The Real Reason We Stay In Toxic Relationships + The Secret To Freeing Yourself For Good

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When I was younger, I feared letting go of the monkey bars. The process of loosening my own grip and willing myself to fall seemed like an act of self-destruction. Solid ground never seemed close enough, and the impact of hitting it could be so shockingly harsh.

Instead, I clenched my fist tightly around the bars, holding on as long as I could. My fingers would burn red and my knuckles would glow white, but I refused to let myself out of my own misery. I knew I couldn't hold on forever, and yet I resisted letting go in favor of avoiding the imminent pain as long as I could.

Slowly, my fingers would submit to the eternal pull of gravity. One by one, they would release, and each release would punch my gut in anticipation of the fall to come.

There is much more resolve needed to let go than hold on.

In the end, the crash would hurt and sometimes leave bumps, bruises, or even scars in its wake. Yet, I'd always arrive on solid ground alive and, largely, unscathed.

It wasn't until recently I recognized that I let go of people in the exact same manner.

I am someone who holds on to people for far too long. My hands ache and blister, but I always fear the pain of letting go much more than that of holding on. I combat the process in order to put off the inevitable fall.

The emotions that accompany letting go—rejection, confusion, heartbreak—often bring about a whirl of questions that rarely have answers. My mind replays everything repeatedly, which leads to further frustration and vulnerability. And the ensuing phases of grief and anger and humiliation always seem insurmountable. Losing someone, even of my own accord, unfailingly feels like losing some of myself.

When we let go, we find we have wings.

However, as life goes forward, so does my consistent desire to discover my own place in the surrounding world. Rather than getting tangled in the mundane messes of society and people, I want to uncover the buried worth and magic within myself. The fire inside my soul burns hard; if you look closely, you'll see it behind my eyes. But it'll never be exhumed without letting go of those who do not notice the flames.

I am a flawed being. In fact, my flaws cover more acreage of me than anything else. And I'm learning that choosing people who do not choose me is an exercise in ultimate futility. Constantly giving to those who never do the same is an inefficient use of my soul's resources. Burning myself to keep others warm is no longer something for which I have purpose.

There is much more resolve needed to let go than hold on.

Loving endlessly and without limits will always be how I am; I am a soft person. But I can learn to do it from afar. There I am free from the burdens of distress and despair that accompanies having expectations of others.

So, I let go.

It's never easy.

The idea of unwrapping yourself from someone you love or are supposed to love seems decidedly masochistic, regardless of the toxicity of the relationship. Love's grip on us has proved itself to be a force stronger than all others. It holds every part of us; it takes rule of our minds, clings fiercely to our organs, grasps relentlessly at each piece of our insides, and its aggressive efforts always prove successful.

We justify unreasonable actions with last-chance defenses, and we grapple with our inner demons in an attempt to convince them out of what we already know. We beg our souls to find another angle to the truth, one that rewrites the story without any missing pieces so that we may hold on longer.

Our heads know it's time to let go far before our hearts are ready to do so.

We resist. Solid ground never seems close enough, and the impact of hitting it can be so shockingly harsh.

Like the burning end of a midnight cigarette, we take that last drag as slowly as we can. We do not believe we can catch ourselves, though we always do.

When we let go, we find we have wings.

When we fall, we learn we can fly.

In the process of getting up from that fall we may find some new scars, but we also unearth the best parts of ourselves—including our unbreakable will to survive. We have been bruised and battered and broken, and despite that, the waves of strength deep inside continue to hold us up.

We are alive, and still, largely unscathed.

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