Letting Go – Is it giving up or getting more?

A large part of my practice over the past 16 years as a psychologist with the nation\’s largest HMO has been working with women in their midlife years-which I have chosen to define as anything between forty and death! In earlier columns I have described how women in this phase of life tend to be too much in the middle of everything-the much abused and misused filling in the sandwich generation. They also tend to meddle in others\’ lives-out of good intentions, but meddling nevertheless. As a result, they end up in a constant muddle-dazed and confused…and very often resentful.

When I suggest that doing less may mean more…more pleasure, more time, and even more success in those areas of life where they have meddled the most, women react strongly and usually negatively.

Their first reaction is one of indignation. How can you possibly imply that all those good intentions are not only useless but even harmful? Who else will do it if I don\’t? You mean you want me to just let my ________ (fill in the blank of a relative or loved one) go to rack and ruin? That\’s irresponsible!

My response to them goes something like this:

The original slogan about “letting go” comes from Twelve-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon. The entire slogan is Let Go and Let God. It\’s adding that one letter, “D”, to the end of “go” that makes the difference. However you understand God, whether it is in terms of your own particular religious practice or faith or simply in the form of a power greater than yourself, you are letting go so that your higher power may work in your life . . .and the other person\’s higher power can work in his or her life.

One of the most stunning revelations during recovery, when women acknowledge that they are codependent with others, is that no one has the RIGHT to be another person\’s savior-not even when they went through 40 hours of labor bringing them into the world, not when they\’ve spent thirty-five years putting the pot roast on the table and picking up his dirty socks, not even when they don\’t see any other knight on a white horse looming on the horizon to take up the slack.

In fact, any woman who hangs in, pushes, prods, annoys, threatens, gives ultimatums, hints, drags, and otherwise meddles in the lives of loved ones (who should be doing whatever it is that should be done for themselves) moves right on past codependency into the role of an enabler.

As a therapist working with an addict approaching the bottom, a place where they may finally be impelled to seek help, I keep my fingers crossed hoping that some well-meaning wife or mother or girlfriend isn\’t lurking outside my door ready to pay a bill or bail them out of jail, or nag, plead, and threaten. Because the attention of the addict will immediately, and sometimes irrevocably, be turned away from themselves and their own task of recovery and toward the behavior of that well-meaning person. The problem isn\’t my drinking . . . my problem is that my wife is such a nag. I need a divorce . . . not a program!

What is the MORE that comes with Letting Go?

One of the first “mores” is that most women who practice the art of letting go find that their faith in their higher power is more immediate, more tangible, and more relied upon. I always recall the story of the man who came across another man who was pushing a wheelbarrow back and forth on a tight wire stretched across Niagara Falls. The man on shore was quite amazed. The man with the wheelbarrow asked the man on shore if he thought he could traverse the falls again.

“Why, of course!” the man said, “I\’ve seen you do it!”

“Okay,” said the wheelbarrow pusher, “then, jump in!”

Why is it that we have second thoughts about “jumping in”? We have been witnesses to a higher power working in the lives of others. Yet, when we are asked to turn our lives over to our own higher power, we\’re as skittish as the man standing on the shore.

The second “more”, is more time, more energy, and more resources of all kinds that can be used effectively in our own lives or in the lives of others who have a true need, those who are truly helpless and needy in our society.

The third “more” is the privilege of seeing that those very persons we have crippled with our indiscriminate giving, when forced to fend for themselves, grow into responsible and often quite interesting human beings. Does everyone have a successful outcome? Of course not. In those cases, it may be a matter of simply not going down with the ship.

A REMINDER:

IF YOU FEEL YOU HAVE A PSYCHIATRIC EMERGENCY:

GO DIRECTLY to a family member, a friend, your physician, your pastor, or the nearest hospital emergency room and TELL THEM YOU NEED ARE IN CRISIS AND NEED IMMEDIATE HELP.

OR…

Call 911 or one of these numbers:

  • 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433
  • 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255

For a Suicide Hotline in your state: http://www.suicidehotlines.com/

Suicide is a permanent and tragic solution to a temporary problem. GET HELP.

NEXT MONTH: THE PATH TO SERENITY