The most exciting thing to come from therapy has been finding the words to express how I feel in the moment. Recently, there has been a shift in me that has caught a few people close to me by surprise. I’ve been treating adults with the same respect and leniency I pay to children. It’s something I’ve found both liberating and hard to properly describe. I told my therapist about it this week, and I shared that I’ve been wanting to write about it, but I haven’t found the words, so she listened and helped walk me through what I was feeling. It began with me describing how, for the longest time, I have preferred the company of children. And it’s not because I feel like I’m a big kid. It’s not because children match me intellectually and it’s not because I can relate to children. I can’t. The reality is that I don’t relate with them much at all, except in the realm of being fearlessly creative. All children are creative, because they haven’t yet learned to feel bad about what they create. I find that refreshing, but as an adult it can feel lonely to listen to my peers and elders talk about all the ways they are not creative, when I know from experience that they were all once creative as children, and they let that part of themselves die off. I’ve ranted on this subject plenty of times, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about today. I want to address letting go.
I enjoy being around children because they bring out the absolute best in me. This is another way I don’t relate to my peers and elders. For the most part, adults feel that children run them down and test their patients. I don’t agree. I find their honesty refreshing and I find their vulnerability endearing. I am the least stressed when I am around children. In my ideal world, we all live and let live. I don’t seek to control kids, I find no pleasure in getting them to do what I want them to do, and I’m not afraid of their raw emotions. When a child cries, I sit next to them and I allow them to cry. I rub their back if they don’t push me away. And if they do push me away, I don’t take it personally, I just let them know it’s okay to cry and I give them space. Kids appreciate this. Adults do not, or if they do, they don’t express it. When I treat adults in this manner (whether it’s literal crying or they are complaining), I’m told that I’m cold and heartless and that I don’t care. If I cared, I’d try to help them stop feeling what they feel, and I would feel sad with them and I would take on their pain. I’ve struggled with this. I’ve struggled for years feeling like I’m cold and heartless in the eyes of adults. When I shared this with my therapist, she called me wise and told me, “You recognize something important, you know that crying is good for us, and we all need a safe place to cry. You create a safe place to cry, and that is beautiful.” And I cried when she said it. I’m crying again just recalling our conversation. It’s a good feeling to have an emotional expert call me wise. I feel more grounded in who I am and I feel safer and more confident to be that person.
That led to the conversation this week, where I told her that I worry about being myself, because in the past when I have stepped into myself I’ve been met with negativity. My exact words were, “I’m feeling very comfortable with not feeling responsible for the emotions of others,” (this is something I’ve been working on with her) “but I worry about being called cold, and not having the words to stand up for myself and the fact that letting go of control is not the same thing as not caring. I still care, I just don’t feel responsible, but I don’t think that’s enough for some people to accept where I’m coming from. I want the words to express what it means to not be hooked by the emotions of others even though I do care about them.”
She replied with a poem by Chuck Swindoll. And this is another example of my “live and let live” mentality. I don’t agree with Chuck Swindoll’s religious views, but this poem is exactly how I feel. I have no problem looking past what I don’t agree with to see what I do agree with. Here is the poem.
To let go doesn’t mean to stop caring,
it means I can’t do it for someone else.
To let go is not to cut myself off,
it’s the realization that I can’t control another.
To let go is not to enable,
but to allow learning from natural consequences.
To let go is to admit powerlessness,
which means the outcome is not in my hands.
To let go is not to try to change or blame another,
I can only change myself.
To let go is not to care for,
but to care about.
To let go is not to fix,
but to be supportive.
To let go is not to judge,
but to allow another to be a human being.
To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes,
but to allow others to effect their own outcomes.
To let go is not to be protective,
but to permit another to face reality.
To let go is not to deny,
but to accept.
To let go is not to nag, scold, or argue,
but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.
To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires,
but to take each day as it comes.
To let go is not to criticize and regulate anyone,
but to try to become what I dream I can be.
To let go is not to regret the past,
but to grow and live for the future.
To let go is to fear less and love more.
This is the mentality that allows me to look at another person who is suffering, and rather than judge what I think they are doing wrong, I feel fine just giving them a verbal hug by saying, “They’re doing the best they can.” If you’re trying to change someone, it means you care, and that’s not a bad thing, but it is an unhealthy expression of a beautiful emotion. Not trying to change people is what allows me to have deep and loving relationships with them. Accepting people where they are and allowing for natural consequences is rewarding. If you really care about someone, let them live. If what they do causes them pain, that’s enough of a consequence, they don’t need anyone’s negative judgement piled on top of that. I’ve learned this by paying attention to who has brought out the best in me. When someone tries to make me feel bad for who I am, or when they try to evangelize their way of thinking, that has made me push back and it brings out the monster in me. I believe I am not alone here, many children react the same way and that leads me to believe that many adults feel it too. If you show love, respect, kindness and forgiveness to a child, they return it. If you punish, yell, and lay down the law with a “my way or the highway” mentality, they will fight back and make everyone around them miserable.
Being around children has been where I have felt the safest to be myself, but thanks to therapy I’m venturing out of my safe bubble to be my best self around adults. I’m learning to let go. I’m not taking everything as personally as I have in the past. I’m learning to say, “that’s how you feel.” I don’t usually say it out loud because that would be obnoxious and rude, but it’s there in my head with every conversation, providing me with the comfort and context I need to make it through conversations with aggressive people. I’m not allowing people to project their emotions on to me. I’m learning the difference between caring for someone and caring about them. I’m learning how to be generous without being taken advantage of, and I’m learning how to respond with kindness when I am taken advantage of. I’m focusing more energy on the people who encourage me and I’m ignoring those who seek to change me rather than engaging in a struggle with them. As a result, I’m feeling safe to be myself, and free to be the best version of myself. It feels so amazing to let go.