What You Get from Holding On

(Excerpt from my soon-to-be-published book, Just One Step: The Journey to Your Unstoppable You)

Last week I wrote about the reality that it’s you that’s holding onto the people and things that it’s time to let go of. This week I want to dive deeper into the letting go concept. Specifically, I want to talk with you about one of the biggest obstacles to letting go – the fact that you get something out of holding on.

As challenging as the first step (acknowledgement) is, this second step is often even more difficult. Despite its logic and simplicity, it can feel so counterintuitive to believe that you want to hold on to something that you say you want to move on from. That’s the tricky part because your mind tells you that if you want to move on, then there must be nothing good in what you want to move on from. But that’s the lie – because we only do things that give us something in return, even if that return is somewhat or completely unhealthy. I call this exploring and looking for the win you’re getting from holding on. After all, if you’re getting a win from holding on, you can’t possibly let go unless and until you understand and acknowledge what that win is and get clear that you’re ready to let go of that win.

Let’s take a little deeper look at the logic that proves the truth that we hold on because of what we’re getting (not because we cannot let go). If there’s something that you want to move on from, stop doing or let go of, one possibility is that you’re struggling to move on or let go because you just can’t do it. That makes no sense unless you want to play the victim and claim that it’s some form of shit happens. In contrast, consider the premise that if you’re struggling to move on or let go of something or someone, it’s because you’re getting something for yourself out of not letting go. Here is the tricky part – in many cases, what you’re getting is some form of reinforcement of an unhealthy belief about yourself.

For example, most of us at some time and in some way engage in beating ourselves up. Why do we beat ourselves up? Simple: because we believe that we deserve to be beat up, and it might as well be by ourselves. Why do we play small? Simple again, because if we play small our risks are limited to small failures, but if we play big (whatever that means to you) then we increase the risk of a big failure. Why are we hesitant to be vulnerable and authentic? Because we’re afraid that people will see who we really are, and we have doubts about whether the real us is worthy. It’s much safer to be judged on who we pretend to be than to be judged on who we really are, so we hold tight to our masks and regularly hide behind them. We’re all incredibly powerful beings, and we certainly have the power to make different choices, including moving on and letting go. Our failures to let go are not because we don’t want to let go bad enough – it’s because we’re getting something at some level that serves us by holding on.

Think about some behavior that you continue to engage in, even if it’s clear that it’s not good for you. Not only are others telling you that it’s not good for you, but you know it for yourself. Let’s look at some simple examples. Most people would acknowledge that smoking cigarettes isn’t good for their health, yet many people struggle to quit smoking. Certainly, there are some physical elements in the form of the addiction to nicotine. However, most smokers who admit the unhealthy nature of smoking know that they get something from smoking. Perhaps it’s a form of relaxation. Perhaps it’s a sense of belonging. Whatever the source, one of the biggest challenges of quitting smoking is what you get from it (beyond the nicotine impact).

Relationships are a great example of this reality. I know many people who continue to have strong feelings for someone from a past relationship, even if they know the relationship was unhealthy and even if they’re adamant that they’re grateful to have moved on. You never know the source of great wisdom, but I recently experienced it from an episode of Dexter(the Showtime series). The situation was as extreme as you can get – a woman (Debra) who had dated and fallen in love with a serial killer – yet she seemed to be missing him. Another woman (Rita) was struggling with moving on from an abusive relationship, and she commented that she missed the parts of her ex-husband that were real and good. Debra’s comment was profound and went something like this: “We don’t miss what was real. We miss how he made us feel about ourselves.” Herein lies a trap – how they felt about themselves is real – it’s true about them – but it’s not a consistent self-belief for them. These men (and this is true in many real-life relationships) did help Debra and Rita feel good about themselves, so it was natural for them to continue to hold on to the past relationships and feelings in some way because it was their connection to feeling a certain way about themselves.

This process – exploring and understanding what it is you get out of holding on – can be extremely difficult, especially when exploring it on your own. This is the land of blind spots, and it often requires someone else to ask you questions to help you uncover and discover the win (or wins) you’re getting from holding on. Your unconscious is often more powerful than your conscious mind, especially as you’re beginning the journey to greater awareness. Even as you move more thoughts and beliefs from your unconscious to your conscious, your unconscious will always be a source of blind spots and hidden beliefs. It’s too easy for you (and me) on our own to avoid the truth of what we’re getting from holding on. A great start is to acknowledge that there must be some win you’re getting from holding on. You can then start exploring and uncovering (because it may be buried), committed to not giving up until you find the deepest and truest win for you in holding on. Even when you find a win, it may not be the win that’s the source of your holding on behavior, which is another reason to seek support from others to walk with you through this journey of self-awareness and truth telling. 

The great part of this process of exploring and understanding the true reasons you’re holding on (what you’re getting from it) is that once you uncover and own them, you’ll feel your grip relaxing on whatever it is you’re holding on to. The process of letting go is still not complete, but this important step will do the most to prepare you to let go. After all, you cannot let go of something that you want to hold on to unless and until you confront your reasons for holding on and make a new conscious decision to begin the process of letting go. Essentially, you are choosing to move towards what you get from letting go because it’s more important to you than what you’re getting from holding on.

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