It can hit you out of nowhere – scrolling through your feed when you stumble upon a post they shared, sitting on a quiet park bench when a specific memory happens to cross your mind, sometimes even in the middle of lazy day dreams – and with a jolt that starts somewhere in the recess of your stomach and ends with a lump in your throat.
You realize that a person you’ve come to count on over the years is actually not good for you. It can hit you out of nowhere and knock the wind out of you.
What follows is a whirlwind of emotions, some that you probably can’t even name. The sensible thing to do would be to weigh the pros and cons of keeping someone in your life. But of course, we are far too sentimental, far less practical and definitely not equipped to deal with epiphanies rationally.
You see, we’ve been taught certain things ever since we were children. If something burns you, you jerk away from it. If something pricks at you, you draw your hand away. Unfortunately though, as adults, we’ve never learned to interpret those lessons successfully. What happens when you realize that someone is toxic, for instance? What happens when you know that holding on will only hurt you further? The idealistic answer will be, to let that person go. The honest answer is that more often than not, we do nothing. We try to hug the proverbial cactus with the naive hope that its barbs won’t hurt us.
When Michael Bolton sang “there’s a time for love and a time for letting go,” we nodded along in agreement, misty eyed. But when it comes to following up on it, we fail, and fail miserably. I think it has a lot to do with the kind of people we are. Some of us have a rescue complex – we feel like we can fix the damaging people in our lives, we like to play the hero – while others are merely averse to confrontation, and subject themselves to the same torture over and over again.
The undeniable truth, however, is that everyone has a breaking point. And when you reach it, things can turn ugly faster than you realize. All of this, because we have a hard time telling people we can’t have them in our lives anymore. Truth is, no matter how many self-help videos you watch, articles you read (including this one) or people you talk to for help, there is no secret formula for getting it right. There is no correct way to tell someone you don’t want them around anymore. But from personal experience with the few people I’ve left behind, it ultimately comes down to
1. Thinking it through and sticking to your decision.
Cutting yourself free of someone who played a definite role in your life, no matter how big or small, is a task unto itself. You may want to rethink the implications of saying a goodbye for good. Once you’ve made the big decision, accept the fact that for a while, you will miss them (or the idea of them). This will make you feel something an awful lot like regret, only it’s not. Remind yourself of all the reasons why you’re breaking free, and don’t look back.
2. Being polite but firm while severing ties.
Goodbyes are never easy, and permanent ones even less so. There will be temper tantrums and emotional outbursts, tearful sobbing and shrieks and screaming. Keep a level head through this process. Remember that the power lies with you, and therefore you must remain balanced. If both you and the person in question lose your cool, it is a definite recipe for disaster. Hear them out, be as gracious and kind as you can, but don’t change your mind or bend at the last minute.
3. Choosing yourself.
It is only too easy to forget your own needs, especially when you’re already feeling like the bad guy in the situation. Remember that it is never wrong to choose to walk away from pain. It is never wrong to choose happiness, even at the cost of a relationship. It is never wrong to trust your gut and do what’s right for you. You are not responsible for anyone else’s happiness.
4. Reminding yourself that some people are not full stops, they are just commas.
You will outgrow them, they will outgrow you – and not all relationships will survive periods of unequal growth spurts. If someone is dragging you down, it’s time to unshackle yourself from them. You’ll always treasure the memories of the good times, but right now, you need to do what’s best for you. Even if that means walking away.
5. Not forcing yourself to move on immediately.
Of course you’re going to miss them, and they’re going to miss you back. Don’t avoid them completely. It is okay to like each other’s posts on social media, it is okay to say hello every once in a while, till the emotional distance translates into physical distance as well. As long as you don’t get sucked into the same old cycle of toxicity again, it is okay to wean yourself (and them) off whatever bond you shared step by step. Ultimately, moving away is never easy. Letting go of someone to an entirety is impossible.
The one thing we need to understand is that letting go of someone to an entirety is almost impossible. They’ll always remain in the cobwebbed corners of our hearts, dusty but present; seemingly insignificant, but important nevertheless.
As I write this, I am reminded of a song a favourite teacher taught us in school from the musical Wicked – “It well may be, that we will never meet again in this lifetime/So let me say before we part/So much of me is made from what I learned from you/You’ll be with me, like a hand print on my heart.”
True to the words, moving on and away from someone who is no longer good for us is a journey. While it is healthy to heal and to learn to fill the void with others again, over time it becomes apparent that even though people might not be replaceable, after all, sometimes it pays to put yourself first.