Letting Shit Go

*Names have been changed.

I had a good friend approach me for advice about a girl named *Leslie who was treating her pretty poorly. Leslie would often make snappy comments if others didn't agree with her--she'd keep arguing her point until others caved and agreed with her. She was extremely sensitive to criticism or any opposition and essentially would be defensive and make underhanded remarks to my friend.

My friend put it simply, "I'm resentful. I feel a lot of anger and bitterness towards her and it's a huge energy suck. I don't want to feel this way but I do. How do you let this type of stuff go?"

I can tell you right now, it is NOT easy letting go of that boiling anger and internalized resentment. Learning to let go is something that takes extensive amounts of practice and effort (especially for someone like me who used to bottle that shit up) particularly if the person who's done you wrong is not willing to apologize. After interacting with some really difficult and defensive people in my life, here are a few things I learned about "letting that shit go." There isn't a firm step by step process, but adopting a philosophy of thinking is what really helped me to let shit go.

Don't Take It Personally. It sounds sooo cliche and lame, but it's absolutely true. I asked my friend about Leslie, Is she always like this, or is she only singling you out? My friend really thought about it and realized that Leslie's snappy ass attitude and ability to constantly point out pessimistic argumentative points were constant whether it was towards my friend or others surrounding Leslie. My friend then realized that's just who she is at this moment. If it's not a special behavior that's out of character directed at you to single you out, then you were just unlucky to have been caught in the eye of that person's shit storm. Not to say you should be passive, say nothing, or excuse the people who do this, but understanding that these types of behaviors are not special or unique to you will really put the problem into perspective and help you move on emotionally. Being bitter at someone for being who they are (good or bad) won't change that person, so why be pissed when you didn't get special treatment?

It's Not Your Responsibility To Fix Someone. Yes, you should speak up when things are very unfair, but it's also important to know when to step away. You are more than welcome to be someone's "emotional tour guide" and show them better ways to handle themselves during stressful times, but ultimately, you are NOT his/her keeper. I asked my friend, "Whose responsibility is it to manage your personal growth?" She responded, "Me." Exactly. In the same way it is my friend's individual responsibility to take care of herself, it is Leslie's responsibility to manage herself as well. This rule operates with no special exceptions or treatment. Sometimes, we feel the need to step in when others are struggling--to shape someone else into the potentially better version of himself/herself we envision--but our idealized vision of who someone should be are projections of what WE want. The best we can do for others is to allow them to grow and learn at their own pace. That doesn't mean you always need to be in the middle of the action. You can step away if it affects your personal growth or pursuit of happiness as well. If someone is toxic for you at this point of time in his/her life, he/she may not be ready to be in your life, and you don't have a responsibility to stick around. If you do, it's pretty much a courtesy--not an obligation.

Don't Be A Martyr. I asked my friend if she had addressed her issue with Leslie explicitly and explained exactly why her behavior was upsetting her. My friend responded, "No, I didn't. I just sucked it up and kept quiet about it." I used to fall into this trap as well. I used to "suck it up" and say nothing, be patient, and suffer silently hoping that people would change their bad behaviors because that's what I was taught good people should do. NO, DON'T DO THIS. THIS IS TERRIBLE ADVICE. Being a silent martyr doesn't benefit you, and it doesn't benefit the other person either. There is nothing wrong with speaking up when something needs to be said. I mean, you don't have to be a dick about it, but as long as you verbally state what's bothering you, you give the other party a fair chance to take the information you've laid out and allow him/her to adjust his/her behaviors. Be fair to yourself and to others by speaking up and giving them chances to be aware of the issue and adjust any behaviors accordingly. Which brings me to my next point...

Don't Feel Guilty About Stating Your Boundaries. I don't know why, but many people are afraid to explicitly voice their boundaries. When I asked my friend why she didn't acknowledge her boundaries with Leslie, she simply replied, "I feel bad." So I asked her, If a stranger was physically touching you without permission, would you have a problem telling him/her that it's not okay and that he/she should stop? She said, "Of course not." So, then why do we get all weirded out by telling those who are closer and in a mutually respectful relationship with us that certain things are not okay? Respect in a friendship or relationship is mutual, and if your boundaries are clear and reasonable, that person will understand and respect your boundaries. Again, someone may keep overstepping your boundaries because he/she is not aware of them if you haven't verbally expressed it. Give others a fighting chance to adjust their behaviors because if you don't ever say a word and expect someone to change, you'll harbor unfair resentment and be likely disappointed.

