Letting Go: When Things Don’t Go As Planned

Death is ultimately what many people fear, but we all experience other losses throughout our lives. Loss comes in many forms: our loved one dies and we are left with painful feelings in their absence, we go through a divorce and are left to navigate our lives without the partner we thought we would have, our children grow up and move away from us, or we identify ourselves with our job and one day it’s just gone.

People understand the grieving process when it comes to death and typically rally around in support of the loved one who has been left behind. However, life losses can feel every bit as painful because many of us feel alone in our experience. We are taught not to burden others with our troubles or that we need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Perhaps we receive criticism or judgment for the loss. We may even blame ourselves for whatever has happened. All of these things tend to make us feel more isolated and can exacerbate our sense of loss.


Grieving is a natural process that happens whenever we have an attachment to someone or something and it does not work out the way we want it to. Often we’ve become attached to the idea of something…that a person will always be there, that people will meet our expectations or that we will achieve certain benchmarks of success, for example. When it doesn’t work out the way we had hoped, we are forced to let go of the idea to which we had become so attached. The more attached we are to the outcome, the harder this is, especially if we’ve grown accustomed to identifying ourselves by it. Letting go of our expectations is a painful process and we can experience a wide range of emotions from anger, fear, and sadness to hope and acceptance. Grieving is not a straight line, and most of us bounce back and forth with our emotions as we wrestle with the issue at hand. When we accept this, and give ourselves permission to feel the way that we feel, we work our way through the struggle and naturally begin to let go.


Anxiety often arises out of fear of some future event; typically that we feel is out of our control. Life experience teaches us that there are many things that fall into this category. We know this for a fact intellectually, but work hard to avoid the emotional feelings associated with loss of control. Feeling helpless, like we don’t have the power to change something we are experiencing, is extremely uncomfortable. To deal with this discomfort we come up with various ways to self-soothe; some healthy, some not.


Most of the things we worry and obsess about are externally driven and have absolutely nothing to do with our wishes and expectations for ourselves. Attempting to change those things in an effort to achieve the desired outcome is an exercise in futility. Instead, it is essential to recognize when to loosen our grip. We don’t want to give up our power so we work hard to hold on, even at the expense of our own well-being. However, when we stop struggling against circumstances and allow ourselves to relax in the face of the unthinkable, we begin to engage in our life in an authentic way. We stop living in a world of fantasies, fears, and what-if’s, and we begin to truly live our lives. We do not feel as helpless, we’ve accepted what we cannot change and have abandoned the idea that we can…that’s wisdom.


When we free ourselves from the burden of holding onto our hopes and expectations, we have the emotional energy to tackle the things we can change. Being an active participant in our own lives and taking a proactive approach in dealing with things we can actually impact, generates positive feelings and a greater sense of strength, builds confidence, and promotes personal growth. When we take charge in this way it is the opposite of helplessness. Having the strength to be in charge of our own lives, to make changes that are difficult but necessary, is incredibly empowering. When we are in the driver’s seat of our own life, we may not be able to control what is happening around us, but we can control our overall direction.


Loss is a universal experience from which no one is exempt. Surrendering to our feelings of grief allows us to move through the process rather than forcing it away or struggling against it. As we are able to release ourselves from the attachment to what we’ve lost, we naturally begin to move past it. This isn’t easy, far from it, but it’s an irrefutable part of the grieving process and the first step on the road to healing. In addition, one of the most liberating gifts we can give ourselves is the permission to let go of the things we cannot change. We are then free to invest our energy into the areas of our life where we can illicit positive changes. When we take a proactive stance in our lives it empowers us, which in turn builds our confidence. Confidence is a fundamental belief in oneself, and believing in oneself is the key to weathering difficult times and coming out stronger and more capable than we were before.

Avery Neal, PhD is a practicing psychotherapist, international author and speaker. In 2012 she opened Women’s Therapy Clinic, which offers psychiatric and counseling support to women. She specializes in depression and anxiety at all stages in a woman’s life.

Dr. Neal is the author of, If He’s So Great, Why Do I Feel So Bad?: Recognizing and Overcoming Subtle Abuse, which has been translated and published in twelve languages. Her articles and interviews have been published by Oprah.com, American Counseling Association, Counseling Today, BookTrib, Best Self Magazine, Hitched Magazine, Bustle, POPSUGAR and PKWY Magazine, and her courses have been taken by over 18,000 people worldwide. The International Association of HealthCare Professionals nominated her as one of the top psychologists in Houston.