When Letting Go Can Actually Be Empowering. Part 1. By Dr Linda Berman.


Letting_Go_-_Creative_Commons_by_gnuckxLetting Go – Creative Commons by gnuckx

“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.”  

Herman Hesse

How might letting go be empowering? How can ending some connections actually make us stronger? 

Whether it is letting go of a relationship or difficult life circumstances, past traumas or memories, a job, a social group, a location or a cherished goal or dream in life, the process can be unsettling, as we venture into uncharted emotional waters.

44182733054_26c05d7fa3_oOdilon Redon – The Boat with Two Women in White. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“The danger of venturing into uncharted waters is not nearly as dangerous as staying on shore, waiting for your boat to come in.”

 Charles F. Glassman

Letting go can be painful. We cannot forget the past, but somehow we may need to let some of it go so that it does not hamper our current life.

In accepting that something is over, that it belongs in the past, we allow ourselves to feel stronger, more empowered.

Then we may glimpse new possibilities, new freedoms. This is, in itself, empowering.

50974945903_8a75233e21_oDeborah Azzopardi – The Great Escape [2015]Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

  • Knowing When To Let Go Is Important.

Sometimes it can be hard to know when it feels right to let go and move on. Letting go has different meanings for different people. It usually involves taking some risks.

Often we may feel it is easier not to let go, as it means facing some kind of ending, some kind of change.

Remaining in the same problematic situation may be uncomfortable, but it is a kind of cocoon of the known, the ‘familiar unpleasant.’ 

10488959456_feeeb18985_oDaniel Bilmes – ‘Held.’ Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

This phrase ‘familiar unpleasant’ was used constantly in my Relate training, 40 years ago and it remains highly relevant to many people’s lives.

It describes many sad relationships and situations where people feel stuck and unable to let go or move on together.

50074648707_9bf4d65ab4_oMargeaux Walter – Cocoon [2015]. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

Moving on together in itself demands resilience. Remaining in a difficult relationship or situation and working together to change age-old patterns involves staying-power and courage.

Often, if this is possible, there are considerable rewards for such persistence in terms of renewed love and commitment.

In some instances, however, unless we let go, we cannot move forward in life.

“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.”

Ann Landers

Clinging on is the opposite to letting go. It suggests a kind of desperate need, an unwillingness to face change.

Sometimes, however, it might be necessary to cling on- for dear life.

JP1847The Great Wave Off Kanagawa. Hokusai. Wikimedia Commons.

At others times in life, clinging on to someone or something may be a denial of the necessity to let go; for letting go can involve loss, uncertainty and stepping into the unknown. 

“Letting go means to come to the realization that some people are a part of your history, but not a part of your destiny.”
Steve Maraboli

  • Letting Go Of Something Negative

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPaul Robert Turner – Attach. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr


Sometimes we may need to let go of relationships that have been hard to endure. 

Letting go of a relationship that has felt painful or perhaps toxic can at times still be difficult, for we all have more than one set of feelings towards others in our lives.


Edward Hopper – Compartment C Car [1938]. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“He was part

of your story

but not





Mark Anthony.

Even when there is relief at parting, and despite separation and divorce, memories and lost hopes can linger and be painful. 

It takes time to let go of such a tangle of feelings and move on. Sometimes, professional help may be needed.

Edvard_Munch_-_Separation_-_Google_Art_ProjectSeparation. Munch. Wikimedia Commons.

  • Letting Go Of The Dying.

“There’s an important difference between giving up and letting go.”
Jessica Hatchigan

In his excellent book ‘Being Mortal,’ Atul Gawande, a surgeon, discusses the wisdom of trying too hard to keep a dying person alive with all kinds of treatments:

“..We fall back on the default, and the default is: Do something. Fix something. Is there any way out of this?”


Many of these treatments, he found, caused further suffering and did not prolong life to a great extent. 

What he discovered was that when patients who were terminally ill were given palliative and hospice care, they often lived longer without those distressing treatments:

“The lesson seems almost Zen: you live longer only when you stop trying to live longer.”

Atul Gawande.

This is surely a kind of acceptance and a kind of letting go, both on the part of the patients, family members and the doctors. 

