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Letting Go

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Updated November 05, 2005

Letting Go

It sounds simple.  When we are holding on to something that we don't need - we should probably let go.  So why do we find it so difficult?

Attachment shapes our life from childhood.  We form a bond with our parents, and these early relationships have an impact on all future relationships.  When these relationships change, or when we experience a loss, we are faced with the difficult process of letting go.  We usually don't want to let go.   We want to continue the attachment which has given us such fulfillment.  We often want to continue the attachment even when it is no longer rational to want it.  

Several years ago I helped my daughters move to college.  So far, so good.  Now I have to learn how to let go and allow them to make the decisions that they need to make for their lives.  I've already made some mistakes here - and we have a long way to go.  I spent seven years working with college students at a college counseling center.  I thought that I knew a lot about this process, but it was different when I had to go through it myself.  The book  Letting Go: A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years  is an excellent guide for parents of college students.  It hasn't kept me from making some mistakes, but it has helped me understand my feelings and avoid making other mistakes.

There has been much written about the process of coping with a loss.  Some have divided grief into stages.  The most commonly cited stages, based on the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Recent work suggests that these are tasks, rather than stages.  We all go through them in a different order, and we have to work through them rather than passively experience them.  The final stage, acceptance, involves letting go and moving on.

People who are very stressed often have increased muscle tension.  This tension can result in headaches, neck and shoulder pain, joint pain (such as TMJ pain), and other problems.  Various relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and hypnosis all help people reduce muscle tension.  Physical approaches such as massage therapy and yoga can also be very helpful.  People participating in these techniques learn to let go of this tension in their body.  Many find it easy to let go of cares and worries during a time when they are also letting go of muscle tension.

We are beginning to discover that there are health benefits to letting go.  People who worry a lot and hold on to problems may be more vulnerable to physical problems than people who are able to let go.  Anger and hostility have even been associated with heart attack risk.  At least two personality types have been connected with an increased risk of heart attack.  Type A and Type D personalities both involve an inability to let go.  The type A person is pressured and driven, while the type D person is worried and anxious.  By learning to let go of cares, worries, anger, deadline pressure, and similar concerns we may be lengthening our lives.  We are certainly making them more enjoyable. 

Recommended reading:

Letting Go : A Parents' Guide to Understanding the College Years (by Karen Levin Coburn and Madge Lawrence Treeger)   

Last edited 11/5/05

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