How to Let it Go
by Dr. Ryan Denney, PhD
“There are two circumstances that lead to arrogance: one is when you’re wrong and you can’t face it; the other is when you’re right and nobody else can face it.”
We all feel hurt by others at times. But it is usually not the offense itself that causes us the most pain, but rather the way we hold onto the offence, turning it over and over in our minds, boiling in rage or bitterness. We allow the hurt and anger we feel toward the person who has wronged us to churn in our stomachs like rotten soup.
Of course, this hurts only ourselves. Others in our lives might advise us to “just let it go.” And that may be good advice, but something inside will just not allow that to happen. Sometimes we cannot let it go, even though we know in our hearts it would be the best, most peaceful thing to do. So why can we not just let offenses go?
The short answer is that it is very difficult for most of us to let an offense go when the offending person cannot, or will not, acknowledge the pain they have caused us. “Letting it go” feels like letting them off the hook or allowing them to get away with bad behavior. And if we try to express to them the hurt that we have felt and they are unwilling to humbly, remorsefully acknowledge their wrongdoing, our hurt and rage can deepen.
But we do not have control of other people. We cannot make others see themselves or situations the way that we do. We cannot force others to be repentant. We can only control ourselves. So without a proper apology, in the absence of validation or acknowledgment from the person who has hurt you, here is how you can “let it go,” if you choose.
To acknowledge an offence means to bring awareness to the hurt the other person’s behavior has caused you. This does not mean to bring awareness to what the other person has done. It means to become aware of what it is in you that has been triggered by this person’s behavior. If you did not have a trigger, their behavior would not have hurt you so badly. It is much easier to just be angry at someone than it is to look inside and acknowledge the hurt they have caused us. But remember, you are the only person you can control, so you must look into yourself if you are to heal your hurts and ultimately let them go.
Validating the hurt you feel as a result of the behavior of the other person is absolutely essential to letting go. This does not mean you gain validation from the person who hurt you! It means you are able to validate for yourself that your feelings are legitimate, valid, have merit and value and are understandable given the circumstances. Instead of dismissing your own feelings, it is offering yourself understanding and compassion, affirming that it makes sense how this person’s behavior was hurtful to you. If you are unable to do this for yourself, it can be very helpful to get an objective perspective on what has happened. No matter how you do it, this step absolutely cannot be skipped! You will likely never be able to let an offense go until you have validated the hurt it has caused you.
At this particular moment, other people cannot be any different than they are. The way they showed up at the time they hurt you is the very best they could be at that time, even though it was not that great. It is dangerous to view ourselves as better than others, saying things like “I would never behave like that.” In truth, if you had their experiences, lived in their skin, felt their emotions and embodied their fears, perhaps you would have behaved in a similar way.Acceptance means being humble enough to allow other people to be exactly as they are, including all of their fallacies, flaws, foibles and failures and also humble enough to acknowledge that you are really no better than the person who hurt you. Unless you are perfect. You are not perfect are you?
Now comes the actual “letting go” part. Surrender means releasing the right to punish the person who has wronged you. It means letting go of the need to be vindicated, choosing internal peace over being “right.” You can know the truth for yourself, whether or not others acknowledge it. And, if you wish, you can give the person over to a higher, more all-knowing power, to God if you like, letting Him exact judgment if/as He sees fit, releasing yourself from the pressure to make someone else see or understand anything. Surrender is not forgetting, it is not necessarily trusting again, it is releasing anger, it is forgiveness, it is letting go.
A Healed Heart
You do not have to let offenses go at all. You can hold onto them forever if you wish, remaining enraged and embittered, and you can even find ways to punish the person who has hurt you, either actively or passively. But remember this: there is no way to punish another person that does not also punish yourself. Do you want to live angry or do you want to have peace in your heart at any cost? The choice belongs to you. I know letting go is tough, believe me, but I hope you will choose to do so, I hope you will choose peace. It can take several cycles through the process above to finally have peace, but the peace is oh, so sweet and leads to a more healed heart.
Dr. Ryan M. Denney, PhD
is a licensed psychologist and Health Services Provider in North Carolina. He earned a PhD in Counseling Psychology from The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas. Read More