Negative childhood experiences shape us in many ways, some more subtle than others. While lack of self-esteem and the nagging feeling of self-doubt are often highlighted as among the major difficulties the unloved daughter faces in adulthood, the difficulty she has letting go and leaving toxic or stressful situations is usually given short shrift. Fearful and anxious about making mistakes, the insecurely attached daughter is apt to stay in relationships long past their expiration date. She is more likely to keep plugging away in situations which cannot be resolved. She is often unable to break out of patterns which she knows on a conscious level are holding her back but she’s paralyzed anyway.
Unloved daughters have trouble letting go. There’s the problem in a nutshell.
For all that the culture admires perseverance—which human beings are hardwired to be anyway—we often lose sight of the fact that knowing when and how to head for the exit is an extremely valuable life skill. It’s one that usually eludes the unloved daughter who’s prone to second-guess her every move, worry about every misstep or possible error in judgment, and has her default setting set to “doormat.”
But what’s learned in childhood can, thankfully, be unlearned in adulthood with some effort. If you’re stuck, staring at the door but unable to get yourself to go through it, here are five things you can do to change you and your life.
1. Give up on wishful thinking
It’s time to toss all that positive thinking, your copy of The Secret, and the rose-colored glasses you have on your night table. Inculcate some realism into your assessment of where you find yourself. Don’t talk yourself into thinking that you’re turning some kind of corner when your partner (or boss) is simply being less nasty or abusive than usual. Ask yourself whether the person you’re dealing with wants things to change or whether he or she is content with the status quo. If the answer is the latter, you need to plan an exit strategy.
2. Stop thinking about your investment
If you find yourself thinking that you’ve put five years into the relationship and that you’ll lose that five years if you’ll leave, you’ve fallen into the trap of The Sunk Cost Fallacy. Everyone engages in this kind of thinking at some point—it’s part of the human aversion to loss—but the insecurely attached person is more likely to stay mired in it if she indulges in it. Don’t! Focus on where you might find yourself if you do leave instead because nothing is bringing the time you invested back anyway.
3.Work on managing your emotions
If just thinking about leaving is filling you with angst or you’re flooding with second-guessing yourself, actively work to manage those feelings. Visualize a place that calms you or bring to mind the experience of being with a loving and accepting person. Take a walk, do some exercise, take deep breaths. Do not let your emotions get the better of you; you can manage them if you try. Use your journal to explore why you feel the way you do.
4. Set goals for yourself
Studies show that writing goals down forces us to be articulate about our wants and needs and actually helps us implement the goals we set. There’s also research that shows that if we set more abstract goals for ourselves, we’re more likely to see expanded opportunities for achieving them.
Say you are thinking about ending a relationship. Instead of setting a goal of finding a new lover, boyfriend, or friend, think about it abstractly. Here are some examples: “Have more rewarding and supportive companions,” “Expand my circle by trying new things,” “Get involved with community to experience greater connection,” “Spend more time with old friends and work on my ability to be intimate and supportive.” Abstract goals allow us to see different opportunities for connection that specific goals—such as finding a new boyfriend—do not.
5.Harness your motivation
Scrap those affirmations because studies show they don’t work. Instead, motivate yourself by asking yourself a question: “Will I….?” which is far more effective. Work at achieving your goals by anticipating possible glitches, using “if/then” thinking and developing a Plan B so that you’re not taken down by a possible setback. Securely attached people tend to do this without thinking; insecurely attached people simply have to work a bit harder and make it conscious behavior.
Where we started doesn’t have to dictate where we end up. Being more adept at letting go of what needs to be left behind is something everyone can learn.