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Frozen‘s “Let it go” or the Beatles’ “Let it be” – which approach is more helpful when dealing with difficulties? Get curious with us today.
The song “Let it go” from the 2013 Disney Movie Frozen has become the worldwide childhood theme tune for most children born this century. It promotes the idea that you can make a decision to let something go and because of that decision, it will be gone.
Here at The Helpful Clinic, we challenge this idea. In fact, we want to draw your attention to the risks and potentially harmful impact of this idea. We propose using the Beatles’ “Let it be” as a more helpful alternative.
What does ‘Let It Go’ mean?
For most of us, letting something that is affecting us go, means to stop caring about it. This should then stop it from affecting us. It’s an attractive idea and promises relief from being affected by situations and suffering.
However, in reality, this just doesn’t seem to work. Thor acknowledges that they’ve never been able to let anything go, ever. For a long time, they felt that they were failing at this. So many people were talking about ‘let it go’ and making it sound so straightforward. Applying the question of ‘Is it helpful?’ Thor realised that this idea simply wasn’t helpful.
Why? Because feelings aren’t something you can put down like a shopping bag. Feelings are information. Ignore the information and you miss the clues. So what’s the impact of trying to ‘let it go’? What are the risks?
The top three risks of ‘Let it go’?
We tend to not welcome feelings we associate with suffering, like pain, stress, anger, disappointment, anxiety and betrayal. These are the feelings we’d like to ‘let go’. So when we try to let it go, it tends to go something like this:
1) Avoiding, numbing or suppressing
This is when we use distractions like work, painkillers, alcohol, comfort eating, sex or even helping others to not feel how we really are feeling. People often confuse suppressing or avoiding a feeling with letting it go. It hasn’t actually gone anywhere, it’s still there, just disconnected. The feeling spills over into our behaviours, making us behave ‘out of character’ because there’s a feeling driving our behaviour that we’re not aware of.
2) The double-whammy
This is when we make a decision to ‘let it go’ and then continue to feel the feeling anyway. But now there’s added pressure that we shouldn’t be feeling this way because we made a decision to let it go! The problem with this approach is that this becomes a vicious circle where we are continuously failing at letting go. Leaving the original feeling unresolved, the ruminating drains our vital energy.
3) The Groundhog Day effect
Thirdly and, most importantly, all feelings are information. Whether it’s information about what you need or don’t need; about what you believe or what skills you need to strengthen; or relationships you want more or less of, the feeling is there for a reason.
If you convince yourself to let something go without Sherlocking the information first, you won’t learn from it. This means you’re likely to find yourself in the same situation again and again until you’ve learnt what you need to learn. A bit like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day.
Why trying to ‘Let it go’ can be harmful for your health
Ultimately, by not listening to your feelings and getting curious about the needs, beliefs and behaviours that are driving them, you can feel unsettled, even or chronically frustrated. This activates your fight/flight/freeze mechanism in your body, referred to as the Stress state. Stay in this state too long or too often and your health suffers.
In the Stress state, regular maintenance work like looking after your detox organs like kidneys, your immune system, digestion and even fertility is compromised. This is because the Stress state overrides your Maintenance state, often referred to as ‘Rest and Repair’ or ‘Rest and Digest’.
‘Let It Be’
Feelings like pain, anger, grief, anxiety or overwhelm are there for a reason. The first step, therefore, is to let it be what it is. This is about becoming aware of the fact that this is how you are actually feeling: Awareness is the first step in the ABC First Aid for Feelings. Research shows that giving name to the feeling you are experiencing starts to ease it.
When we don’t resist or reject our feelings, we note the information, take action if needed and the feeling ebbs away or dissolves. Given some time (sometimes just a few seconds), a feeling will actually run its course to completion.
It’s one of the reasons why we advocate using the First Aid for Feelings ABC technique. It makes you aware of how you’re feeling, provides you with the breath and the body connection to bring you back into real-time, before supporting you to make a more helpful choice.
