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By: Tanya Penny, OTR, Health Coach
We are often told by others to “just let it go.” The question I always asked was “HOW?!”
Like most people, I was not taught how to let things go. I had a father who was very critical and controlling — the opposite of letting go. My mother would constantly bring up things that happened years (or decades) prior, and was also a hoarder (she still has my elementary school projects and prom dress). So, letting go was not something that was modeled for me while growing up.
From a young age, I struggled with anxiety, depression, headaches, and excess weight, but it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis that I started to look more deeply at what I needed to change in my life or “let go of” so I could heal, be healthy and happy again.
One of the big things I had to practice letting go of was judging, criticizing, and beating up on myself. I had a super strong, perfectionistic inner critic — something I had picked up from my dad. It didn’t matter what I did or didn’t do, it told me I wasn’t good enough. It held me back from doing some things I really wanted to do, like write a book, because I was afraid I would fail, be criticized or embarrassed. It also created most of the headaches, anxiety, and depression I felt. To let go of this unhealthy pattern, I started to talk to this part of me daily. I told her that she was good enough, didn’t have to do things perfect, that it was okay to make mistakes or even fail. Any time I noticed the voice in my head being critical, I would acknowledge it, and then start speaking the kind, accepting, loving truth. Over time, this part of me started to believe it. She stopped “shoulding” me, stopped feeling shame when a mistake happened, stopped rehashing negative things I did in the past, and she even let me start writing my book. The depression and anxiety began to lift, I no longer needed my medication. I woke up feeling peaceful, happy more days than not.
I also noticed that I had a strong tendency to pretend I was superhuman. I would overschedule myself to the point that I barely had time to go to the bathroom (no, seriously, I did that), I worked too many hours, I took on other people’s problems, and I tried to do everything by myself, rarely asking for support. I would go, go, go until my body said STOP with debilitating fatigue, plus weakness and numbness in my right arm or leg — my MS symptoms. Again, I had to gently tell this part of me every day that she didn’t need to push herself so hard, prove her worthiness by over-doing, fix others, or that it was weak to ask for support. I started to schedule more time between activities and rest blocks, set boundaries around the amount of time I would work, listen to others but let them fix their own problems, and ask for support from friends, coworkers, and family. After months of practicing this, the MS symptoms began to decrease in severity, and eventually they disappeared (only coming back when I fell into the old pattern again).
The last pattern I realized I needed to let go of to heal and be happy was people-pleasing. I learned from a young age to do what my parents wanted, to make them happy, so I would get their approval, attention, time, and love. As an adult, my automatic response was “Yes” when someone asked me to do something, even if I didn’t have time, hated the thought of doing it, or the small voice inside was screaming “NO.” I even stayed in unfulfilling and even abusive relationships because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings and thought I just need to try harder to please them, so they would love me, treat me better. I stuffed my emotions of stress, sadness, and anger with food or alcohol, and the number on the scale continued to creep upwards. Honestly, this pattern has been one of the most challenging for me to let go of, and I still often slip back into it. Even something as simple as telling my sweetie where I want to go for dinner can make me anxious.
So, I continue to work on shifting the belief that I have to please others to get love, and if I say “No” then I’m selfish, that it’s my job to make others happy, and people will leave me if I don’t do what they want. I do this by planting the seeds of truth that people love me for who I am, not what I do; that saying “No” is self-love; and that I am only responsible for my own happiness. I do this through journaling and using my guided therapeutic meditation practices. This pattern is changing, slowly being let go. I now express my emotions (even if it makes someone else uncomfortable or unhappy), and rarely stuff myself with food or alcohol anymore. I’ve maintained a healthy weight for over eight years.
This practice of letting go has not always been easy, but it has been worth it. I am grateful to have my health and happiness back. If you would like to let go of any of these patterns (or others), know that it is possible. It just takes learning and practicing your tools daily, receiving support from others, plus lots of love and compassion for yourself.