Have you ever clung to something you knew was wrong or toxic or wondered, “Why is it so hard to let go of someone who’s terrible for you?”
You’re human, and letting something go is a common obstacle.
But clearing it should be your goal because clinging to negativity and grudges erodes well-being.
So if you’re ready to start living the life you want (and deserve), it may be time to shed some emotional baggage.
And that’s what we’re tackling today: the art of letting go.
Why Is Letting Go So Hard?
When you think about it, life is a journey of detachment, beginning a few seconds after we kick and scream our way into the world and someone cuts the umbilical cord.
And the cycle continues throughout life. Leaving home for parts of the day when starting pre-school; losing baby teeth; departing the nest as a young adult; ending romances and friendships that no longer serve you; quitting a job that makes you miserable — they’re all forms of healthy detachment.
Making these transitions — leaving things behind and letting go — isn’t always easy. In truth, it rarely is.
But why? If impermanence and detachment are a natural part of the human experience, why is letting go so difficult?
We’ll explore specific reasons below, but generally speaking, it can be hard to let go because:
- Stubbornness: We humans love to think of ourselves as super-advanced beings, and in many regards, we’re right. But one thing we frequently forget — (or choose to ignore) — is that our perceptions are hopelessly tainted. We don’t see things as they actually are but how we are and favor our story versions.
- Perspective: Life is a series of lessons. With any luck, we grow and change for the better with each revolution around the sun. But our perspectives are often found wanting due to lack of experience, exposure, or consideration.
- Immaturity: Old or young, immaturity sometimes grabs hold of our senses and refuses to leave. We find ourselves stamping our feet and plugging our ears for whatever reason.
- Trauma: Unaddressed trauma is a festering emotional tumor; the larger it grows, the more problematic it becomes.
11 Reasons Letting Go Is Hard and What to Do
We’ve discussed a few basics about the difficulties of letting go. Now let’s explore the reasons we hold on.
1. You’re Still Attached
Emotional or intellectual attachment may be the reason you’re having difficulty letting something or someone go. When we remain invested in a situation or person, we cling to it or them.
On the bright side, clinging to emotional attachments is commonplace, so there’s tons of information on how to detach yourself emotionally from toxic lovers, friends, and family members.
Action Steps: Get reading. As mentioned, a wealth of information and resources are available. Absorb what the experts have to say and put their advice into action.
2. You Don’t Want To Give Up Parts of Yourself
Our views and opinions define our personalities and behavior. They’re major components of our interpersonal blueprints.
Sometimes, that’s a good thing. But holding onto corrosive attitudes and toxic relationships erodes mental health.
An inability to let go may be your ego grasping its current configuration. It’s comfortable, doesn’t want to go through the difficult work of changing, and therefore desperately tries to convince you to stay put.
Action Steps: If your instinct to hold on is connected to a sense of self, consider the Buddhist concept of impermanence.
3. You Want To Be Right
One of the most challenging habits to break is the need to be correct. Since our identities are inextricably linked with our thoughts, values, and choices, challenging those things feels like a threat or attack.
Moreover, nearly all societies value “being correct.” Though we’re told it’s fine to be wrong, make mistakes, or fail, the opposite message is subconsciously drilled into our psyches from a young age. Our culture values and prioritizes winners over losers.
Unfortunately, we internalize this win-or-else messaging and grow increasingly attached to our positions.
But nobody lives a faultless life. We all mess up. Our views aren’t always correct.
And as such, learning how to acknowledge missteps gracefully is essential to being a well-adjusted, kind, fair-minded version of yourself.
Action Steps: Reading books about psychology and sociology provides insight into the human brain’s erratic nature. When we become aware of its quirks and fallibility, we’re less likely to cling to rotten ideas and damaging relationships. It also makes it easier to apologize when you’re wrong.
4. You’ve Yet To Dissect Your Childhood
Our formative years hugely impact our worldviews, opinions, and behavior. In a way, ages 0 – 18 are an indoctrination period. Consciously and subconsciously, we absorb and adopt the lifestyle and assumptions of those around us.
When it’s time to leave the nest, many people begin to examine their lives from different angles, making minor tweaks or massive changes along the way to fit who they’ve become.
They pointedly consider whether the values they were fed as a child match their adult sensibilities.
Other folks never dissect their lives and blindly stick with what they were taught. People in this camp tend to hang onto things, even when faced with convincing, contrary evidence.
Action Steps: It may be challenging, but a significant part of self-development is examining why you are the way you are and whether those reasons are valid. Whether you enlist the help of a professional or go the DIY route is up to you. Either way, it’s vital to be as honest with yourself as possible.
5. You’re Clinging to a Facade
The famous sociologist Irving Goffman wrote extensively about humans navigating group dynamics. Ultimately (and simply stated), he concluded that every person slips into a facade before facing the world each day.
When our facades are similar to our genuine personalities, “wearing” it doesn’t have harmful psychological effects.
