“You make me complete.”
“I can’t live without you.”
“You bring color to my life.”
“I feel safe with you.”
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of love is letting go. How do we go about letting go and why is it so hard to do?
Hold Me Tight
Saskia is having doubts about her relationship—about whether her feelings for him are strong enough and whether she wants to stay with him. In a constellation exercise, she discovers that he has become the anchor in her life. If she were to leave him, she would end up all alone and that would be unbearable. Pondering the question, “Who am I without him?” plunges her into her deepest fear.
And Natasha…her great love, whom she has rejected time and time again, is about to get married. This man, who had solemnly promised he would always take care of her, is about to say “I do” to another woman. She hasn’t spoken to him in years but now feels compelled to call him to tell him that she wants to commit to him after all. She is certain, even after everything that has happened between them, that he will choose her. The big question, though, is whether she will actually be able to commit to him should he actually turn up on her doorstep. History shows that she has rejected him over and over again. In an exercise, she discovers that she doesn’t have the courage to stand on her own two feet.
The existential fear of being on her own is too much for her to bear, and so Natacha always needs someone else to keep her from having to feel the fear. This fear is what keeps the yo-yo effect going. “If he commits to me, I will make a go of it with him, no matter what happens,” she tells herself with conviction. Her head and willpower cling to this last straw. But what if he actually turned up in front of her?
Stay or Go?
Love is about letting go since love can only flow if it is allowed to flow freely. It is not about letting go of “the other person” but rather about letting go of “the attachment” to them.
Holding on out of fear makes us unfree—we cling to, suffocate, and stifle love. In the love-phobic dynamic, this stifling makes it impossible for the other person to stay, and we end up achieving the exact opposite of what we really wanted: closeness.
The other side of letting go is holding on. In order to let go of something, we first need to have it in our grasp. In grasping, the thing we “don’t want” to happen happens: the fear returns.
It sounds paradoxical, but the thing we want to be rid of is what we cling to. The undercurrent of fear results in a hidden claim. We need the other person for ourselves. This creates a strong attachment through which we subconsciously chase the other person away. The attachment in relation to someone else is always a reflection of a separation in ourselves. This outer dynamic is a reflection of the inner dynamic between fear and love.
In letting go of the lack of freedom, we are forced to face ourselves, our separation from the other person, and therefore, our own woundedness and brokenness—the breeding ground for the hidden claim. This may be an emptiness, a lack, existential loneliness, or a feeling of being abandoned. What a huge task it is to face this, to provide shelter for all the pain in ourselves. However difficult it may be, it is in accepting our own pain that we can free the other person. Only once we let go of the claim can love find us.
One of my teachers, Wibe Veenbaas, put this beautifully:
“Although unacknowledged pain feels like an inhospitable landscape within ourselves, it is our task to inhabit it and acknowledge its existence. This gesture of accountability toward ourselves paves the way for true healing.”
Letting go requires training the muscles we will need to be able to carry ourselves. By doing so, we lay a foundation of safety within ourselves. In this way, we can hold ourselves and provide shelter for our deepest fears and sadness. We can let go of the attachment to the other person and build a nest they are free to come and go from. When they return, they do so of their own free will.
“I am complete.”
“I can exist on my own.”
“I give color to my life.”
“I feel safe in myself.”
Here are three steps to letting go:
1. Anything we can’t bear and are not willing to feel ourselves, we subconsciously project onto our partner. However, he or she cannot resolve this for us. Only we can do so by being prepared to confront ourselves.
2. See beyond the claim and embrace the depth of your own wound. The wound is the place we most want to avoid, yet this is exactly where we need to be. Shelter these abandoned parts in your heart. They need your love.
3. Give yourself everything you expect others to give to you. Once we love ourselves, our partner will begin to mirror that love back.