“To let go is to release the images and emotions, the grudges and fears, the clinging and disappointments of the past that bind our spirit” Jack Kornfield
I once read that “holding on to resentments is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. The idea of letting go of past hurts, a rude compliment, old arguments, slights and trauma you experienced can be daunting. Often clients will say to me “I can’t forgive because if I forgive them it’s like saying it was okay for them to do what they did”. How often have you heard people describe the concept of forgiveness and it feels alien to you? Why are some people able to forgive and not others? Why is fixating on all the bad or wrong things that happen, hurting you?
There are specific techniques and skills that can be used to reduce our emotional suffering. The best way to relieve painful and negative emotions is to accept that the past or that thing did happen. This does not mean agreeing with or condoning the action of the person that hurt or harmed us. It means that often we ruminate on the past and revisit the hurts as if by doing so we could change the outcome. This is not true. Understanding early childhood experiences, trauma, attachment issues, negative interaction styles that interfere with our ability to be happy and at peace requires you to discuss the issue and find a way to walk away from the darkness and distress.
Learning to let go of the negative emotions is exceedingly difficult but forgiveness is not for the other person. Forgiveness is letting go of the idea that the past could have been any different. It is a willingness to no longer be bonded to that person in anger or shame. Letting go of emotional suffering associated with negative emotions is different than letting go of the emotions themselves. Emotions are valid and needed for survival, therapy is not designed to not have you feel; it is designed to help you release the misery caused by dwelling and reliving past hurts. Letting go of the suffering is a process that can be learned. The goal is to help you deal with these emotions in a way that will allow you to thrive not just survive your past.
Fixating on the negatives can be like building a prison in your mind. It traps you in a relationship with the person you hate or resent. This nurturing of negative feelings creates momentum and walls out any positive experiences in the present. In addition, ruminating on the negative can actually damage the neural structures that regulate our emotions, feelings and memory, according to a blog post on Psychology Today.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) can help. DBT therapy focuses on teaching mindfulness techniques that helps us to become present in our lives while avoiding the pull of the past and future. It teaches emotional regulation skills and distress tolerance skills that are needed to heal from emotional trauma. Interpersonal effectiveness skill to maintain, enhance or end destructive relationships while keeping our self respect.