Transitions: The Art of Letting Go - By Sheryl Paul

Transitions provide continual opportunities to practice the art of the letting go. At each new threshold, the task is to let go of the old lifestyle, identity, and belief systems that are no longer serving us so that we can gracefully move into the new stage. The adolescent lets go of childhood. The high school graduate lets go of living at home (and the parents enter the transition of empty nest as their final child departs and so let's go of their primary identity being parent). The new parent lets go of the life as a non-parent and the hundreds of lifestyle and identity changes associated with that transition. The retiree lets go of being a worker. And on and on until the final transition when we let go of life on earth in a human body.

My particular area of expertise regarding transitions has focused on the wedding. In the fourteen years that I've been researching, writing about, and counseling engaged women and men I've been constantly amazed at the levels of letting go required by this transition. Perhaps it's because there are so many people involved in a wedding from so many areas of our lives, but it seems that weddings activate some of our deepest issues of holding on, rigidity, and ultimately, letting go.

Here's the rub: no one likes to let go! Some people have an easier time at it than others, but most people, if they're honest, will tell you that they fight the slippery slope of letting go with all their might. Human beings are creatures of habit, comfort, and familiarity, and when we feel our security threatened, we bare our teeth and fight back (usually directed at the person we're marrying). When we're in the process of letting go it feels like we're losing control - which we are - and the loss of control is enough to send almost anyone into a tizzy.

How do I help my clients let go more fluidly? First, I offer them context. Once they understand that it's normal to feel like they're out in the middle of the ocean or tumbling uncontrollably in a wave, it's easier to surrender to the feelings, thoughts, and sensations. The context is the life raft which allows them to acknowledge the feelings they thought weren't allowed (because all engaged people are supposed to be blissfully happy, right?) and understand that the more they surrender to the grief, loss, anger, confusion, anxiety, fear, and doubt, the more quickly they will move through them.

Second, I offer them words so they can break down and understand the specific areas where they need to let go. This differs in intensity from client to client, but I've found that there are generally seven areas of letting go that require acknowledgment and attention:

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1. Letting Go of the Fantasy Husband:
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Most of us carry an unconscious template of the man - or woman, as the case may be - who we will one day marry. It's interesting that the details of this fantasy spouse may only come into relief in comparison to the one we're planning on marrying. In other words, a woman may not realize that her husband was "supposed" to be a great social conversationalist until she gets engaged and is suddenly incessantly bothered by the fact that her fiancé is reserved in social situations. Every engaged woman or man who finds their way to me has at least one "flaw" about their partner that they're micro-managing, usually to the point of obsession. When she accepts that her partner is human and that there is no such thing as a perfect match or perfect partner, the fantasy begins to fade and she can once again enjoy the person she's with.

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2. Letting Go of the Fantasy Engagement:
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Likewise, it's usually not until we become engaged that we realize we're carrying a template for how we're supposed to feel during this time. Everyone who comes to me for counseling says, "It's not supposed to be this hard. Aren't I supposed to feel happy and excited about the wedding all the time?" to which I usually respond with something like, "Does a woman going into labor feel happy and excited about it?" The wedding, like labor, is, for many people, an excruciating transition that you must walk through if you're to be married.

The only problem is that when the challenging feelings arise they're in direct opposition to the fantasy engagement propagated by our culture that the most obvious conclusion engaged people draw is that there's something wrong with their relationship or their decision to marry. Once a person lets go of the idea that she or he is supposed to be blissed out from "yes" to "I do", she can allow herself to surrender to the reality of the engagement - which is that it's exciting and joyous and terrifying, anxiety-provoking, confusing, and nearly every other difficult feeling under the sun.

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3. Letting Go of Attachments to Family of Origin:
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I wrote an entire chapter on this aspect of the wedding transition in "The Conscious Bride", so I'll keep it brief here and say that, at some point, either during the engagement or sometime in the first year of marriage, a transference of primary allegiance from family of origin to spouse must occur in order for the marriage to be sound. Most of my clients will respond to this by saying, "But I've lived apart from my parents for years. I individuated a long time ago." Living at a geographic distance from ones' parents has nothing to do with individuation, and often it's only through the wedding transition that people realize how tight those strings that bind them to family really are.

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