Finding the Courage to Let Go of the Familiar and Make a Change

Walk Away

“Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.” ~Raymond Lindquist

I’ve been processing my beliefs on courage since I turned 31.

When I was in my 20s and teens, my idea of courage was that you fight until the death, never give up, be the one to say the last word, and always, always prove your point. And yet, I spent most of those years feeling unseen and unheard by my family and friends.

I felt completely isolated and exhausted, yet I wasn’t expressing these feelings. (Not to say I hold regret; in my journey I had to seek and exhaust what didn’t work before fumbling my way to what could.)

On the day of my 30th birthday, I found myself stuck in an unsatisfying four-year relationship, feeling so much pain, but I lacked the strength to move on. During those four years, I felt more and more isolated.

Some research suggests that isolation is the most terrifying and destructive feeling a person can endure.

In their book The Healing Connection, Jean Baker Miller and Irene Pierce Stiver define isolation as “a feeling that one is locked out of the possibility of human connection and of being powerless to change the situation.”

I felt I had lost my self-respect and power, and that made me feel trapped and ashamed. As painful as it was to feel that way, it also felt familiar and comfortable. I was drowning with no life raft, holding my own head underwater.

Part of me was staying because I didn’t believe I would feel worthy or complete until I saved my then-boyfriend and the relationship.

At the same time, I wasn’t voicing my needs or feelings. I was expecting and depending on someone else to change instead of changing myself.

Perhaps this is the gift when relationships don’t work out: We learn where we are not loving or accepting ourselves. Relationships bring to light the wounds we have yet to heal. For that, I am grateful.

Once I recognized that the relationship had served a divine purpose—that the experience had happened for me, not to me—I was able to move on.

I’ve learned that the experience of shame traps us in self-defeating cycles; we feel unworthy and powerlessness to change our life conditions.

It also prevents us from seeing and representing our authentic selves. Then instead of airing it out and clearing the water, we muddy it further by keeping it all inside.

Familiarity can be more comforting than the uncertainty of what will happen after we let go and jump into the abyss, but we have to ask ourselves what we value more: comfort or growth?

Richard Schaub wrote, “Surrender is an active decision, an act of strength and courage, with serenity as its reward.”

Perhaps courage, for me, meant not hanging on and pushing through, but accepting the hurt, surrendering the need for certainty, and making the active choice to break the silence and begin clearing up the water.

I have learned that as unique as our stories may be, we all struggle with the same fundamental fears and we all lose our belief in ourselves. We all feel alone and isolated at times, and that leaves us feeling powerless.

When we get stuck in toxic behaviors and relationships and we feel trapped in this vicious cycle, we need to ask ourselves, “What do we stand to lose by not changing?”

For me, I stood to lose my authentic self, my integrity, my spirit, and the opportunity to live my best life.

It takes courage to be completely honest with ourselves about what’s keeping us stuck.

It took courage for me to accept that I was staying in an unsatisfying relationship because it was familiar, and even harder to acknowledge the shame and unworthiness I felt for being too scared to face the truth.

To feel worthy and take control back, I first needed to feel accepted and connected.

Sharing my story helped with that, and helped me release my shame. Shame and fear can hide in silence, but have a hard time lingering around when shared in a loving space.

When we don’t tell our stories, we miss the opportunity to experience empathy and move from isolation to connection. Breaking the cycle ultimately means breaking the silence.

To begin my healing, I started by cultivating a loving space within myself. I then stumbled into a Buddhist meditation center.

I talked and cried with others struggling with the same challenges of fear and uncertainty. I took up yoga and explored the scary places of myself. I even I booked a trip to Thailand to volunteer and experience a new culture.

I took to heart Red’s advice from “The Shawshank Redemption”: Get busy living, or get busy dying.

To do that, we need to recognize that the pain of staying the same is greater than the risk of making a change, and it’s worth facing the fear of uncertainty.

Who knows what the future holds, and perhaps that is part of the beauty of life. Each moment is fresh and new and maybe, just maybe, that’s what makes it so precious.

What’s your idea of courage and how can you expand your pain into growth? How could you reframe the situations in your life to see them as happening for you, not to you?

And if you are in a spot in your life where you feel scared to take a risk, ask yourself: what do you stand to lose if you don’t change?

Photo by monkeywing

About Mary Beth Owen

Mary Beth Owen is a curious spirit and seeker at heart. She is passionate about exploring the mind, body and spirit connections within all of us. As a wellness coach, she loves helping people return to their original loving nature by breaking down fear and judgment.

