photo by Mario Azzi
by Andrea M. Darcy
Holding onto partners and friendships long past their expiry date? Or can’t seem to leave a depressing job?
Letting go and moving on is never easy.
But if you find it harder than most, it might mean there are deeper issues at play.
Just not the letting go and moving on type?
Yes, personality can have something to do with it. You might be prone to ‘agreeableness’, considered one of the ‘big five’ personality traits in psychology, that leaves you less likely to cause upset or change (shown by research to be genetic).
But if we are not letting go and moving on when the relationship or situation is actually unhappy and unhealthy, then there are generally psychological issues at play.
Is this a pattern?
We all want to think we are very independent and think for ourselves.
But unless we have taken the time to do some inner work, and question our beliefs and behaviours? We can be simply living out our learnings from childhood, for better or worse.
Developmental psychology calls the way we learn to behave and think from the caregivers around us ‘modelling’ or ‘observational learning’.
The famous experiment here is called “The Bobo doll experiment“, carried out by psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1960s. Children who watched adults get away with or rewarded for aggressive behaviour toward a blow up doll were more likely to then repeat that negative behaviour themselves. Bandura’s research also showed that children are more likely to imitate authority figures, like parents.
If your parents stuck out a relationship long past the expiry date, and were rewarded by approval by their parents and peers, you could still as an adult be modelling this behaviour.
Think this doesn’t apply as you are ‘the exact opposite’ of your parents? Perhaps one of your childhood authority figures was always in and out of relationships or jobs. Your focus on doing the opposite can mean you are still controlled by that pattern, just its flip side.
Whose values are you living?
You might also living out your family’s values instead of your own. If your family has a ‘loyalty to the death’ value, and you haven’t taken the time to sit down and question what your own values are?
Then you might be sticking out a situation and feeling tired all the time because your own values are actually authenticity and freedom.
Know you should leave, but feel oddly comfortable?
image by Yoann Boyer
In a relationship you know isn’t great, but feel oddly ‘at home’?
It’s time to get honest about what you learned ‘home’ was. If ‘home’ as a child was unstable, then your comfort zone simply won’t be healthy relationships.
It’s time to stop seeking your current feeling of ‘home’, and work at recreating a healthier version of home.
Psychological issues that keep you trapped
Think it’s something bigger than just learned behaviours and values keeping you stuck? What psychological issues and disorders might be stopping you from letting go when you should?
Convinced that the job you are in is the best you can do? Or that you should stay with a partner you aren’t even happy with as ‘it could be worse’? Low self-esteem stops us from moving forward.
Do you find yourself an anxious mess each time you are in a relationship? And does your anxiety leave you such a mess you are exhausted? To the point you wonder if maybe it’s a relationship you shouldn’t be in, but you are too tired to do anything about it?
Attachment theory states that we need at least one reliable caregiver as an infant and young child to give us unconditional love and keeps us safe. Failing that, we end up with ‘attachment issues’, such as anxious attachment, where we feel we need to win love.
A close cousin of anxious attachment, codependency means we take our self worth from what others think of us. We choose relationships where we gain approval by care taking and over giving.
Our identity becomes so tied up to the other’s approval we can find it hard to walk away, not knowing who we are without the other.
Personality disorders mean that we see ourselves, others, and the world in a different way than others.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) means that we have a fear of being abandoned and experience emotions more intensely than others. So we’ll get caught in a push pull pattern over walking away.
Dependent personality disorder means you attach to one person and feel unable to cope without them.
Histrionic personality disorder can mean you see a big romance even if it’s not really there, and become hooked on making that person love you.
If you are actually in a relationship where there is a certain level of abuse going on, whether that is physical, sexual, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, or even economic abuse? And the worse it gets, the more incapable you feel of leaving?
Unresolved childhood trauma can create a reliance on being traumatised, called ‘trauma bonding’. The brain becomes addicted to the peacemaking and compliments that come after the abuse.
**If this is you, it’s very important you seek support and help. See our list of free UK help lines here which can be an anonymous and confidential starting point. Or see the NHS pages about help for domestic abuse.
How can I start letting go and moving on?
As you might be guessing by now, the reasons you can’t let go and move on often have far less to do with the other person, and much more to do with you, and the unresolved unconscious beliefs and childhood issues that are running your life.
There are many tools that can help with stepping into self-awareness and personal power. Journalling, mindfulness, and self-help books are a great start.
If you think it’s a question of identifying your own values and limiting beliefs, working with a coach can be useful.
But if this is a long standing pattern for you? Constantly feeling trapped by your own passivity? Or suspect you need to look at childhood trauma, or a possible personality disorder? A counsellor or psychotherapist can help you identify and resolve your past trauma, as well as find better ways of dealing with your present, so that your future becomes a choice you are proud of.
Ready to get unstuck and move on for once and for all? We connect you to some of London’s best talk therapists. Or use our booking platform to find a UK-wide therapist or online counsellor now.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert and mentor, with training in person-centred counselling and coaching. She often writes about trauma, relationships, and ADHD. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy