Think of a situation you are currently in that is causing some tension, confusion, or worry.
When you reflect on this situation, connect with the tension inside you. How long before that tension becomes harmful enough that you should change something? Do you know where that line is? Think about that, if you will.
The reason I ask is that I’ve found the majority of people in my personal and professional life don’t know how to answer these questions. Sometimes it takes quite a bit of discussion, and other times they stare at me like I asked the distance to the moon. What is a healthy limit?
The heart of the issue is the pressure, the tightness, and the thoughts going round your head. What are you going to do about those? When do you decide you’re done with them? What’s your sign that your wellness is at risk? These are reasonable questions, yet so many of us overlook our own distress. I mean, we might take a bullhorn to the streets and let everyone know we’re suffering — but when is it important enough to make a different choice? To make a change for you?
So getting back to the situation you thought of above, here’s a multiple choice item for you. “Well, I’m going to stick this out…” [A] As long as I can [B] As long as I need to [C] until something changes [D] until I can’t do it anymore [E] as long as the other person needs me to.
Did you pick one of those? Or did you think I wanted you to, so you didn’t – even though you knew it was the real answer? I’m going to guess one of those will be the correct answer for many readers. Not because there’s something wrong with you, but because your heart is “in the right place.” Unfortunately, when you do this it can be easy to overlook your wellness, your mental health, and your safety. When people overlook their limits the cost goes from painful to harmful.
Consider the response “Until it’s healthier for me to make a change.” The longer we hold on to it as-is, the more damaging. Yet, you can’t replace what isn’t working if you’re unwilling to let it go. For evidence, I’ll refer you to human civilization in the 21st century. *mic drop*
Any therapist out there can tell you that “Letting Go” is one of the biggest challenges on the planet. A big part of wellness is about paying more attention to the pain, and the cost of not letting go. We have to be willing to see that suffering as The Actual Problem. Looking at our situations from that angle – with our own perpetual tension as the actual problem – what would we need to let go?
Often, we have to change the story, the way we frame the situation. Maybe it’s letting go of a worry, a hope, or a dream. Letting go of a person or letting go of a career. It might be a bad habit, or self-limiting beliefs. When…do you let…it go? Maybe the biggest question on the planet.
“But letting go will just bring a different kind of pain!”
“Usually. And then you would learn to let that go.”
“But I don’t wanna let it gooooo!!!!”
“So is the problem that you’re suffering, or is the problem that you don’t want to let go?”
Getting ourselves unstuck feels wonderful in the end.
Very often the underlying challenge is that we’re not sure we can survive the choice we must make. Often I find in my practice that people avoid drawing their line in the sand because they’re afraid making a good choice for themselves means they’re a selfish or heartless person. Their positive self-image, and any redemptive fantasy, won’t survive. We’re afraid all our nightmares will come true. This is another moment where therapy with a compatible therapist can help. You learn to recognize aspects of yourself that can take you higher than you’re seeing right now.
Whether you decide therapy is right for you or not, you’ll probably benefit reflecting on how releasing yourself from that tension could be an act of self-care. Sometimes in order to have something better, we need to confront what we’re afraid to let go of.