COLUMN — Letting go may be healthier than holding on

Published 11:43 am Thursday, December 10, 2020

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Sometimes when I hop in bed to get some sleep, I go to pull the covers up only to find I’ve tucked them in so tight that they won’t budge. I pull and pull with all my might until the blankets slip from my grip, and I accidentally punch myself in the face.

Now, you could say the moral of that quick and sad story is to avoid being a militant neat freak when making the bed. That’s fine, I guess, but I’m telling you this embarrassing story because it reminds me of the pain that can be caused by refusing to let go.

Much like how we refuse to accept that the covers won’t budge and we just keep pulling anyway, people are often so preoccupied with trying to hold on to something that they don’t realize they’re about to lose it all at once in an explosive display of self- destruction.

For instance, perhaps you know someone who has struggled with a family relationship for some time. They’re estranged from a parent or grown child and are desperate to hold on to any connection they can despite that person’s disinterest or mistreatment of them. They struggle and struggle to try to improve a relationship that won’t budge until suddenly it all blows up in their face.

Perhaps somebody has said something extremely hurtful and insulting to you. You refuse to forgive or forget their sharp words and hold on to a grudge for weeks, months or even years. You spend so much time letting that anger marinate as you wait for an apology that never comes that it wounds you 10 times as deeply.

Or, God forbid, perhaps you or someone you know are experiencing a loss of someone you love. You want to hold on to that person for fear of losing them, but your ultimate inability to accept the loss means the pain will be so much deeper in the end.

Accepting something for what it is and letting go are hard things to do because they make you feel like you’ve given up and accepted defeat. You hold on to a volatile relationship for fear of someone stepping out of your life forever, hold a grudge against somebody because they never offered a true apology or even refuse to accept that someone you love deeply won’t be in this world for very much longer, as it doesn’t seem the world will keep spinning without them. You fight for all of these things because giving up is not an option.

The problem with this is that you know you’re fighting a losing battle, and when you finally can’t hold on any longer and lose your grip, the pain and the shock hits you like a self-inflicted sucker punch.

What we often don’t realize is that we spare ourselves an awful lot of pain if we gently let go rather than pulling and pulling until our strength suddenly disappears. Just like it’s important to accept that the blanket isn’t going past your elbows, it’s important to accept that maybe you won’t be able to rekindle that connection, you won’t get an apology out of that bully and you won’t be able to keep somebody on this earth forever.

It is OK to let go. Letting go is part of the healing process. But you can’t just hold on until you’ve got nothing left. Sometimes the pain you cause yourself by refusing to concede is far greater than the pain of accepting that something wasn’t meant to be.

Is there something in your life that you are fruitlessly holding on to for fear of letting go? Are you trying to force something that just isn’t meant to be? Take a deep breath and gently release your hold on what is causing you this distress. Cold shoulders are much more bearable than an uppercut.

Alexa Massey is a staff reporter for The Charlotte Gazette and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. Her email address is