“Love yourself enough to let go of the people, thoughts, and habits that are weighing you down.” ~Karen Salmansohn
More than a year ago I started unpacking and cleaning out my ‘backpack’ of life in a different way.
I have always tried to remain friends with exes, and even though we didn’t necessarily socialize together, there was still the odd keeping in touch, helping them with a favor, or “Happy Birthday” text.
While most of them are generally nice people, the truth is that if I never dated them, I probably wouldn’t be friends with them now. We’re just on different paths, have grown in different ways, or have vastly different priorities (or values). Also, some were great manipulators, and for others I was maybe a time-filler.
Regardless, they were forming part of the emotional baggage I carried in my life backpack every day. I certainly don’t pine over them or even think about them all that much, but I felt a sense of intense guilt at the thought of cutting them off.
Would I be a bad friend? Would I be a bad person for no longer helping with favors, doing an odd work presentation they needed help with, or being available for emotional support?
The truth is, their work presentations and financial and emotional well-being were never my responsibility to start with. As a partner, I certainly want to support and build up my partner in love, but taking on these burdens, whether in or out of the relationship, just drove me to feeling guilt and an immense sense of failure.
As much as I tried, I could never fully solve their problems, take away their pains, or make them happy.
Ego Introspection—Another Hard Truth
Another hard truth is that I really was just an easy target for them to shift their responsibilities. Whether it was the work presentation or an emotional off-load, I felt that I had to be there. Why?
I’d feel guilty if things didn’t work out because I’d said “no”—whether due to their conscious or subconscious manipulation or my own attachment. Maybe I felt a sense of being the hero. Was I dependent on them for an ego boost?
Stuffing My Backpack to Zip-Busting Stage
This was taking up space in my life backpack. The thing is, every backpack can only fit so many things. If your pack is full, but you want to fit that extra little thing, you’ll have to remove something else. There’s only so much space.
Why carry heavy stones in a backpack and then complain that you can’t fit a nutritious lunch, your favorite book, or a jacket to keep you warm?
This is exactly what I was doing. I was filling my backpack with emotional attachments and baggage that were weighing me down. While they didn’t take up much time in my life, they took up a lot of space in my head.
Sometimes I removed the stones of guilt or failure, but often I put them back inside. Sometimes I just removed them from the backpack but carried them in my hands instead.
Because they occupied my time and emotions, I was unable to be vulnerable with others. Some friends withdrew because they knew I always had a subtle attachment lingering in the back of my head. I missed out on many great friendships because I was not fully open.
Although I was technically free enough to be fully present in other friendships and relationships, there was an underlying manipulation to remain somewhat faithful to the expectations of my ex. They didn’t want me, but they didn’t want to fully free me.
Unless I completely removed the stones and left them behind, tossed them away, I would never have space for more amazing things in that backpack. In fact, the seams would rip and the zipper would break, and it would be harder to hold anything at all.
I have witnessed the same thing with some of my closest friends. They keep subtle strings attached to ex-partners or friends that no longer serve their growth and healing. By doing this, I have noticed, they always have their guard up.
They struggle to be fully open, honest, and vulnerable. They have missed out some incredible friendships because others can sense this. They have hurt some of the most loving and well-meaning people in their lives because they kept gravitating back to an unhealthy attachment and filling their bag with stones.
Starting to Unpack
Sometimes letting go requires a frank conversation, but often it can be done by simply distancing yourself intentionally. That’s what I did. No more contact. It took me more than a year to work through the guilt of being a ‘bad friend’ for cutting people out.
It took hours, days, and weeks of feeling and working through heavy emotions, and then letting them go…over and over. It wasn’t an easy process. It wasn’t a quick process. I loved those I had to let go, but I knew it was no longer serving my growth and healing to be emotionally attached.
Slowly, I could peel away these sticky layers of attachments that I wasn’t even aware of. The feeling of failure, the attachment to someone who I once trusted, and the attachment to my own sense of being the hero.
I was concerned that they would now think badly of me, and even worse, that they would talk badly of me to others because I would no longer pick up their responsibilities.
Letting go, completely, was life changing. I never realized how much emotional and mental space my exes (and even some unhealthy friends who I also decided to distance myself from) were taking up in my mind and heart.
I didn’t only have to set physical boundaries, but I also had to teach myself emotional boundaries to stop the unhealthy thought patterns. Anger, resentment, guilt, failure…it all had to go.
I had to get rid of their voices in my head that always had an opinion on how I was living, who I spent my time with, or even what I wore. Keeping any strings attached would just reinforce these little, subtle voices again.
I finally realized that it would be impossible to truly heal and grow (spiritually, emotionally, and just as a human being) if I kept occupying this space in my backpack with these thoughts.
Letting Go Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Love Them
The amount of space I freed up in my backpack for GOOD stuff was incredible. The degree of anxiety that left my life was transformational. I learned that letting go doesn’t mean not loving. In fact, when you truly let go you are freer to feel love from a distance, without any anger, guilt, anxiety, or attachment.
I truly love those I had to let go, not with a romantic type of fickle love, but in a way that I deeply care. Just because you decide not to engage someone in your life doesn’t mean you don’t love them. It simply means you are committed to your own growth and the path you know is right for you.
I was finally able to commit my thoughts and emotions to more positive ways of living. I was slowly able to be myself without voices in my head questioning every action I took. I could love others in new, more fully present ways. I became better at setting healthy boundaries and realizing when they were being disrespected.
I also have a much different sense of love for those I have let go. It may sound contradictory. While previously my love for them largely led me to people-pleasing, guilt when I feared I would disappoint, and anger when I felt betrayed, this was no longer the case. Looking back now, I see that fear, guilt, and anger are not remotely signs of love at all.
Now, however, if a painful thought comes up, my heart and mind respond with only peace, and I wish them a light backpack too. I might not agree with their values or the choices they make, but my heart feels no painful emotions. I genuinely hope that whatever they are packing in their bags will bring them true freedom—that their souls too may flourish.
The Journey Continues
I am by no means done with this journey. I still struggle to trust others and hate feeling vulnerable. But at the same time, I am overwhelmed at the doors this process has opened for transformation.
Creating the path of least resistance for growth in my life means there is space for good stuff in my backpack. Instead of carrying a heavy load, I often find myself sharing the good stuff in my backpack with others more freely. By that I mean with no expectations or attachment to an outcome.
Every day brings a new sorting out of this backpack. It’s humbling. What stays and what new things have I stuffed inside that are taking up unnecessary space?
The longer I hang on to things that don’t benefit my growth and healing, the harder they are to get rid of. Some haven’t been around for too long. If I clean out and evaluate often, it becomes easier to recognize what’s adding too much weight and taking up precious space for good stuff.
Some things in the backpack once served me very well but no longer do. It takes courage to let these go. You’ll be surprised by how some old, moldy items start making even the good things smell and rot.
This principle applies to almost any area of our lives, not only to exes or friendships. It can be a family member, a job, or an identity you associate yourself with. In fact, I’ve had to clear my backpack of many of these things too.
While they don’t always take up physical space in your life, the mental and emotional drain can be intense. Let go of what’s weighing you down so you can be fully present, love better, and grow to let your beautiful soul flourish in lightness. It’s not quick. It’s not easy. But it will transform your life. It transformed mine.
There is no better place for Helga to be than in the midst of nature. Just like you, she is continually unlearning what she thought she knew, to discover a deeper way of being present. She believes that the best way to share wholeness and healing in a messy world is in the little interactions we have every day—with others, with nature, and with ourselves.