Give Yourself Honest Time To Be Pissed. This sounds counterintuitive, but it really works for me. If I get pissed about something, I set aside 30 minutes or an hour--depending on how irate I am--on my schedule to be constructively pissed (but be honest with yourself about how much time you need). My pissed-off time is usually spent angrily writing terrible obscenities that would make nuns shiver, punching the shit out of a punching bag, or bitching about it with my boyfriend. Whatever you need to do to process the emotions in a healthy way, pity yourself for a moment, or feel indignant can be done in this time. Set aside a block of time in the day and then set a timer so you have that to look forward to, so you limit the time spent moping in your day to day. To make sure I have a grip on my emotions, I tell myself, Anger, I will get to you on my own terms and in my own time. We'll chat later. I advise setting aside time because you should visit these emotions as a tourist, but don't sign a lease as a resident. After your allotted time is up, get back to real life and being the kick ass person that you are--really leave those feelings in that space until you are ready to pick them back up.

The only contingency I have is with this plan is that I am not allowed to indulge in those emotions outside of my allotted time. If I catch those angry thoughts creeping into my normal routine outside of my allotted rage time, I immediately get up (and I mean physically--go to the bathroom, take a walk around the office, get water, etc.), change my scenery, and focus my energy into an activity that requires either my full attention or some form of hand-eye coordination. For example, if I ever feel myself losing control of my emotions, I start doodling a very detailed picture on a notepad or I start cleaning my room until I've simmered down. I've gotten pretty good at this to the point where I can check my emotions at the door when I go into the office and pick them back up when I walk out the door at the end of the day.

Eventually, over time, you won't feel the need to use up the full hour or whatever amount of time you set aside for yourself. You'll wake up one day and realize that you may not even need it at all anymore.

Acknowledge That The Emotions Are There. Now this doesn't mean you need to be okay with how you're feeling whether it's anger, bitterness, resentment, or sadness. You just need to be okay with the fact that those emotions exist. When my friend experiences negative emotions, she tends to ignore it or dissipate it immediately by driving her attention into a happy distraction without actually processing them. I told her that having these emotions are uncomfortable but they're going to be part of life until the day she dies whether she likes it or not. Statistically speaking, it's not very likely you'll go the rest of your life without ever experiencing these negative emotions, and certainly all of your time can't be spent avoiding everything unpleasant--that just doesn't make any sense. I didn't tell her, "Just stop thinking about it!" because I think that's really shitty fucking advice and I HATE when people tell me that. Instead, I told her, "Anger and resentment will be present in your life again at some point, so acknowledging is more about thinking about those emotions in the right way rather than not thinking about it all." Ignoring or shelving anger and resentment won't do you any good. Anger can't be killed--it can only be buried alive and I'm sure as shit it'll stab its hand through the ground with a vengeance like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. Simply acknowledging that you're feeling some type of way will greatly help you to co-exist with your negative emotions and learn to walk hand-in-hand with them. Which brings me to my next point...

Realize That Emotions Are Fleeting. Like if I'm pissed, I tell myself, You know what, I'm pissed NOW, but that doesn't mean I'll be pissed FOREVER. And the key is that by doing this, you are accepting your feelings are there but also recognizing that you control your responses. I explained to my friend that I can get pissed, sad, or happy in a matter of seconds. Emotions are extremely fluid and flexible, and adapt to environmental changes and new information. Once you've accepted that emotions sort of fly off the handle unexpectedly at times that seem random, the more you'll realize that your anger is merely a response to your surroundings. For me personally, I tell myself that if something happened in the past and I've processed the anger, then what is there left to be pissed about? It's time to move on because being angry over and over again will not change the shitty things that have happened to you in the past. Don't be afraid to leave it in the past because you feel like you can never think about it again--you can revisit that place when you want; just don't stay there too long.

Don't get me wrong, learning how to let shit go was no easy feat and it's not like NOTHING gets to me because, come on, I'm human. However, I think it's really important to always think about this as a work in progress. Remember, this set of guidelines doesn't mean it's a blanket statement that will apply to everyone. I'm simply sharing my experiences, and advice given to a friend with her unique personality and situation. Keep that in mind when tailoring this to suit your needs.

So to summarize my points:

  • Don't Take It Personally
  • It's Not Your Responsibility To Fix Someone
  • Don't Be A Martyr
  • Don't Feel Guilty About Stating Your Boundaries
  • Give Yourself Honest Time To Be Pissed
  • Acknowledge That The Emotions Are There
  • Realize That Emotions Are Fleeting