You might hear people say, when someone is struggling with a problem or challenge, “why not just let go of it”? Letting go can sound easy to say, but it can also be really hard. Like letting go of relationships we’ve been in, breaking up with someone we love, where we’ve invested a lot of energy and emotional capital. You might know you need to let go of a situation you are in but a part of you just keeps on at it, like a dog with a bone.
When a separating couple are in dispute and won’t let go
I’ve been reminded recently of this struggle in a situation where two people have been in dispute, during the process of ending a relationship. Each had a very clear view of their position and believed they were right and could “win” their case. However, while for one party it didn’t hurt, for the other it was likely to be very painful. Somehow she needed to let go of the matter and make a settlement, even if it was costly. That would be a strategic move that would avoid worse to come. However, it was hard to let go. She had invested a huge amount in the dispute and believed strongly that she had suffered injustice. Despite being aware at one level of the need to let go, another, very big part of her was very caught up in the injustice. She would even have all sorts of fantasies about engaging the other in a physical fight and being very violent, and of course “winning”. It would keep her awake at night.
I put “win” in inverted commas because I would suggest that people don’t really win, since it tends to come at a cost and victors end up with further issues later on. Yet “win/lose” and its concomitant, “right/wrong,” is another of those ego games that go on, another way we play out the drama of relationship at the ego level.
So what is this investment that we make that we find so hard to let go of?
Our investment in holding on and not letting go
Is it that what drives us forward, that keeps us engaged and with antlers locked, is really the fear of losing, of seemingly admitting we’re “wrong”? And what’s that about? Often it is the fear of the shame we might feel. People really dislike shame and will do all sorts to avoid it. Yet, what we resist we get and it keeps driving us. Is it the feeling of injustice, of having been “wronged”, of something not being “fair”, or a sense of having suffered an injury, or of being a victim? All sorts of old hurts can come with this of course, going back a very long time.
Maybe also there’s even something else behind that. It can be very useful to explore our own pain in a conflict and get what’s really going on, what’s really driving our behaviour, even if it seems like the other has “caused” it. Using the power of developing your self awareness is one way to do this. So, in our example, there’s perhaps the pain of separation, the “breaking of the interpersonal bridge”, as Kaufman calls it in “The Psychology of Shame.” This is primal stuff, going way back, and yet is so often core to how we are in the world as humans. It was when we fundamentally expected something of another but were thwarted or got the message that it was wrong. The severance of the connection is felt as shame, and we can feel it acutely, but we resist it and over time get into battle over it.
Hence the connection also with relationship, which we don’t like to let go of either!
It’s a tough one, since we are really only playing out our drama with ourselves. The real disconnect is within, but we play it out in the experience of duality in the world out there. Letting go of the drama of conflict and injustice opens up the pathway to inner peace. We are no longer at conflict with ourselves. Letting go is often accompanied by a sense of peace. All there really is is One. So, it’s worth remembering, whenever we feel reluctant to let go, that what we are really resisting is our inner truth of Oneness. It’s another way to re-member.