When I was a kid I had what many kids have– a security blanket. I also sucked my thumb and had a goofy-looking teddy bear I creatively named “Teddy.” And while I was able to get rid of the thumb sucking and the teddybear, I was unable to let go of the blanket. In fact, it followed me well into my married life. Of course, by then, I didn’t exactly call it a security blanket. It was a “throw” that I kept at the bottom of the bed. And yet, it was always near me, tossed somewhere by my side or in between my husband and I. And, it still served one of the most important roles of any object around the house– it comforted me when I was sad or angry or upset or in pain. I would roll it up in a ball and press my face into it and touch the binding. And lo and behold, it worked. It calmed me down.
Unfortunately, as I got older I learned to cling to more destructive things– smoking cigarettes, food, people, shopping. These things all served the same purpose. To comfort me. Yet there was a paradox. The more I clung to these things to comfort me, the more uncomfortable, out of control, and painful my life became.
Relationships are a perfect example. No matter how real and fulfilling the relationship was for a time, if it had come to its end for whatever reason, I needed to respect that end, not try to emotionally (or physically) drag it out, which I was doing. The trouble was, I had made the relationship not only my security blanket but the be all and end all of my existence. It was the entity which validated me, comforted me, defined me, saved me. And while every good relationship can and should be considered a comfort, it should not be considered something that saves, validates, completes or defines us. That’s when we seem to get into trouble. And that’s when we hurt the most if the relationship ends.
How so? Well, when we cling to a relationship that is clearly over, we sabotage ourselves. Sure, the relationship may have been beautiful at one point. But when we do not let it go or respect the passing of it, we do great damage to the self and stunt our growth. It’s like mourning the dead for too long, or worse, having a relationship with them. We deny ourselves a true present. And we fail to take care of that deep human need in us to be loved–not by others, but by ourselves.
But in order to let go, we need to know why we are hanging on.
My thoughts on this are simple. We hang on because we don’t believe we have anything else. We don’t believe we can do better, or find someone that will accept us or love us with what we believed was the best love imaginable. And most importantly, we fail to recognize that we–ourselves alone–were so much more than the relationship and still are. The relationship ended, we did not. Also, we hang on because we do not (nor possibly ever did) have a clear sense of the actual health of the relationship. Wanting the relationship to work more than wanting to face the truth puts us in a position of denial. But, if we are to be brutally honest with ourselves, the relationship might not have been a healthy one, it may have been broken in spots that could not be fixed. This, in no way, means we have to beat ourselves about how we lived through the relationship. But we do have to be honest and face a truth that we might not want to face, NOW. Facing the truth, and not holding on to a fantasy, helps in the healing process and helps us to move on.
Finally, it happens often with relatively healthy people too, but when it comes to relationships, some people give everything away. They sacrifice their identity and become the other, they give up their hobbies to follow the other’s hobbies, and they lose themselves almost completely to the relationship. When and if the relationship ends, what do they have left of themselves? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this. I proudly called myself a chameleon. And for what? Looking back, I find it strange that I was so proud of having no identity of my own and could change so easily to fit into the lifestyle of whomever I was dating.
When I was a teenager, I spent a summer working on the boardwalk down the shore. I sold t-shirts for a young, but wise Israeli man named Eyal. I had fallen in love with another of my co-workers, and at the end of the summer, when he went back home, I was devastated. I felt like my whole world blew up in my face and I had nothing. Everything that was important in my life was gone. Eyal and I talked about this one night and he said this: “There is an old, Israeli saying that when you fall in love, give everything to the other person, but keep three finger for yourself. This way, when you fall,” and he made pretend that he was falling to the ground, “you have something to catch you so that you can get back up again. And he held up his hand with three fingers.
Where are your three fingers? Have you given them away in this past relationship? Do you feel like you have nothing to stand on? Guess what, you still have them! Find them and stand up again. When you do, it makes letting go a lot easier.
For a great blog on “letting go” try this one from tiny buddha.