You Can’t Just ‘Let it Go’

Dear Adeline,

Apparently, you love to let go. With shameless conviction you daily proclaim your resolve to just let it go. As your father, I fear you don’t fully comprehend your own tone-deaf declaration. I fear that your muse, Queen Elsa, doesn’t understand either.

Disney (shockingly) grossly oversimplified the difficult and profound process of letting something go. It’s been distilled into one glorious, momentous, emotional, dam-bursting moment of self-actualization. It’s Elsa’s ultimate mountain-top experience.

Before, she was holding on. After the music and ice, she was not holding on. Toss in a little ‘true love is the answer’ seasoning and poof! – all is well in the Kingdom of Arendelle.

In reality, letting go of deep wounds is more akin to surviving years in a sun-bleached desert. Here is what to expect.

1. It takes time

The best way to reality-check a Disney movie is to consider the next morning. When Prince Charming marries Cinderella and the movie wraps in a crescendo of glitter and love, ask yourself, “what happens next?” When Elsa boldly sings away her past on top of her snowy mountain, what happens the next morning?

Elsa grew up in a prison. She lived a fearful life devoid of human contact, languishing in her loneliness and shame.

Nobody can eradicate that pain in one evening of emotional ecstasy. That kind of prolonged suffering requires a backhoe, not a paintbrush.

In reality, her mountaintop experience amounts to a decision and nothing more. Every person who runs a marathon at some point decides to run a marathon. What remains is the training, conditioning, and actual running of the marathon.

2. It’s never fair

A massive part of letting go is learning how to forgive both yourself and others. The difficult thing about forgiveness is that it never feels fair. You rarely get in return what you feel like you are extending. The very act is sacrificial.

Without forgiveness, you will never let go. That pain will always grip your heart. Eventually, you will come to see that living with bitterness is too costly. It’s better to pay the price and extend forgiveness. It’s the path to a free heart.

3. It’s a process of intense grief

Letting go is a process of intense emotional and mental grief. Elsa needs to grieve her lost childhood, her non-existent relationship with her sister, her dead parents, and much more. She can’t simply banish these experiences by force of will.

It’s been said that anger is the feeling of protection and sadness is the feeling of healing. In order for Elsa to heal, she needs to let herself be sad.

Adeline, truly letting go is a journey into the saddest moments of your life. You need to face them and feel them. Only then can you drop them for good.

4. It requires building new habits

Letting go requires a new lifestyle. How do you think Elsa would fare if she went back to the castle and sank into her old patterns?  She needs a new way of thinking, living, and interacting with the world.

In fact, this can be the fun part of the entire process. You discover new passions and walk fresh paths. You learn to think differently about yourself and others. You go on an adventure and forge a new life.


Adeline, by way of difficult and intentional work you can indeed let go.

The watershed Disney moment is a terrible myth.

Sometimes it is only darkness. Other times you chase a light. Some days you run with the wind at your back. Other days you curl up and cry. Through it all, though, you journey on.

And one day you will wake and things will be just a little lighter, the desert a few degrees cooler. After much work, you may come to find that you truly have let it go.



  1. Perhaps you have never had an ‘aha’ moment? I have had a moment of epiphany and walked away…just like that. It CAN happen because, you see, she embraced her true nature. What she walked away from HAD NEVER BEEN HER. In that instance, it isn’t about building new habits, which are tough and do take time, but about dropping an act. Perhaps you have never had the misfortune of being forced into a life that goes against every grain of your being? What she embraced wasn’t change, it was freedom. Freedom, doesn’t take work and sacrifice to get used to; it comes in a heartbeat when you can finally stand up and walk away and embrace who you truly are. You completely misunderstand the message because I do not believe you have experienced shackles like had. The first time I saw that scene, the realization struck me that these words must ring true for thousands of girls and women across the country who are still raised to believe they have to behave a certain way because they are ‘only’ girls. Everything in that scene is about giving up on what everyone else wants one to do and becoming true to one’s self. Trust me, it is that easy when the stakes are that high and the pain has been that deep.

    1. Lisa, it sounds like you got out of a pretty terrible situation where you were being forced to be somebody you weren’t. That is a horrible place to be. I am sorry that you experienced that.

  2. I don’t think you’re exactly looking at this the way Disney was implying it. The song is strictly about Elsa and the fact that through all of her fears she finally has her chance to be herself and not be terrified she is going to cause someone pain. Let It Go is about surpassing your fears and being brave. “Fear will be your enemy.” Disney songs are supposed to be a catchy way to get part of the story across but it ties into the the whole story. Elsa isn’t letting go of her past; she knows what she did out of fear. She’s saying that fear, from that point on, isn’t going to control her anymore. She’s letting go of it.

    1. I actually did mention that she grew up living in fear, so that is indeed included in the mountain of stuff that she needs to let go of. My main point is that it is more difficult to let go of something that deep and hard with simply the force of will. It’s too ingrained – truly being free of that sort of thing takes time and work.

  3. Interesting post. But I think everyone views the scene where Elsa is “letting it go” differently. I see her as trying to hide her pain by telling herself to let it go because she is in denial. Because she thinks that is what is best for her and her sister. But as we see the movie progress, she eventually realizes what a mistake she made to shut out her sister. I credit Disney for making a movie where true love isn’t just about a man saving a woman. It’s about the bond between two sisters and how no matter what, it can never be broken. In my opinion, it is a song that can take many interpretations, but to my 3 year old, it is just a good song and that is ok with me.

  4. I agree that everyone sees it differently. That’s what’s makes a good piece of art right?

    I too credit Disney for making a movie about the bond between two sisters and I also let my daughter watch the movie as well.

    I found a parallel, however, between the “Happily Ever After” myth that Disney promoted for so long and this idea of just letting it go. The point being that so many Disney movies end with the starting point and never show the reality – of course this would make a terrible movie. Who wants to watch Prince Charming and Cinderella argue over who does the dishes more?

    What I saw in that scene was a scarred girl who has no idea how deep and wide her pain is. While it may feel good to shout your emancipation from the mountaintop, the reality is that stuff like that just doesn’t go away instantly.

  5. I find it so interesting to watch Disney movies now, being an adult like you that has done the work of facing the realities of pain and abuse in my life and taking steps every day towards the redemptive graces that God provides. I love these movies, but it is very very important to do what you just did in this email. It is quite sad for me that there are many adults that have no concept of what abuse is, and that healthy ways to mend from abuse take time and work. It is true that the majority of Disney movies are jam packed full of very abused main characters, and that magically they quickly resolve into a happily ever after. We all get it that the movies intentions to entertain, and are not to show healthy normal processes away from the effects of that abuse. And Disney does the entertaining thing well! If I am reading this right, Ryan’s point was not that he missunderstood disneys goal of making an awesome miracle movie that ends happy and complete within an hour and a half. Instead, Ryan did what I hope all intentional parents will make an effort to do. He let his daughter watch a movie with awesome songs and cool effects, and then he communicated with her (future older Adeline) about the real parts that don’t fit into any of the Disney movies: the effects of abuse and that it’s a process that takes time and work and is painful, but it too can lead to a life of beauty and reconciliation. Love love love it Ryan!

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