Letting Go
31 Dec 2014

Letting Go


Make Space for Your Goals Next Year.


There’s an annual tradition in New York called Good Riddance Day. The motto is “Shred it and Forget it. Start Fresh in 2015!” On the website they go on to explain:

Good Riddance Day is inspired by a Latin American tradition in which New Years revelers stuffed dolls with objects representing bad memories before setting the on fire.

There is something liberating about that “Out with the old in with the new.” mentality. To be present in this very moment we must let go of the past.  But this is rarely a simple task. As we reflect on this past year and look towards a new one, let’s look at reasons we hold on and exercises we can do to help us let go.

Why Do We Hold On

Sometimes nostalgia can keep us tied to the past. Nostalgia can be a positive thing; a fond memory of a past time. But it can also pull you out of the present moment and make it difficult to enjoy what you have.

For many people the holiday season brought up deep feelings of longing and loss. A longing for what “should” or “could” be and the loss of what was. Perhaps you had happy memories of yourself as a child during the holidays but now your parents are aging or deceased. Or maybe you have adult children who had other plans, leaving an empty space in what was a full house. It can be nice to reminisce but painful to compare. Your life will never be what it was. We only have the power to accept and participate in what our lives are now.

If I Let Go I Might Get Hurt Again

Sometimes we hold onto the past to prevent ourselves from getting into a similar situation today. Maybe we are holding onto being angry with someone. A partner or a spouse, a friend, a family member or an ex. We want to be forgiving but can’t bring ourselves to let go.

Take a moment to ask yourself why you can’t move on. Is there something you need to say to this person? Do they know how you feel? Once you’ve communicated what it was that upset you in the first place, imagine letting it go. Try to visualize what your life would be like if you no longer carried this grudge. Notice what comes up for you. Knowing what is underneath is the key to going forward. Did fear come up? Sadness? Sometimes when we picture ourselves moving on it is terrifying to think of opening up to being hurt again.

I Still Feel Guilty

Guilt attacks us often and without warning. We feel terrible to have hurt someone. By staying guilty we also stay connected. It is prohibiting us from healing. We are operating under the false truth that if we had just done X or not done Y things would have been different. The truth is, much of what we feel guilty for is beyond our control. If we accept that we can’t control others and forgive ourselves, we free up energy and can live our lives more fully.

Do you feel guilty about something in your past? Is it something that you did directly or indirectly? Picture the person or situation in your mind. What comes up for you? Do you feel like you need to apologize? This might be a good time to take out your journal/sketch book. Draw something that expresses your feelings. Write a letter (you don’t have to send it). Sometimes a simple “I’m sorry” is enough.

Are you afraid of admitting responsibility for something? Do you fear it was your fault? Say that out loud or write it down.  “It was my fault. I did this.” Allow yourself to feel what you’ve been suppressing. Confront your fears. Put it out there into the world as many times as you need to. Even if it is only partially true and your logical mind knows this, there is a part of you that feels the guilt and the responsibility. Own it. Now picture yourself. Allow yourself to feel compassion for the person you are. You are human. You made mistakes. We all do. We all are selfish as well as altruistic; cruel as well as kind. Say to yourself “I forgive you.”

When we are scared to face the ugly parts of ourselves we expel a good deal of energy attempting to deny they exist. As humans we all have these polarities in us. We are all made up of good and bad. Identity is often wrapped up in being “good’ or “helpful” or “caring”. When we take actions or have experiences that show us the socially unacceptable parts of us, it can be difficult to tolerate. Just owning the “bad” parts can be enough to illicit change, acceptance, or freedom.

Moving Forward

The truth is we cannot change the past. Even if we want to. Even if we think about it again and again. Even if we punish ourselves for it. It is over. The only way to move forward is to find some sense of relief.

The past is also what has made us who we are. We learn from the past. We learn the most from our “mistakes”. Go ahead, acknowledge why you are unable to move on. Face up to the pieces you are holding onto. Own them and forgive yourself. It’s ok to let go. Think of all of the space you will have to bring new things into your life. Space you can fill with everything you want to live and accomplish in 2015.


I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

Jennifer Byxbee

I am an art therapist and creative arts therapies supervisor in New York City. I have worked as an art therapist for over 9 years with children and adults in a variety of settings. Art Therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on the creative process in order to promote self awareness, esteem and insight. I provide long and short term individual therapy, group therapy, and supervision for practicing clinicians at my Manhattan office. I also offer remote services.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *