Why is it so hard to let go? I’ve written about this quandary before, but I I’m still thinking about it, so there must be more to say. And, as often happens when I contemplate these questions, I find my thoughts mirrored in the words of the mighty Karen Marie Moning. In Feverborn, we are told that Jada, “simply couldn’t let go. She’d let go of the wrong things.” Letting go in the past of the wrong things a good reason not to let go, which made me wonder about some of the others.
Previously, I’ve explored what it means to let go. But I didn’t give a lot of thought to why it’s so hard and how the explanations for these exigencies could help us facilitate the process. If we know that letting go is what we need to do, why do we continue to hold on? In many cases, we don’t let go until the pain of holding on is greater than the pain of letting go. Why do we do this to ourselves? Over and over? Baffling.
But maybe not. I think we hold on for a lot of reasons, previous decisions being one of them. If, like Jada, we have let go of the wrong things in the past, we might be reluctant to let go of something presently. People often talk about “the one that got away.” If we have someone like that in our lives, a lover, a friend, a mentor, a protégé, or even a job opportunity, we might apply that situation to the choice at hand. We can relive the great Tom Cruise film, Top Gun, where leaving his wingman results in tragedy, so you know he’s never gonna do that again, right? If we’ve made bad choices before, we want to learn from that behavior and not repeat it. The issue is that we sometimes have trouble distinguishing between apples and oranges. Just because we took the wrong fork in the road previously doesn’t mean we should reflexively take the opposite path this time. Each situation must be evaluated on its own merits, but this can be a Herculean task because past experiences can create tunnel vision.
Another reason it’s hard to let go is because we almost always prefer the devil we know. This is illogical. It’s equally plausible that a new set of circumstances will be less bad than our current ones as they will be worse. But we usually assume the worst and decide that the devil we know is better than the unknown quantity on the other side of letting go. We just don’t do well with uncertainty, do we? It’s one of the main considerations when we are tying a knot in the rope to try to hold on just a little while longer.
An uncertain outcome is in many ways more upsetting than a certain bad outcome. Again, this defies logic. It’s the old bird in the hand is worth two in the bush adage. Unless we are exceptionally tolerant of risk, and most of us are not, we will avoid uncertainty, and therefore we’ll hold on longer than warranted. We’re also wary of all change, another factor in keeping our death grip on whatever it is we are reluctant to relinquish.
Change is hard. It’s uncomfortable. We don’t like it when someone else moves our cheese. We prefer it not move at all. So we hold on and avoid letting go. Which is, of course, the classic definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Some of us get better with practice. I’d like to think I have; the Universe gives us as many chances as we need to learn our lessons. So if we can’t let go in one situation, we will be given another opportunity. It took three serious relationships that lasted way too long for me to learn when to hold them and when to fold them in love. Luckily, fourth time was the charm. I also tend to hold onto jobs longer than I should. And employees. I’ve been told by professionals that this relates to my dysfunctional childhood where I incorrectly assumed responsibility for others’ inadequacies in order to avoid facing the truth about my narcissistic mother (children have a hard time admitting their parents may not be fabulous). Jung would be proud of me for working all this psychological garbage out. But it does explain my previous inability to let go when it’s appropriate to do so.
And if my childhood was messed up, it was nothing compared to poor Jada’s, so she definitely gets a free pass from Dr. Jung. But she is working on her issues, as we all are, hopefully. In the interim, she’s holding on for dear life. One can only hope that in the next installment of the series she gets her HEA. Because that’s what we all want, and we hold on or let go when we think it will help us get where we want to go. We’re just not always right.