Letting Go: Summary, Review & Criticism

letting go book cover

Letting Go (2012) teaches readers to release all our negative and suppressed emotions to self-heal and reach enlightenment.
Albeit there is some good wisdom, the author makes big claims which lack any form of scientific rigor. 

Letting Go Summary

About The Author: David Hawkins (1927-2012) was a psychiatrist, author and “spiritual teacher”.
There is not so much information about him and when I Googled his name and “SpiritualWiki” came up instead of Wikipedia. Needless to say, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, so let’s dissect this book.

#1. The Three (Bad) Way We Handle Feelings

Most people handle unpleasant feelings in one of the following three ways:

  1. Suppression and repression: they are two sides of the same coin with suppression being conscious and repression being unconscious. Denial and projection of our bad feelings into others are both examples 
  2. Expression: venting and raging 
  3. Escape: getting ourselves too busy -or high- to think about it. It includes drugs, alcohol, risk-seeking, and workaholism 

The author says that projection is the most common way of dealing with unpleasant feelings.

Projection is an internal psychological mechanism by which we try to maintain our self-esteem by “blaming others” for our internal troubles.

But since we project all our negativity onto others, it’s responsible for aggression, hatred, and even wars.

#2. Why You Want to Let Go

Simply put, bottling up negativity poisons you.

It has negative consequences for your mental health, physical health, mood, and level of happiness.
Your decision-making abilities are also impaired because you based your decisions on negative feelings and distorted reality.

David Hawkins uses a computer phraseology to explain it:

Garbage in, garbage out

The negative states are the garbage in, and the decisions that are based on them are the garbage out.

#3. Why Letting Go Works

The stress and anger caused by our unpleasant feelings cannot be coped with escapism or suppression.

It’s an internal feeling, and it must be dealt with by releasing it.

Once we are able to feel the emotion and then release it, we also release all the negative influence it has over us. 

#4. How To Let Go

Letting Go never really goes through the exact steps of how to let go. 
But here is the process I teased out for you:

  1. Allow yourself to feel the emotion
    • Do not resist it, do not judge it, do not try to change it. You will face resistance to let go, sit with it without resisting the resistance
  2. Focus on the feeling
    • Thoughts might come up, but do not to think, focus on the feeling and the sensations instead
  3. Let it go
    • When you’re ready, let the feeling go and snap out of it
  4. Rinse and repeat
    • The feeling might come back, which means there is more of it to let go. Rinse and repeat the process until it’s gone for good

How do you know when the process has been successful?
Successfully letting go means to erase the feeling from your consciousness.
So you will know because you have no more negative emotions within yourself about anything or anybody.

#5. How to Handle Past Traumas

The author suggests to change the way you see and interpret past events.

This is usually called “reframing”.
In simple terms, it means you can give it a different meaning to what happened, or change the narrative to see how it helped you improve, or how it made you stronger.

He quotes Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning“.
Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, says that the people who survived were those who found a deeper meaning in life to live on.

#6. Feelings You Must Let Go Of

The author then dedicates a portion of his book to all the negative feelings that we are bottling up and that we should instead let go of.
This includes:

  • Blame
  • Grief (too much grief drives people away and it’s true, says the author, that when you laugh the world laughs with your and when you cry, you cry alone)
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Pride (we identify with things and feel like we need to defend and fight for them)
  • Desire (it underlines that you are lacking something)

The most interesting for me was the need of letting go of people’s approval. Once you can let go of the ned of being approved and liked, says the author, you become immune to the manipulation of marketing, advertising, and media.

#7. FAQs

Towards the end of Letting Go there is a list of questions and answers which felt like a big marketing promo.

Basically, it says that letting go:

  • Greatly helps alcoholics and supports AA process
  • Does not contradict any other religion
  • Does not increase promiscuity, quite the contrary because promiscuity is an attempt to overcome unconscious fears (really?)

letting go book cover

Letting Go – Criticism

David Hawkins prominently features the titles of “MD” and “P.h.D.” (authority principle of influence, anyone?) next to his name.

But titles are no guarantee of science and thoroughness of information.
And not only “Letting Go” falls short when put under more rigorous scrutiny, but the author’s general approach is also extremely unscientific.

He overgeneralizes, confuses correlation with causation and he commits the ultimate sin for anyone who aspires to the title of a scientist: he accepts (and peddles) for “true” what has not been proven to be true.

