Over the last few months, the “let them theory” has been all over the internet. It all started over the summer, when Mel Robbins, a popular motivational speaker, went on Instagram and shared an idea she said she’d just heard about and “frigging loved.”
In the video, which now has over 33.5 million views and 1.4 million “likes,” Robbins outlines what “let them” means by way of examples.
“If your friends are not inviting you out to brunch this weekend, let them,” Robbins says matter of factly. “If the person that you’re really attracted to is not interested in a commitment, let them. If your kids don’t want to get up and go to that thing with you this weekend, let them.”
As Robbins sees it, too much time and energy is wasted on forcing other people to match our expectations. Just “letting them” is a better response, especially in our romantic lives and friendship.
“The truth is, if somebody ... is not showing up how you need them to show up, do not try to force them to change,” she says in the clip. “Let them be themselves because they are revealing who they are to you. Just let them. Then, you get to choose what you do next.”
It seems like a simple enough idea: When you let your concerns about how others feel about you fall to the wayside, you’ll experience a lot more control and calm in your life.
It’s a little bit “que sera, sera,” a little bit “meet them where they’re at.” Still, as many in Robbins’ comments noted, it may not be all that easy to enact in your life. As one commenter wrote, “I have a feeling if I would ‘let them’ all, I would simply be all alone because many people depend on [my] effort and showing up for everything.”
Therapists we spoke to think the motto really could be game changing for many, though they had some caveats.
“As a psychotherapist, I think this approach could be useful to people who tend to internalise other people’s behaviour, struggle to allow others to have autonomy, or engage in anxious attachment patterns,” said Sadaf Siddiqi, who practices in New York City.
Others may not find it as constructive, including people-pleasers, since they’re prone to let people supersede their needs and wants.
“People pleasers generally allow others to do as they wish without any consideration of how their behaviours may impact others,” Siddiqi told HuffPost. “This ‘let them’ approach may prevent them from speaking up and being heard.”
Jennifer Chappell Marsh, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego, California, generally likes the “let them” theory. It reminds her of a personality psychology concept she emphasises with her clients: “the locus of control.”
A theory developed by American psychologist Julian B. Rotter in 1954, the locus of control is the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to outside forces, have control over the outcome of events in their lives.
As a concept, it plays nicely with the viral “let them” theory: When you let your friends go to brunch without you, and then consciously choose to do something fun by yourself or with another group of friends (that action on your part is essential), you’re seizing back some of your control and refusing to let external forces ruin your day.
“It’s about understanding where our influence ends and accepting that some things are beyond our control,” Chappell Marsh said. “We can’t control others, so instead, we should focus on our own actions and responses.”
How does “let them” look in practice?
“Let them” can easily be applied to romantic relationships, Chappell Marsh said.
“Embracing the ‘let them’ philosophy in relationships means loving your partner as they are, while focusing on how you respond and interact rather than trying to mould or control them,” she said.
Context really matters, too, though, Siddiqi added. Yes, it’s important to let your partner have autonomy to make their own decisions, pursue their goals and decide what they want to do with their time ― but it’s sometimes just as important to express how their behaviour impacts you.
“This is especially true if it’s something that violates your boundaries,” she said. “You can ‘let them’ be who they are, but in intimate relationships, connection is formed through vulnerability and open communication.”
Here’s how the theory can apply to friendships: If you’re disappointed by a flaky friend, you might want to just “let them” bail on another group dinner, especially if they’re showing up as a friend in other ways.
“In platonic relationships, the approach to let your friends exist as they are can help increase tolerance and acceptance of people who may have different opinions, perspectives and interests as you,” Siddiqi said.
In parenting, it’s crucial to step back sometimes, especially with adult children.
“‘Let them’ isn’t about giving up; it’s about accepting your child’s choices and offering wisdom over wielding control,” Chappell Marsh said.
That said, while “let them” can be effective with adult children, it’s not always suitable for younger children. “They need more direct guidance and structure, which this approach doesn’t always provide,” Chappell Marsh said.
When should you not just “let them”?
Of course, “let them” is not a one-size-fits-all solution for your interpersonal problems.
The idea should not be applied in harmful situations where your safety or someone else’s safety is at risk ― a mental health crisis or a substance abuse issue that needs to be addressed, Chappell Marsh said.
It’s also vital not to confuse acceptance with indifference. “In therapy, we stress the importance of pairing this approach with empathy and active involvement in relationships,” Chappell Marsh said.
She also cautions against using “let them” as an excuse to avoid confrontations: “Sometimes, difficult conversations are necessary for resolving issues, and avoiding them can lead to more problems in relationships.”
But as an overall approach, Chappell Marsh thinks the theory could help people feel more agency in their lives.
“I like that ‘let them’ promotes a stance of nonjudgmental acceptance, especially in situations we cannot fully control which, when you think about it, is most situations,” she said.