So how does it work?
When you let the feeling be what it is and get curious about it, you start to develop a map of clues that point to what’s going on. Here’s an example:
Jane is upset because her friend Paula has cancelled at the last minute. Her initial response is: “typical Paula” followed by “never mind, I’ll just let it go like all the other times before“. Sounds helpful, right? No, actually, it’s not helpful.
Underneath this self-talk is a whole other conversation. Jane feels that this behaviour is disrespectful. She feels taken for granted. Her inner critic is now on full alert and the stress hormones, including adrenaline, are ramping up.
In denial of this inner conversation but adrenalised by it, Jane decides to crack on with the hoovering. Using cleaning to assert some sense of control and order, Jane plugs in the hoover, only to discover it’s still broken. Husband Chris clearly hasn’t had it fixed. Her upset turns to anger and she crocodiles. When Chris comes home they have an almighty row.
So how would the Beatles’ “Let it be” approach have been more helpful in this situation? Let’s start again: Jane is upset because her friend Paula has cancelled at the last minute. Her initial response is:
“I am feeling upset about this. I want to look after this feeling even though I don’t know what it means yet“.
BREATH & BODY:
She does the 5/7 breathing exercise three times. This is where you breathe in to the count of five and out to the count of seven. It tilts your biochemistry and eases the adrenaline. She also shuffles her shoulders and wriggles her toes to help her feel into her body and not just be in her head.
“I could try and let it go but I know that doesn’t actually work so I’m going to let the feeling be what it is for a while and see what I can learn about it”.
She reaches for her notebook, reminding herself that it’s more helpful to be curious than critical. Giving herself time to just be with her experience, writing it down and speaking kindly to herself, her feelings ease a bit.
Sitting with the discomfort of the feeling and Sherlocking what’s going on, she then comes to an answer. Jane remembers that Paula often gets migraines and when she does, she can be abrupt and not let people know what’s going on, maybe that’s the reason. She wants to let Paula know that she misses her company and that she finds these last-minute cancellations difficult and that it’s understandable to feel frustrated, Paula is probably frustrated about it too.
By recognising that it’s ok to feel how she’s feeling and to get curious about Paula’s reason for cancelling rather than judging Paula for it, she feels ready to have that chat. No hoovering and no row with Chris who by the way, has booked the hoover in for repairs in a few days time but hadn’t yet had the chance to tell Jane about it.
Finding the answer
The Beatles say in their song “Let It Be”: “There will be an answer…”
Like Jane discovered, the process of finding the answer can take Sherlocking and a bit of time. You may need help from a trusted friend or a professional to help you find your way through. It can also be helpful to reach for your First Aid for Feelings (read more here) You can also learn more about First Aid for Feelings 10-day meditation course on the Insight Timer app.
Don’t just take our word for it
A new study by Noreen, S., & MacLeod, M. D. (2021) shows that the emphasis on making a decision to let something go is far less effective or even helpful than working through what’s going on.
Our invitation to you…
Our invitation to you today is to get curious about recurring feelings. Use them as a learning opportunity to discover the clues as to why they show up.
Awareness: How are you actually feeling? Name the feeling(s). Let the feeling be what it is.
Breath and Body: Remember to come to your breath and to your body. Use the 5/7 breathing. This is your tool to shift your biochemistry. You can read more about your brain and biochemistry here. Get a sense of your body by shuffling your shoulders and wriggling your toes.
Choice: What might be a more helpful choice? What are the clues in this feeling?
You don’t learn to swim by watching a documentary. Do some experiments and learn how you understand yourself better when you let your feelings be what they are.
Go gently, hold steady, stay the course.
All the best, Thor
PLEASE NOTE THAT THOR A RAIN IS NOT A MEDICAL DOCTOR. THE HELPFUL CLINIC IS NOT A MEDICAL CLINIC AND THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. FOR MORE INFORMATION CLICK HERE