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Last Updated on January 25, 2021

How to Learn to Let Go of What You Can’t Control

How to Learn to Let Go of What You Can’t Control

A friend of mine once told me, “Almost everything in my life that I’ve had to let go of has scratch marks on it.” His point was that he found it very difficult to let go of things he couldn’t control. I’m sure many of you can relate to that.

Most of us don’t want to let go of things we like. So we hang on until they’re forcibly taken away, and even then, we still hold on mentally and emotionally. What we may not realize is that holding on can wreak havoc in our lives.

Holding on to things we can’t control can cause us a great deal of stress and unhappiness. It also keeps us stuck in the past, and keeps us from growing and living our lives freely. If we want to be happy and free, then we need to learn to let go.

In this article, we’re going to examine what letting go really means, why it’s so hard, and how your life will improve by letting go of things you can’t control. Then, I’ll share with you some tips to help you learn to let go with greater ease, so you can live a happier and more fulfilling life.

What Does Letting Go Really Mean?

We often hear that we need to let go of something we can’t control when it seems to be causing us problems. But, what does letting go really mean? To understand this, we need to understand why we get attached to things in the first place.

Attachment is mental and emotional fixation on something we think we need or want. We get attached to things like people, views, outcomes, or material possessions. The reason we get attached to them is that we’re afraid we’ll lose them, and therefore, we’ll be unhappy, or we may even think we won’t survive.

Many of us confuse sensual pleasure, or emotional gratification, with happiness. They are not the same. True happiness comes from freedom from suffering, not sensual pleasure. Yet our society teaches us that if we achieve or acquire things that bring us pleasure, then we’ll be happy.

The problem with this approach to finding happiness is that our emotions are temporary by nature. What happens when the novelty of a new car wears off is that our satisfaction diminishes.

Until we learn how to find freedom from our suffering, we will continue to get attached to things that bring us sensual pleasure or emotional gratification.

So, letting go means to release our fixation on these things. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll lose them. It just means we have enough faith that we’ll get the things we need to survive in this world, and maybe even be happy.

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Why Is Letting Go so Hard?

There are various reasons why letting go is so hard. One of them is that we romanticize holding on. We romanticize it in our literature, music, art, and films. There is something romantic about holding on to someone we love. We want to feel the love for that person forever.

Fear makes it hard to let go. We’re afraid of what will happen to us if we lose something that we depend on for our survival, or happiness. So, we hold on as best as we can.

Holding on is also a habit. Our behaviors are so deeply ingrained in us that we just hold on to things without even realizing it. In addition, we’re afraid to look at ourselves because we may not like what we see.

Another reason letting go is so hard is that our self-identity is associated with the things we have. A nice family, house, car, and other material possessions project an image of who we are, hopefully a successful image. Our self-identity is also associated with our views, especially political views.

Some of us are addicted to drama. We enjoy dwelling in our emotions. We certainly like positive emotions. But even negative emotions can get us attention, which also brings us pleasure. These emotions can also be part of our identity. [1]

The Illusion of Control

Intertwined in our attachment to things is the illusion of control. We often believe that if we get all the material things and circumstances just right, then we’ll be happy. So, we try to manipulate people and circumstances in order to get them the way we want.

The problem with this way of thinking is that everything is impermanent. Nothing ever stays the same. We get attached to certain things we like, and expect them to remain that way. This will always lead to disappointment.

In reality, the only thing we have control over is ourselves. But we act as if we have control over other people, and not ourselves.

The Benefits of Learning to Let Go

So, why should we learn to let go? There are a variety of reasons. Among them are freedom, better relationships, and continued personal growth.

Freedom

Letting go leads to freedom. When we learn to let go, we can be free of the sources of our pain and suffering that are holding us back.

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We often hang on to things that are no longer serving us, such as unhealthy relationships. Maybe at one time we were benefiting from a relationship, but often when people grow, they grow apart. That’s when it’s time to move one.

Better Relationships

A healthy relationship is one where both partners have the freedom to be who they are. Those who hold on to their partners too tightly don’t allow them be free. They smother them and try to mold them into their ideal partner.

When we let go of our partners, it doesn’t mean they’ll leave us. We just allow them to be who they want to be. Then it is up to us to love them for who they are.

When you learn to let go, you’ll attract healthier people in your life. That’s because healthy people don’t want to be around someone who will smother them.

