Letting Go… Whatever That Means


The Movie Frozen put those two words into the popular vernacular.  It has been around long before but is an often-used phrase today.  We have many of those “buzzwords” right now: unpacking, pain point, move the needle, bougie, vibe check, salty...  Clever visuals can give us a new image to consider old concepts.  I like some, not others.  For me (no offense to any Frozen fans), “Let it Go” just doesn’t work.

Our species are meaning makers.

The Ancients created stories to explain the constellations and deities that controlled rain, war, peace, passion, and conflict.  All our lives, we form attachments from the womb to the grave.  If it matters, we connect.  If we love it, we become attached.  And on the flip side, we attach to what is healthy and what is not, what supports our best selves, and what does not.

I’ve been in a self-imposed personal Ph.D. program to learn this lesson.

I bristle whenever I hear the well-meaning admonition to “Let it Go” (or L.I.G.).  Not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t know how. Does “letting go” mean you shed an entire experience or a select portion?  What if, in the process, you let more go than you wanted to and lose something precious that you can’t get back?

What if the hanging on is somehow validating?  Victims of childhood trauma often identify so closely with their experience that letting go of it is essentially letting go of a portion of themselves.  So how do we separate the good from the bad?  The healthy from the not-so-much, or even the toxic?  Do we have to L.I.G. over and over and over, or can it happen all in one surgical excision?

My experience with grief is that I was afraid to be done with it.

I’m not sure we are ever “done with it.”  My grief was evidence and validation of my loss, attachment, and connection.  Over many years, I have worked hard to sort, save, catalog, and cherish most of the good – and then…excavate.  Life continues to present limitless skill-building “step aside” opportunities (ugh), and if I so choose, I fire up the earth mover and get busy.

I’m changing my buzzword from L.I.G. to “Step Aside.”

We’ve all heard, “if you are tired of getting hit by the bus, get out of the street” or something akin. It seems simple enough.  But when we try to put these theories into practice… boom.  Not so easy after all.

Life’s work in the emotional coal mine?  Step aside.  When the 18-wheeler is headed down the pike, straight on for a front-end collision?  Step aside.  Let it go past.  There is no sorting or deciding what is worth saving and what needs to go.  Avoid the crash altogether.  Let it go by. Just get out of the way.  We all have those “things” that cause the pit in the stomach.  The trigger might have nothing to do with the current situation, but it “gets” us and can have a costly impact.

Our amazing brain, the ultimate neuro receptor and storage facility, holds sensory input from infancy.

Smells, sounds, tastes, and images are stored in a far more impressive system than the “Cloud.”  We can’t imagine that these self-preservation skills will magically appear when needed unless we work at it.  All muscle needs conditioning.

I practice in the mundane. In the (relatively) frequent experience of hideous drivers who pose irritation or threat, I slow down, get out of the way, and whisper, “cookies for everyone.”  It’s hard to be incensed when you are talking about cookies.  It temporarily reduces my ire at the assailant, as I privately offer a double stuffed Oreo dipped in chocolate.

A vast neuro-science field studies the body’s response to hormones.  For example, our cortisol and norepinephrine levels cause changes in brain function.  So, working to stay out of those spider webs is a good thing.  The more those hormones fuel us, the more likely we are to seek them out.

Do you know people who are addicted to drama?  Who needs to find or create it in the absence of it? From a neuroscience perspective, they are called “cortisol junkies.”  Their brain has become dependent on the emergency hormones to feel alive and on their game.  Over time, this practice wreaks havoc with our neural pathways and mental and physical health.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has extensively researched mental function and corticosteroid hormone levels.  Memory seems vulnerable to prolonged increased levels.  Yikes.  They have suggested a direct link to elevated corticosteroid levels and various ills.

Step aside.

Let some of the madness around you pass by.  Picture it like a thick fog. Be aerodynamic.  Don’t try to capture it.  Walk away.  Our peace of body, mind, and spirit depends on it.

letting go, aberdeen, neuroscience, national institute of health