We Can't All be Elsa: Stop Saying "Let it Go"
"Let it go" is sage advice. There are many situations in life when this is prudent. That road rage? Let it go. That conflict with your six year old? Let it go (you'll never win, anyway.) That thing in the store window you waited too long to buy and now it's gone forever? Let it go.
As sage advice as this is, it can also be incredibly hurtful. When a loved one comes to you with a challenge, a problem, heartache, stress—something that is eating them up inside and they come to you for a shoulder, guidance, and comfort, DO NOT tell them to "let it go."
While that may be exactly what they need to do EVENTUALLY, there, in that moment when they are at their most vulnerable, they do not have the strength or power to "let it go." In that moment, this is the biggest thing to them and you just trivialized it by telling them to let it go as if it was a dry-clean-only shirt they accidentally tossed in the dryer.
You let go the small things, easily. That shirt? It was my favorite and darn, but my life will go on. However, when something makes you feel like your world is crashing down, like you have no control or say in your future, like your very strength and will has been taken from you, you can't just "let it go."
You might think you're empowering them to shed off this burden. You might think you're telling them to stand in all their glory and let go the things of the past that don't serve them. You might think that you're building them up into a powerful snow queen who can bring about an endless winter and stand emboldened in this unmatchable strength and endurance. But even Elsa held on to her pain for decades before she got to a point that she could "Let it Go."
It takes time and processing before someone who is truly suffering something painful can let it go and move on. You might have to listen to them talk about it for months or years before they, in all their snow queen/king glory can tell the pain "you're not holding me back any more." It may not be healthy for them to obsess over it, but when something impacts your world and sense of self so drastically how can you NOT obsess about it? At least by obsessing, they recognize there is a problem and are searching for a way to make sense of it. They are processing what it means, how it impacts them, and what options they have (especially when they feel like they have none) to escape and hopefully grow into a stronger version of themselves who they love.
What might help them grow the most is letting go and moving on, but only they can determine when they feel secure enough, and supported enough, to do so.
Cutting them off in their obsessive processing and telling them to let it go like a ruined shirt doesn't help them; it just makes them feel like you don't understand or support them.
To truly be supportive and helpful, there is a fine line to tread. You do want to be true to the situation and your loved one and they need to know that moving beyond the toxic situation is where growth and healing will take place, but there's a way to do it.
Instead of jumping to it and telling them to "let it go" follow these steps:
• Hear them. Hear what they are saying about how they feel. Listen to what is making them obsess over this. If it's about a job, it's probably NOT the job itself. It might be the environment, the workload, the lack of growth opportunity, not making enough to get by, etc. What is bothering them is rarely going to be the actual act of doing their job, but something about it that makes them feel incomplete, weak, unseen.
• Validate them. Validate their feelings. It doesn't matter if they are right. It doesn't matter if they are missing key facts or a full perspective (at least, not in this moment of raw, emotional vulnerability.) What matters is that they feel the way they feel and are interpreting their experience the way they are. Many people minimize their own feelings and that makes them feel even more powerless. They may know that they weren't qualified for that promotion, and they try to not be bothered when it was given to someone else, and they minimize their hurt but it's still there. They're still hurting. Doesn't matter if they weren't qualified, that was a disappointing blow and they put themselves out there by applying and got rejected. That never feels good.
• Provide perspective. Now that you've validated their raw emotions and they feel heard and seen, you can start to guide them toward expanding their understanding of the situation. With kindness (as is always the key) help them look at a bigger picture. They didn't get the promotion, but who did? The person with 10 years more experience who worked really hard to get there. They deserve it, and maybe they can be a mentor. What skills did they have that your loved one can learn? Or, if that person wasn't qualified either and got the promotion through nefarious means such as nepotism, maybe that's not a place your loved one can adequately grow their career and they should look at working somewhere else.
This is the phase where your loved one will obsess the most because they are processing all the possibilities of the situation. This is the phase that will take the most time to work through. They are working on scenarios that validate their feelings, but also acknowledge the missing pieces to what happened.
It's important to not let them make up any facts. If they say something blatantly wrong, like their co-worker blackmailed their boss into the promotion (highly unlikely, who does that below the CEO level?) kindly correct them and let them know that their hurt and anger is making up stories. It's all part of the healing process, but it can get a little far-fetched sometimes if you don't help reign it in.
THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO TELL THEM TO LET IT GO.
They are not ready for that yet.
But they are close. Which is why you don't want to jump the gun early. This is delicate. They are healing their hurt, expanding their understanding and moving themselves to the most crucial conclusion but don't have a grasp on it quite yet.
• Understanding sometimes you will never have an answer for why things happened the way they did. Sometimes, the facts will not all be available. Sometimes, things don't make sense. Sometimes, other people make bad calls and we have to live with the repercussions. We are all guilty of it, too. We all make mistakes. Even when we don't, and we follow our heart, good intentions, and work hard, some things still don't work out. Somethings still hurt us, no matter the chances or precautions we take.
Sometimes, it's not our fault and has absolutely nothing to do with us, our worth, or our effort at all.
• Now, they can let it go. Now, they have processed and healed and reached the ultimate and most difficult truth: sometimes life is what it is, and you find to find acceptance in it.
They may never get that apology or recognition from their co-worker who does 10% of the work and takes 50% of the credit. They may never understand how their boss can't see that the person they promoted was less qualified and less of a hard worker than they are. They may never get the admittance that they were right, and someone else was wrong. And they have to accept that. We all have to accept that. But accepting that means that we can let it go and stop giving the situation our power, our strength, and control over our self-worth.
Letting go is essential for healing and growth, but it cannot happen until your loved one has processed, and actualized the truth in themselves that you may have known all along. Being outside a situation provides certain clarity, but when this is your world, that clarity is difficult to attain. It takes time and patience. You've got to get yourself out of Arendelle before you can accept the world, situation, and yourself. Then, you can "Let it Go."