Continued Personal Growth

If we hold on to something, we can’t move forward. We cannot grow emotionally if we hold on to something we think brings us happiness. If you keep holding on to things around you, then you will remain stuck in the past because things are always changing.

As you learn to let go, your self-esteem and self-confidence will grow. When you realize that you won’t die from letting go of things you thought you needed, you will be able to pursue things that are healthier for you.

5 Tips for Learning How to Let Go

Learning to let go is not as difficult as you might think. But it does take some courage and determination. Here are a few tips to help you.

1. Stop Blaming Others

We often blame others for our misfortunes. In such cases, we feel we’re the victim of others’ injustices. While this may indeed be the case, we cannot waste our lives waiting for other people to repair the harm they did to us. They may be unwilling, or even unable.

It is up to us to take responsibility for our happiness. Don’t wait for others to fix you. Don’t wait for them to act before you start living your life.

2. Make a Decision to Let Go

I once heard someone say how easy it was for him to quit smoking once he made the decision. We often say we want to change something in our life, but make a half-hearted effort.

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If you really want to make a change in your life, then you have to get serious about it, and that starts with making a decision to do it. [2]

It would help if you put that decision in writing. Write a statement like, “I have decided to let go of ________. I realize that holding on to this is preventing me from growing and being happy.” You can expand on this by listing more of the benefits you’ll receive, and how you look forward to a new chapter in your life.

Once you’ve written your decision statement, print it and post it some place where you’ll see it every day. Also, copy it by hand in a notebook regularly, such as once a day until you are certain you won’t go back. This will ingrain it in your subconscious mind, and the new behavior will begin to manifest itself naturally.

3. Trust That You’ll Be Okay

One of the reasons we hold on to things is that we think we need them to survive. Remember, letting go is the release of our mental and emotional fixation on something. It is not a physical letting go. Sometimes, we hold on to things that are already physically gone.

If something is physically gone, and you’re reading this, it means you haven’t died. So, letting go isn’t going to kill you. In fact, you’ll be able to truly live your life free of that emotional attachment.

Trust that you’ll be okay. If you have to, lean on a friend. Your experience isn’t unique. Chances are that many other people have gone through the same experience, and they’ve survived. You don’t have to go through a detachment by yourself. You are not alone. [3]

4. Learn the Lesson and Move On

Life is a series of experiences that are meant to teach us important lessons. When we refuse to let go of something, it is because we refuse to see what life is trying to teach us. As a result, we feel stuck.

When you’re having trouble letting go of something, ask yourself, “what can I learn from this experience?” The answer may not be revealed to you immediately. But when it is, you’ll be able to let go, and move on with your life.

5. Meditate

Meditation can make just about any situation better. In this case, it can help us calm our emotions, gain clarity, and give us the inner strength to let go. It can help us stay calm and positive when things in our life get out of control.

When we meditate, we give our mind a break from all the sensory stimulation in our lives. Too much sensory stimulation leads to an agitated mind, which leads to overwhelming emotions. So, by calming our thoughts through meditation, we reduce the thoughts that trigger our painful emotions.

When we calm our mind, everything naturally becomes clearer. The fewer unnecessary thoughts we have in our mind, the easier it is to process more purposeful thoughts. It’s like being stuck in a traffic jam vs. being on a road free of traffic. When our mind is calm, it is much easier to gain clarity on issues of importance to us.

As we calm our emotions and gain clarity, we develop great inner strength. This enables us to gain wisdom, self-esteem, and self-confidence. And this inner strength helps us let go of unhealthy things in our lives.

So, give meditation a try. You don’t have to do it perfectly, or for long periods of time. All you have to do is sit quietly for a few minutes following your breathing. This gives your mind a rest, and allows your thoughts to settle down naturally.

Here’s a simple guide for beginners: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

Final Thoughts

I know from personal experience that letting go can be really hard, and even scary. But, in the 50+ years that I’ve been on this earth, I’ve had to let go of many things I thought I needed to survive, yet I’m still alive. In fact, I’m quite happy.

I’ve learned to let go, and so can you. It gets easier with time and experience. Once you realize how liberating it can be to let go of things, and have a few successes under your belt, you’ll be able to let go before something causes you great harm.

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In time, you’ll be able to move beyond just letting go, and not get attached to things in the first place. When this happens, then you’ll know the true meaning of freedom.

More About Letting Go

Featured photo credit: Joseph Chan via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Charles A. Francis

Author, meditation teacher, and director of the Mindfulness Meditation Institute

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Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

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2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

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  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

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This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

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6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

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