But sometimes, people’s exteriors bare zero resemblance to their true selves. Moreover, they become so comfortable in the facade that removing it becomes a scary proposition.
So, when things you need to release are linked to your facade, letting go takes on a whole new importance. Because at that point, you’re essentially being challenged to take off your emotional armor.
Action Steps: Putting on a public face is normal. But problems arise when there’s a cavernous trench between who you actually are and what you want people to believe.
If you find yourself in one of these untenable relationships with yourself, it may be time for a psychological makeover with an eye toward being more authentic.
6. The Issue Conflicts With Your Considered Beliefs
You’ve done all the hard work of discovering yourself. Your viewpoints are considered, your opinions researched, and you’ve even battled it out with your shadow self.
And then, one day, you stumble upon a nugget of information that could force you to rethink something you hold dear, whether a concept, understanding, or individual.
Since you’ve worked hard to get where you are, the thought of being wrong may feel ominous and terrifying. Frankly, you don’t have the energy to change again! So instead, you ignore the potentially offending fact and cling to your view.
Action Steps: This is another instance where studying the concept of impermanence is beneficial. Become comfortable with the idea that the work of being you — being human — is neverending.
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7. You Have a Mental Health Difference
In the not-too-distant past, mental health was a taboo topic. It was one of those things that people whispered about, and individuals who saw therapists certainly didn’t share that information freely.
Thankfully, things have changed. These days, therapy, coaching, and counseling are as typical as a bacon-and-egg breakfast.
However, if you have an unaddressed mental health issue, you’re more likely to make poor decisions and hang onto negativity in all its forms, making letting go difficult.
Action Steps: If you suspect you have one or more mental health hurdles that need addressing, enlist a therapist. Don’t assume you can’t afford it. First, check to see if your insurance covers it.
If not, consider exploring one of the online therapy options; most have packages for various budgets. Also, check around for community-based programs that may be free or very low-cost.
8. The Conflict Gives You Purpose
Do you derive purpose from the thing you’re refusing to relinquish? Hope? Confidence? If so, you’re less likely to let it go. After all, we crave purpose, and if a grudge or unhealthy relationship provides some structure, your ego may not want to let it go.
For example, let’s say “Pat’s” partner “Chris” has a binge-drinking problem. Every Friday night, Chris stumbles home wasted, and Pat gets Chris safely and comfortably into bed.
Since Pat is a people pleaser who derives satisfaction from making others happy, this inebriation ritual has given Pat a sense of purpose in the relationship…however twisted.
In our example, Pat probably knows, deep down, that she needs to cut ties with Chris. In addition to the Friday night routine, Chris takes Pat for granted, and the relationship is stuck in neutral. Deep down, Pat knows it’s time to let go, but the relationship’s unhealthy dynamics give her a sense of purpose.
Action Steps: The key to breaking this cycle is objectivity and self-reflection. Make a pro-con list about the relationship. Which side wins? Ask yourself the hard questions about why you’re staying when it’s clearly not working.
9. You Don’t Realize You’re Holding On
Human brains are incredible, but they’re not infallible. In fact, thanks to implicit assumptions and experiential biases, our minds frequently get it wrong, inaccurately filling in holes and failing to consider pertinent factors.
Perhaps there’s no better example of the brain’s faulty tendencies than when it tricks you into believing you need something terrible for you — whether a substance, person, or belief system.
You may not even realize you’re clutching something rotten in these situations.
Action Steps: Meditation is an excellent way to become better acquainted with your brain; plus, it affords mental clarity, allowing you to see life as it truly is, which leads to better decision-making and improved life satisfaction.
10. You’re Scared of the Alternative
Clinging to someone or something out of fear of being alone or other imagined downsides is common. Maybe you’re going through a period where having a plus-one feels important (in truth, it never is).
Or perhaps examining an alternative view would shatter your current identity, which feels too overwhelming to tackle at the moment.
Whatever the circumstance, your inability to toss aside that which no longer serves you could be a fear problem.
Action Steps: Work on facing your fears. They’re the number thing holding you back from living the life you want.
11. The Sunk-Cost Fallacy Has a Hold Over You
Have you ever heard of the sunk-cost fallacy? It’s the false belief that you should continue along a doomed or wrong path simply because you’ve already invested material, emotional, or personal resources.
In short, it’s the act of “digging your feet in.”
Initially, the reasoning seems sound. After all, we’re not supposed to abandon things and people during hard times, right? In some cases, yes. That’s true. But in others? Not so much.
Action Steps: Resilience helps in these situations. Learning to cut losses and not letting regret weigh you down are valuable skills to master. They’ll also help you avoid staying in dead-end situations.
We hope we provided some insight into why you may be holding on to things you no longer need. Once you figure out your cocktail of reasons, slowly begin working on them.
Don’t beat yourself up if it takes time. Changing is hard. Just keep plugging away.
Within time, you’ll build up the confidence and make the behavioral changes necessary to best position yourself and let go of the muck. Good luck!