Acceptance vs Letting Go

Maybe it is just me, but I have never known how to react whenever someone has told me to "let it go." This was especially true during those years when my life was filled with challenges. I was having lunch with a dear friend this week and the phrase came up in passing.  It is a popular saying in our society and I think people use it offhandedly. It is one of those phrases that I have difficulty with and I have been reflecting about why this may be so. It may depend on the way the phrase is used but in my career as a counsellor I have often heard family members and friends tell my struggling clients to "just let it go" as a form of advice about what they need to do to. People use these words to try and help others get back to themselves, to heal and to move away from problems and wounds in a healthy way. But...what if sometimes people can't "just let go?" What if the pain of the loss or the trauma, the depth of grief, the fear or the terror they experienced has shaken the person to the core of their being. What if the event or state has indelibly changed a space within the person that is so central to identity that they do not know who they are anymore. What if there is no "getting back to?" What if the needs of struggling people is for a different kind of phrase? Perhaps they may need loved ones to offer a question like: "What is it you need that will help you accept this?" Perhaps the need is also for time, compassion, support and reflection and that these gifts allow for a gradual state of acceptance that nothing will ever be the same again. For many people, moving towards a new normal is the only healthy option.

Change can insist itself on our lives and force us to learn its new ways and rules. This can take time. How do you "let go" of the grief of having lost a loved one? How does one get on with living when a happening or event has irrevocably altered life forever? Who can say when there has been enough time spent adjusting? How can another person know when it is time? When we tell people to let their pain and difficulties go, we undermine the seriousness of the situation for the person who is struggling. It is a message that indicates that there may have already been too much time spent with the pain or that the degree of the affliction is somehow incorrectly weighted or inappropriate. Who are we to suggest this to another person?

In my experience, the process of acceptance can help a person move toward a state where having a less intractable position is possible. This is useful when a person suffers. Movement can take time and often the 'bones' need to be laid out in the open where they are aired instead of festering, hidden in the dark. Of course there are techniques like EMDR that help people make sense of being stuck in a loop of despair that seemingly never ends. This modality is quick and takes the client behind the curtain of the conscious thought rapidly and with great effect.

I find that many clients have never truly been listened to, by their entire lives! Witnessing the experience of another and allowing their telling to occur is also powerful. When the therapeutic alliance is strong and the therapist is patient enough  to put aside agendas that push toward results and instead can accompany a suffering human being on a journey of healing, acceptance and change can happen. This is one of the gifts of therapy, in my opinion...