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  • teejs

    “Once I recognized that the relationship had served a divine purpose—that the experience had happened for me, not to me—I was able to move on.”

    One of the best pieces of advice I have heard in a long time, irrespective of my current situation that sees me in need of some perspective of my relationships with others and myself. Thank you for this nugget.


  • Intrepid

    Wow! “that the experience had happened for me, not to me.” That’s brilliant. Thanks for posting such an insightful peice.

  • Wow, I seriously relate. great post!

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful story of self discovery, thank you for sharing your experience, process, and insight! 🙂

  • Maren

    This was exactly what I needed to read right now. Thank you!

  • Ocean Momma

    Wonderful article and also something I needed to read for healing myself right now, but there’s the issue of leaving a toxic relationship between 2 adults when a child is involved. Especially when both parents are being loving, caring, and wonderful to the child but not necessarily healthy towards each other. Leaving that scenario is even harder, as the parent believes leaving the relationship will damage the child more than staying.

  • Jkranca

    Wow.. I had to read that line over and over again….”Once I recognized that the relationship had served a divine purpose—that the experience had happened for me, not to me—I was able to move on.”
    I was in a decade-long relationship with a person who has cheated multiple times. Each time I took that person back, I died a little more on the inside and the relationship became more toxic. I felt so unworthy of respect and was afraid of walking away, of starting a new life. These articles have really helped me in the process of loving MYSELF and, most importantly.. finally letting go.
    Thank you

  • Lindsey A.

    Thank you for this great article, I really needed this today. It is all so well said and thoughtful. Thank you!

  • Moonbeam

    “Relationships bring to light the wounds we have yet to heal” is so true! I’ve struggled for the last 2 years… Since I moved to be with my partner Ive felt isolated, terribly homesick, and just kept wondering why cant I just adapt to living here, I should be happy because we are together but everything has been such an effort just to stay afloat… I use to think I was this positive, independent and go with the flow person back home but since I moved I just feel like im swimming upstream all the time.. all of my wounds and insecurities have all come to the surface and it’s been a learning adventure for sure.

  • ATLmom

    I know exactly what you are saying. I too am in a relationship that is toxic for my soul, but I stay because of my children. At what point is my happiness worth the sacrifice of their happiness? It is such a difficult decision, so I chose to ignore the problem. I know this isnt healthy…for any of us.

  • ATLmom

    Thank you. Just what I needed to hear today!

  • surya

    Can children truly be happy if their parents are not?

  • Lee Apostolo

    Thank you Mary. It feels comforting to read this and know that I’m not the only one whose been there. “Surrender is an active decision, an act of strength and courage, with serenity as its reward.”

  • Thanks for this! Shame can be so insidious and crippling. It is so good to hear your story and what you learned, it support a similar journey I went through at about the same age. It took me a long time to get to “it happened for me” and what a relief and reward.

  • Pradeep

    Great Post, Like the way it’s written.
    Please do read my blog about how to find contentment or true happiness at a deep level

  • John

    Wow, I so relate to this. I had the identical experience in a relationship, but mine lasted almost 7 years and I didn’t get out until I was 40. In my case, it was the exact same things keeping me there. I totally relate to the feeling expressed in the Shawshank quotation. Thanks for a great article.

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    This is a beautiful & a really inspiring story… Reading it just gave me a little more courage to deal with certain emotions I been avoiding in life! Thank You for sharing…:)

  • Alexa

    I was in an on-again off-again relationship with my first love. There were many issues to the reasons we kept splitting, however, it was always my decision to do it and mainly because of the fear of uncertainty. We were on different paths and come college graduation, it’d take a LOT of sacrifice to keep us together. The second time I tried to end it was truly devastating for both of us. I practiced yoga and saw a therapist and woke up one day thinking “ya know, this MIGHT end, but I love this guy right NOW and all I want is to be with him right NOW.” I told him this. I was shocked when he said he couldn’t take me back. I broke it off the first time, what made him believe I wouldn’t do it again? Karma’s a b****. I could understand where he was coming from but was SO pissed that I had to go through the roughest breakup of my life to FINALLY realize to just live in the moment!!!

    I guess this was my gift from the relationship’s demise: stop planning so much for the future, love yourself first, forget what other people say about you two and just live your life in love.

  • Ally

    Thank you very much. I’ve felt alone for too long so it was nice to read and see I am not the only one but better, there is an answer and it doesn’t have to be this way.

  • AR

    What if the relationship is over for you, but not for your partner? How do you proceed with that? How do you get unstuck then?

  • Barry Sarner

    Very nice . . .Very nice article.