Maybe you made a decision that had unwanted consequences. Or you said something you wish you hadn't. Or maybe you wanted to say something and now the opportunity is gone. And for whatever reason, you can’t take it back, change it, or make it better with an apology, leaving you stuck with feelings of regret, guilt, or shame.
So, why don’t we just let it go? Just let it go! Let. It. Go. There! Did it work?
Often, the harder we try to "let go" of unpleasant feelings, regrets, embarrassments, or "mistakes," the harder our minds work to keep those thoughts and feelings alive. Sure, we might be able to "let go" for a period of time by distracting or numbing ourselves in various ways—our brains come up with all sorts of coping strategies. But eventually those feelings will resurface, usually when we least want them to.
Imagine for a moment that all of your experiences and memories are books on a bookshelf. Faded and ripped books, new smooth shiny ones, fat novels and skinny brochures. Private books, books you love to share, happy stories, tragedies. Some of these you like to look at often; others have been collecting dust for years. Some you might wish weren't on the shelf at all. Unlike real books though, you can't donate, lend, or throw away anything from your bookshelf of experiences. You can't really let anything go.
But what if, instead, you decide to just let it be?
Letting it be doesn't mean ignoring it. It means acknowledging that all the different parts of your story—all of your experiences, everything you've done or said up until this moment—are part of learning. Whatever choices you made in the past were based on what you knew at the time and, in some way, fulfilled a need. All of it is your backstory.
What is integral to letting it be is self-compassion. Compassion is what you have for the people you love, and self-compassion is simply turning that compassion inward. If this seems difficult at first, imagine your best friend sharing exactly the same experience that is causing you pain. How you would respond to your friend? Can you apply that same level of compassion to yourself?
It's pretty common to think, "If I let myself off the hook for this, who knows what I'll do!" As if that critical inner voice is somehow keeping you in line. I challenge you to just try it and see what happens. See if you go off the rails. I don’t think you will. In fact, you might find yourself with an expanded sense of compassion for other people.
If you are still feeling stuck, talking about what's troubling you with someone who has earned your trust and won't give you unsolicited advice will often dissipate the uncomfortable feelings. Once that happens, that experience can sit on the bookshelf with all the others, taking up as much or as little space as you decide it should.