Letting go of life, when there is no chance of recovery, and letting go of a loved one who is so very ill, can only be a part of accepting what is inevitable.

It allows the dying to go with more peace.

“Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.”

Raymond Lindquist


Manet. The Funeral. Wikimedia Commons.

“Death ends a life, not a relationship” 

Mitch Albom

  • Painful Life Events: The Pandemic.

Cautiously letting go of lockdown, of the restrictions of the pandemic, even in a necessarily limited way, will one day be a great relief, although there may be difficulties in terms of beginning to live a more ‘normal’ life afterwards.  

We may also have ambivalent feelings about facing the ‘real’ world again, in many different ways.

Some of us might have begun to feel institutionalised, after perhaps a year in relative isolation, socially distanced, and living with the fear of catching the virus from others.

NOR anvendt Ved vinduet, ENG anvendt At the WindowHans Heyerdahl – At the Window [1881] Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

There may be a need to take some time to consider how we will prepare ourselves as we emerge from months of hibernation in our homes, as we let go of the unnatural ways of living we have all endured. 

Social distancing and lockdown may feel like we are imprisoned in our homes, but the other aspect of this is that we have also been cocooned in a place of safety.

In this case, the familiarity of our homes may not be unpleasant.

30874511195_70492f9842_oMaxwell Doig – Figure in Steamer Chair. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

This may not be true of everyone, for some people are, sadly, not able to feel safe in their homes. 

For others, this ‘safety’ can be something we might miss in the future, losing our confidence in being in the outside world, finding it hard to let go, even when social distancing eventually becomes outdated.

There are aspects of this lockdown situation that may be hard, or even unwise, to let go of.

Will we ever be able let go of our fear of others spreading disease, of possible viruses lurking on every door handle?

Will we ever feel we can let go of our post-Covid anxiety enough to shake hands again? Shaking hands has been an age-old way of greeting another. Has it gone for good?

albert-einstein-62931_1920Image: Einstein. Pixabay.

Perhaps there may be some reality in the fact that life may be very different, post-Covid-19.

For the foreseeable future, or maybe permanently, life has changed dramatically and we may still have to hold onto sensible precautions against the virus.

  • Impermanence: Love And Letting Go.

“We must be willing to let go of he life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Joseph Campbell.

It appears inevitable that at some point in our lives we will have to lose- and let go of- someone we have loved.

Whether this is a family member, a special friend or a cherished pet, losing a loved life-companion is very tough.

“We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.”

Rainer Maria Rilke.

During the second world war, many parents had to face letting go of their children to send them to be evacuated to safety in the countryside.

This must have been so difficult for so many parents and children, who had to face this huge parting and the prospect of living with an unknown family.

Mothers_-_Let_Them_Go_Art.IWMPST15100Mothers – Let Them Go’. Unknown artist. 1939-45. Wikimedia Commons.

Accepting Impermanence.

31151667825_41895e6dfa_oRichard Combes – After Rainfall [2014]. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.”
W. Somerset Maugham

In his poem, below, e.e. cummings is saying that ultimately we do have to let go of everything, false friends, false love, even true love. Nothing lasts.

Nothing truly belongs to us, nothing remains, and the only aspects of life that are certain are change, and death.

That is why it is really important to value every moment that we do have….now.

Everything changes. We become empowered if we face and accept this incontrovertible fact.

We have to let go, for all is impermanent……

let it go 
e.e. cummings

let it go – the
smashed word broken
open vow or
the oath cracked length
wise – let it go it
was sworn to

let them go – the
truthful liars and
the false fair friends
and the boths and
neithers – you must let them go they
were born
to go

let all go – the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things – let all go

so comes love

29526943887_8221a0f203_oErnest Ange Duez – Still Life with Peonies. Gandalf’s Gallery. Flickr.

©Linda Berman

Read Part 2 of this post next Tuesday: Why Letting Go Can Help You Feel Freer.

This blog is totally non profit-making. As a retired psychotherapist with 30 years experience, I write both for my own self-expression and to help others.

If you have liked this post, I would much appreciate you showing support by becoming a follower of waysofthinking.co.uk



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