Here are some parts that left me unconvinced:

1. The Woo-Woo Vibrational Energy

Vibrational energy is a constant theme throughout Letting Go.

For example, says the author:

Thus our basic emotional states transmit themselves to the universe (…) the mind transmits its states through vibrational energy over unlimited distance.

I find this stuff offensive to the scientific profession and reminisce of the law of attraction as seen in even more dubious books such as “The Secret” and “The Science of Getting Rich“.

2. Claims of “Tests” Where There Were None

The author writes:

As various objects of thoughts and feelings are tested, it becomes obvious that everything in the universe has a vibration and that vibration has a strengthening or weakening effect.

Tested how, by who, when?
What was measured, what were the results?

The author also describes the different vibrations of feelings, each one clocking at a different rate with love, you would never guess, vibrating at a sky-high rate (how romantic).

The only thing that becomes obvious to me here is that the “obvious conclusions” are simply the author’s very own thoughts.

3. Psychic, Lies & “Scientific Proof”

Emotional patterns and their associated thought forms can be picked up and received consciously by psychics at a great distance.
This can be demonstrated experimentally and the scientific basis…  

Of course, no proof or references are then given.
What’s next, shamans and flying pigs can be demonstrated experimentally?

I find this highly offensive coming from someone who tries to portray himself as a scientist and who has actually gone through scientific training.

This is the belief of someone who could join the next People’s Temple sect, not a scientist.

4. Right-Brained Nonsense

The author says:

Most people have been trained to be logical and left brained. 
However some people, from birth are right-brained oriented. They are characterize by more intuition, creativity, telepathic communication and awareness of thought forms and energy vibrations

Telepathic communication…? 

Yeah, right.

And if that weren’t enough he adds little later that some of them can also see the bio-energy field around people called the “aura”.
When you’re in the presence of these people, you can also share in their capacity of seeing the aura.

The author makes it sound like he indeed saw the aura.

5. The Quantum Physics Manipulation

The author either believes or tricks the readers into believing that there is scientific evidence for his theories.
He says:

(…) for this has been a subject of great interest in the advanced quantum physics.
Because emotions emit a vibrational energy field, they affect and determine the people who are in our lives

Sure, how we feel and how we behave does determine the people in our lives. But it’s not because of “vibrations”.
Probably more like mirror neurons (Rizzolatti, 1992).

This quantum physics scam has successively by other healers and scam artists such as Joe Dispenza (see my criticism of: Breaking The Habits, You Are The Placebo). 

6. Fake Clinical “Evidence”

This was one of the most troubling parts since the book has been written by an actual doctor:

The principles we discussed work in actual life (…)
Lived experience and clinical observation confirm that the majority of human disorders are susceptible to being cured by following certain principles. 

The majority?
Like which ones exactly?
And what’s a “majority”?

And “certain principles”? Like your principles? 

And more:

Many diseases can be reversed unless there is a strong karmic dominance to the contrary.

What’s “karmic” dominance?

a chart showing the difference between pop psychology and science-based psychology

CONS

On top of the above criticism to the actual information, these are some more cons of Letting Go:

  • Little concrete advice on how to execute the “letting go”
  • Very long, could have been briefer
  • Poor understanding of human nature

The author seems to suggest that we all have a bigger drive to forgive and love but to reach there… We must let go first.
To me, this is rather typical of woo-woo literature’s poor understanding of human nature.

  • Some self-help myths 

It’s somewhat surprising that an author who talks about accepting negative emotions also says we should focus on positives, which is useful only up to a certain point and it’s an otherwise pop-psychology myth.
And he also mentions the “crabs in the bucket” lie, which is also a self-help myth.

PROS

I listed a lot of criticism above.
But that’s not to say that there is nothing good in “Letting Go”. The Pathway of Surrender can be freeing and, indeed, help many people’s mental health.

Letting Go Review

It’s a pity that a book containing such potentially great information had to be marred by so many unscientific, mistaken claims.

As it is, any person who approaches his learning with a critical and skeptical attitude will find it hard to open up to the message of Letting Go. 
There is simply too much BS thrown around.

However, that’s also our responsibility as learners to forces ourselves to let go of the bad and pick the good.

No matter what you think about the book or the author, letting go can be a great tool for improving your emotional and mental health.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you.

Note on rating:
Albeit there are many good takeaways here, the 1-star vote is a moral obligation when a scientist claims scientific rigor where there is none.

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