Hanging onto resentment is letting someone
you despise live rent-free in your head.
— Ann Landers, syndicated advice columnist

Letting go of a life-diminishing attachment is extremely challenging because it involves emotions. At the core of what makes letting go so very difficult is realizing that it represents loss. But, on the positive side, letting go can also represent the willingness to unburden yourself and make space for something new.
An attachment could be a habit, useless junk stored away in your garage, clothes hanging in your closet that you haven’t worn in years, a self-defeating addiction or just the general “stuff” that takes up space in your life. The list is almost endless but the one attachment that presents the greatest challenge is relationships, specifically, “toxic” relationships.
Without a doubt, the most difficult thing to let go of in life is a relationship, even a toxic one. By “toxic” I mean a relationship that is life-diminishing, creating negative stress, anxiety or guilt. While many relationships can be healed, some cannot, and holding on to a toxic relationship is equivalent to continuing to chew on broken glass. I know, because like many of you, I’ve held on.
Very recently, I’ve had to let go of a relationship that has been toxic for over three years. Why did it take me so long to let it go? Because, even in the face of truth, I held on to the hope that it would right itself, somehow, and I felt too much guilt to end it.
Five years ago, I entered into a business partnership with absolute blind trust. In hindsight, there were small warning signs which I choose to ignore. I believe I ignored these glimpses of the truth because part of me thought this young man would grow, learn and mature and that I would be the one to mentor him. In spite of seeing fear in many of the choices he made, my hubris convinced me that I could change his character. After all, he was bright, clever, creative and extremely charming. I saw great potential and I genuinely like him.
Over the years, I chose to close my eyes when I saw him taking advantage of others. I believed him when he justified his choices and forgave him when he made decisions that weren’t in the best interest of everyone involved in our project. I even defended him when those closest to me, the people who look out for my best interests, told me what I didn’t want to hear.
This went on until I was clobbered over the head with such a blatant betrayal of trust that I could no longer allow this relationship to continue. It became obvious that the only choice was to instantly cut it off. But – and here is one of the key traps that often stop people from ending a toxic relationship – guilt got in the way.
Guilt is a wretched, devious, fear-based emotion because it chips away at being authentic and erodes self-esteem. Guilt often manipulates us to question our own judgment and, because of that, we put off making tough decisions. While many people believe that guilt keeps us on course, in line or out of trouble, my experience as a peak performance coach for over three decades negates that theory. Guilt is not productive.
I was finally able to work through my guilt and terminate the relationship. I was able to accomplish this by being willing to face the truth, acknowledge the stress this relationship brought into my life and see how the toxicity of this relationship was affecting my other relationships. Perhaps, most importantly, I was able to let go by seeking out support from close friends.
The payoff was immediate. My emotional stress disappeared, my spirit felt light and it made space for me to move on to explore new business possibilities.
I tell you my story hoping that it will help you recognize and quickly let go of any toxic relationship in your life – personal or professional. Here’s how:
1) Take 5 minutes and note all of your most important personal and professional relationships and recognize which ones, if any, are draining energy from you, creating negative feelings or are based in guilt. You will know immediately because, when you think of this individual, you will feel negative stress in your body.
2) If you discover one of your relationships is toxic, ask yourself, “Is there something I can say or do today to forgive this person?” Or, “Is there something I can do or say to heal this relationship?”
3) Ask yourself, “What is the payoff for keeping this person in my life? What am I getting out of it?” You do this by imagining your life without that person.
4) If you identify a toxic relationship and recognize that it is diminishing your life, have the courage to say or do what is necessary to let the relationship go.
Learning to let go of relationships that do not enhance your life is a key factor in learning how to live an exceptional life. As the author and motivational speaker, Dr. Leo Buscaglia, wrote, “Let go. Why do you cling to pain? There is nothing you can do about the wrongs of yesterday. It is not yours to judge. Why hold on to the very thing which keeps you from hope and love?”