giving me advice. Why did I feel the most comfort from her? When you feel this intimate care for someone and it is reciprocated, it makes you feel special and safe. The intimacy provides a different feeling that cannot be compared to being with anyone else, even a close friend. Even if the intimacy is lacking, we often crave it so strongly that our desire almost masks the actual feeling of it, making it hard to let go.

False triggers:

Pictures, videos, letters, and other triggers that are present after a relationship may provide false representations of what your relationship would be if you were still together. When we feel sad and empty without someone, we often search for feelings of strong happiness by recalling good times from earlier in the relationship that evoke nostalgia.Photos of happy memories made it easy for me to lie to myself by thinking that I still felt the same as I did. I questioned why I would ever leave someone who could “make me as happy” as I was in the picture, so I returned once again. But it was not long before I was reminded of the reasons I left in the first place. I had once again completely neglected the fact that she had abused me, and that our relationship had become too destructive to be capable of anything productive or healthy. I lied to myself over and over again because I just couldn’t let go.

When you’re going through this uncomfortable time after a break-up, here are some things to remember:

Any factors preventing you and your ex to heal is not only affecting you, but also your ex. When I ended my relationship the first time, I still valued her as someone I wanted in my life, so I refused to leave her alone and heal. She made me choose between giving her everything I had or staying away for good. I selfishly kept on choosing the former; I told her that I still loved her and that I could see a future for us because a life without her presence at all seemed more miserable. She noticed that I did not care as much as I used to, and she cried and insisted I was lying to myself. She begged me to let her leave if I didn’t love her. Despite the fact that it was ridiculously painful for her, I was selfish and continued to live this lie because I just couldn’t let go. The happiness I got out of staying with her was so minimal, and I failed to actually recognize the magnitude of pain it was causing on the other end. When you are at a time when you feel so sad and lost without that person, it is very difficult to fully remember how miserable you were in the relationship. The problems you had don’t go away just because you miss them. Do not prolong the difficult post-breakup period by returning and talking to them for a relationship that you know is never bound to succeed. You need to cut yourself off.

We can never be certain that the happiness we receive from love is going to last forever, so while humans should love, we cannot depend on it for our main source of happiness. By depending on another person, we give them the power to control our happiness and  manipulate our emotions. It makes us vulnerable. You should never feel that if your relationship were to end, your entire life would fall apart. Other people can be unreliable. They always have the potential to be short-lived and temporary. They could break your heart at any moment, despite what they might say about “ forever.” ​We can notice people’s actions, hear their words, and make conclusions about their thoughts, but we can never know what they are truly feeling.​ ​Actions can only vary so much from the outside, but the ways in which people think and feel inside are unique and more difficult to understand. Or maybe you will fall out of love and watch your happiness fade, as it did for me. I did everything I could to hold onto my love, but it just seeped out slowly, as if a higher power was slowly extracting it from my pores. I was extremely confused with this cycle of leaving and coming back because one moment I cared so much and the next I was fine without her. It is scary not knowing exactly what you feel.

“If man wants to guarantee eternal happiness for the rest of his life, he needs to be fully content with himself. Man is the creator of his life and he lives it. Please, create your own happiness and your own path​.” – Aristotle

Obviously it’s cliché, but the only thing that you can truly depend on forever is yourself. You need to be in touch with yourself and be aware of what is going on in your life. You need to be able to accept the reality of your feelings and identify destructive aspects of a relationship or if you are not seeking happiness in the correct way. While it’s definitely difficult at times, you need to try your best to use the rational part of your mind, not the emotional one.

I used to say this was impossible. But because I knew this insanity was something I never wanted to go through again, I made a change and have trained myself to not depend on anyone else no matter how much I crave it. I got a tattoo and it’s an arrow pointing to my center to constantly remind me all I need is myself. While I have lost sight of this independent feeling at times (mostly during my most recent relationship), I try to recognize it and pull the reins back in. By doing things ourselves without relying on other people to help, we are in the beginning of taking control of our life—this is incredibly empowering. Until you can reach happiness through independence, you are bound to face destructive feelings through love. page3image1762400

It is important to remember that no matter how much time you spent with someone and no matter how well you work with someone, there will always be opportunities for you out there that are just as special, or even more so. Your relationship ended for a reason and you are capable of finding someone who will make you happy—without the deal-breakers that ended your past relationships.  No one is the end-all be-all, no matter how much it may seem like it at the time, and there will always be brighter opportunities for you. I am a living example of someone who made it through, and I have never been happier.