“In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.”
When openly discussing my journey through counselling I like to use this as a visual example: when we compare physical and mental health, consider that when you are hurt physically, there is a painful wound that occurs. Emotional damage is similar, and just that – a painful injury that affects your mind, thoughts and actions. But unlike your physical body which usually can heal itself, if you don’t have healthy coping mechanisms or experience in how to heal emotional damage it stays an open wound, that makes you behave in a certain way and cope that is not conducive to healthy behavior. You will protect the wound, often by pushing others away, refusing to face the reality of it or lashing out when someone attempts to come near it. Sometimes these emotional wounds are partially covered and scabbed over, with detrimental self medicating behaviors – substance abuse, control issues like an eating disorders, or some shell of a personality to basically survive and ignore your issues. But they are truly not healed until you remove the scab, figure out how to treat it, and make the changes to fix it – permanently. And hopefully, what you’ve learned in the healing process can be used if you ever experience that type of injury again.
Make sense? Such a simple concept, but with such an intricate set of issues it can be so incredibly difficult to execute. This takes some serious self reflection, ability to examine your behavior, look inward and admit your faults and dysfunctions. Almost 10 years of counselling taught me to be completely honest with myself, and build a very strong ability to be introspective. After uncovering my own detrimental behaviors and accepting that they existed, it was important for me to make sure I acknowledged and corrected them, with several different healthy ways to work through the pain and wounds I had received over the years but had never learned to deal with properly until therapy. With this came an amazing sense of clarity, and my ability to not only distinguish the unhealthy behaviors I had been exhibiting, but of those who surrounded me as well.
This turned out to a blessing and in some ways a curse. Because unfortunately, I learned that self growth, introspection and the facing of reality was something that many people in my life were VERY uncomfortable with. There couldn’t even be a discussion or open dialogue; they either couldn’t or wouldn’t attempt or accept it. Sadly, I learned that some very damaged people are completely unwilling to seek help. To me it seemed so simple – when you are sick or wounded, you go seek treatment to fix it, so you can feel better. But the ones in my life refused this idea, and were extremely irritated with me for doing so. These are truly the saddest cases – hurt people, hurting people. For some, they just can’t look inward because it hurts too much; they feel hopeless, and that there is just too much to deal with that’s built up over the years. And that’s OK. It’s so, so sad, but it’s OK. If they want to hurt themselves and live a life of unhealthy behavior they can, but if they refuse to acknowledge it, seek help and start hurting you because of it – sadly, you have to let them.
People who won’t help themselves and resent you for doing so are extremely dangerous and can infiltrate and jeopardize your mental health recovery, sometimes more than any damage you can do yourself. Depending on their personal wounds some will just remove themselves from your life because they know only rejection themselves, as most people who won’t seek help tend to reflect their own self hatred onto you, especially if you are healing and in recovery. This may be the hardest thing you will read – you have to let them. It will be the most difficult thing you will do in your life, especially when it’s someone you love, but you have to set free the people who don’t have your true, real and best interests at heart. It’s not selfish, and it’s not cruel. If you’ve tried for years to help someone, set healthy boundaries, and they still continue to ignore or mistreat you because of their own unresolved issues and refuse to acknowledge it and continue to hurt you? You must allow them burn their own bridge, and let them go.
People will judge you for these choices – let them. Nobody understands the truth of what you have gone through, or the ways you have been treated behind closed doors. It’s so easy for people to make comments about your obligation to keep certain people in your life because of something as history, having kids together, or simple genetic linkage. But if someone refuses to treat you like the amazing, fantastic, growing, loving person you were destined to be – you’ve got to let them go. And don’t let the mind games get to you; people who aren’t introspective or care to make themselves better people are often manipulative, and look shiny and nice to the outside world. Never, ever let someone who refuses to discuss reality or the issues you are having with them to bring you down or make you feel like you are the problem, especially when you are the one sitting up at night, worrying about it, giving suggestions how to fix it, or working tirelessly on yourself.
They will manipulate others, lie, and tell the whole world you are awful, because you are speaking the truth and forcing them to face themselves – let them. Stay away from people who make you feel like you are hard to love. They will always surround themselves with ‘yes’ people – those who themselves cannot look inwards and face reality, so they participate in co dependent and enabling behavior with them – let them. Misery loves company and despises people who are happy, so just accept it and let them resent you. Accept in your head the apology that you most likely will never receive, and learn to forgive them in your heart – usually they are behaving that way because they are hurting so badly (who would behave that way if they weren’t?!) and are unwilling to heal their wounds. They may be bitter, angry or resentful of you for living your best life, but you have to let them. And let yourself live the beautiful, accountable, healthy, honest and happy life that you’ve made for yourself.
Most importantly, when you find those special people later in life- the ones God sends later on to make up for the ones he sent before – and they try to break down your walls? Please let them. When I first met my husband it was truly like a cat and mouse game – I was still dealing with some issues and had some very negative people in my life, and hadn’t truly learned to let anyone in yet. I would scurry around him and the commitment of our relationship, in fear of what would happen if I let myself get caught by true love. But he stayed, and was patient, and brick by brick he broke down my wall I had already started to chip away at. Thank God I had been working on myself enough at that point, and that counselling had taught me not to be bitter but better, and that not everyone in my life would try to control and manipulate me. Letting him in was scariest, bravest and best decision I ever made in my life.
Lastly – don’t lose hope. Sometimes people do change, and realize that being honest with themselves can lead to happiness and redemption. I am an incurable optimist, and will never lose faith that there are still so many good people in this world – and that if they truly want to get better, some can. And if those people who were previously in my life chose to do? I would be waiting with open arms because to me, love and forgiveness is the most healing and beautiful thing in the world. So yes, there are people who will hurt you, treat you unfairly, and bring you down – how can someone like you when they don’t even like themselves? Just remember: exhale the negative. Inhale the positive. And most importantly follow your gut, and make the decisions to let yourself live the beautiful, accountable, healthy, honest and happy life that you’ve created. We deserve every single moment of it.