The Inner Process of Letting Go

girl letting go

What has to happen inside a person before she can let go of attachments that are harming her? The attachment can be physical, such as a house or keepsake; it can be emotional, such as resentment about an incident or fear of an unwanted outcome. Attachments can be needs—the need to understand everything completely, or the need to force things into an order she can manage. Attachments can be relationships or jobs, or even dreams.

By the time we’ve reached midlife, most of us have had to grapple with an attachment that needed detaching. We will go through this many times before we’re done with our journeys. It might help us to reflect on what the process of detachment is for us, because each of us has a process that is unique to our personality, history, and situation.

In general terms, here’s what is involved in letting go. Some of these may fit you, and some won’t. The purpose of this list is to help you reflect on your experience.

  • Frustration: We begin to feel the effects of the unhealthy attachment. We feel the need to escape it, at least part of the time. We become more impatient with the relationship or the habit or the possession.
  • Sadness: When it comes time to let go, there is some sort of grieving involved. Even if you truly want to let go of something, it has been your companion for awhile, and you may experience the sadness of parting.
  • Anger: After an unhealthy attachment has wounded you repeatedly, the pain may very well give way to sheer anger. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if it gives you the energy you need to make the break with whatever you’re clinging to.
  • Vision: How do you let go of your need to control the details of your life? You catch a glimpse of how it would be to be free of your obsession. You might experience an afternoon of giving up control—and discover that it was a pretty nice afternoon! If your unhealthy attachment is a bad diet, you may develop a different vision of your life by eating healthier for a few days and discovering how much better you feel.
  • Relief: One day, it occurs to you that you really don’t have to hang on to that dream, or social status, or a younger woman’s dress size. And you are flooded with this wonderful sensation—it’s called relief. After you’ve experienced relief—or, it may be a deeper thing, such as God forgiving you for not being perfect—why go back?

This list could go on, but you get the idea. Reflect on your letting-go process and, if you feel like it, share with us some of the wisdom you gain.

About Vinita Hampton Wright 144 Articles
Vinita Hampton Wright has served as senior editor at Loyola Press for 16 years and recently became managing editor of the trade books department. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently, The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book for Paraclete Press. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015 she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats, and a dog. In her “spare” time these days, she is working on her next novel.

17 Comments on The Inner Process of Letting Go

  1. As we grow older and our temporal end approaches, it becomes all the more clear that we are going to forego ALL of our earthly attachments and connections. Indeed, it becomes manifest that we should concentrate on that things that St. Paul says will not pass away: faith, hope, and charity,

  2. I think just becoming aware of our attachments is the hardest part. Sometimes they’re so ingrained that we don’t even notice we’re attached! I pray to see-or to want to see-my unhealthy attachments for what they are!!

    • Amen to that. Recognizing the attachment is often the real struggle, and admitting that something we consider familiar and “part of me” really doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be.

  3. As usual, Vinita, you never leave me indiferent at all your refections.
    You compel me to reread and wonder and meditate on your writings. Thank you so much again. I feel in debt to you.

  4. Each passing day we are marching ahead to eternal glory leaving behind all unwanted luggage but carrying forward the fragrance of our merciful deeds.

  5. My biggest problem is how to tell a disordered attachment from a genuine and positive desire that the Holy Spirit has brought to my soul. I’ve found myself very good at finding “good” reasons to justify things I want to do, and even trying to mask them as God’s will. I’ve found this post very helpful ( but nevertheless this is areally difficult subject.

  6. Great article and so reflective on life and our need to attachments that need to be replaced with the non material stuff We need everlasting peace and joy and love!!!

  7. I’ve spent some time letting go of my daughter this year. She is a dear friend to me and now she has a happy life with a new boyfriend. She is taking this time to own herself, to know herself and to become herself apart from me. I knew I was deeply attached to her when I hugged her goodbye and the tears came from inside my heart and wouldn’t stop.
    I have been helped greatly by prayer and my spiritual director to learn the gifts of a new season for us.

  8. We begin the process of “Letting Go” at birth when we let go of the Sacred Security of the Womb. Life then becomes a continuation of that process. As a Mother of 6, a Grandma of 11, and a Foster Mom of 43 … my heart is ever grateful for the Freeing Gift of “Letting Go”!

  9. Sheer Anger Letting Go. Perhahs the Anger is the result of failing to let go.
    Over giving .The others failure to see us. My husbands unwillingness to look inward has left me bereft.of any consolation An emotionally bankrupt childhood leaves him with an inability to accept help as a freely given gift. Often whilst I believe Letting go can have a positve outcome. It must at times be difficult to explain to the person who is damaging us .Then the anger comes to the fore

  10. I have just started the process of the examen. It’s amazing for me to realize that hard work that involves perfectionism is a false way of feeling in control, and avoiding my own fears of failing, or being imperfect. God is a very real presence in my life, but should not be a separate presence but an integrated part of my thinking. Thanks for allowing me to share in your reflections.

  11. Have just had to grapple once again with a relationship attachment – me wanting more instead of letting God’s wisdome guide me. I started the process of detachment and it is indeed like grieving only in this instance the stages were rolled into 2 days worth of self reflection, self compassion and forgiveness. Ironically today I got my heart’s desire. Thank you for your article – it was most helpful.

  12. My 16 year old (adopted) daughter is struggling with mental illness. She has made two serious suicide attempts. My attachment is the fear of the future that one day she may succeed. We have spent the last 15 months in and out of hospitals, therapy and even residential treatment centers trying to get her help. Occasionally I feel the peace of Christ with the future, but often the vision of her last attempt haunts me, making me cry, and worry! Please pray for us! Thank you

    • Thank you for sharing how you experience your attachment to your daughters mental illness . As the father of two adult children living with mental illness I’ve had many emotions but I don’t think I ever thought of them in this context until I came to acceptance – a long and difficult journey. So few people have your courage .

  13. I tell most people that when their children reach secondary schooling, they should prepare themselves psychologically that the next move is tertiary level. After tertiary children live their lives (independently), which is normal and part of human growth. We need to pray for them and embrace ourselves for raising responsible children. Letting-go is painful but at the same a relief especially those of physical attachment or belongings. When giving someone something I am attached to, I just tell myself to let go. When I feel hurt, I say its a matter of time, in no time I will be fine. Let us rather hold on to God and never let go off the hand of God

  14. Nearly two years ago, my husband and I moved from our home state to NY for an exciting career opportunity for me. We have had to let go of many possessions and a home that we loved. The house is only now about to be sold. Together, we’ve redefined our lives and what it means to be happy. It’s been a painful and liberating journey that continues in many other facets of my life. At work, I’m practicing new approaches to familiar challenges in order to be my true self. I feel guided by God throughout and am filled with gratitude for the growth I’ve experienced. I’m believe that I’m a better wife, daughter, friend, sister, leader, boss and colleague.

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