It’s Over, Now What?

angry couple_Image courtesy of Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos

Image © Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos

I remember my first heartbreak. The pain. The excruciating, can’t eat, can’t sleep horrible feeling of ending. I don’t “remember it like it was yesterday,” yet I can say the feeling, the pain, and the heartbreaking experience will always be with me.

When we are in love, scientists say our brain reacts similarly to how it acts when it is on drugs. The love cocktail is a combination of dopamine and norepinephrine (also known as the happy neurotransmitters). When we experience a breakup, and the love drug is taken away, your brain can experience the withdrawal, almost like the process of detoxing off of an addictive substance. Hence, the expression, it feels like my heart has been ripped out. Psychology Today‘s Shauna Springer covered this in an aptly named article: Falling in Love is Like Smoking Crack Cocaine.

When I experienced my first heart break I was 19. I thought I was too cool for school and played it way too cool for the guy I was dating. He broke up with me because I seemed unavailable, and I was in shock. I remember calling everyone in my phone to help relieve the awful feeling I felt. I wanted to get as far away from the painful sensation in my chest and stomach as possible. The only comfort I got over the next few weeks was from my sister who said several times, “I know it hurts, I have felt this way too. I can’t take the pain away. I can tell you it gets better, over time, it will hurt less.” Simply knowing that someone else had felt this way, and there was no easy way out, actually relieved the pain. I was trying to get away from the feeling, and away from my bruised ego. Relating to my pain, acknowledging it, changed my relationship with how I held it in my body.

Things that do not help in breakups:

Making comments about how awful your ex is. Maybe they are a terrible person, but in the midst of pain, saying how horrendous another person is does not actually get you closer to letting go or feeling any better about yourself. When your friends say things like, “You are better off without them, I’m happy you two broke up because (he/she) was (mean, rude, fucked up),” share with them that while you appreciate their opinion, right now you need them to just listen and support you, not bash your ex. If you are bashing your ex, stop. Trust me, saying awful things about people will never make you feel better.

Telling yourself they will come back to you is never helpful. This is you telling yourself a story about what isn’t reality. I know it hurts. It is hard to believe that something is actually over that you once poured an incredible amount of your time and energy into, yet it has changed and allowing yourself to feel and grieve the change is crucial in moving forward. Staying stuck in the mindset that the other person is coming back to you keeps you from fully feeling the loss.

Letting your ego get in the way. Nikita once said to me, “Hey, not every guy is going to be for me, nor I for them.” It is our ego that comes in and says it is something about us that has to win over or keep relationships going. If someone leaves, we make it all about us and how bad we are or how unlovable we are. Sometimes, we need to look more closely at ourselves and check that what we are offering to partners is something that is true to who we want to be in the world. Othertimes, we have to understand that not everyone is going to want what you are offering. Yes, that is a painful feeling. Learn to understand that this is not a reflection of who you are as a person, that you are lovable even if one person in the world decided they do not want to have a romantic relationship with you any longer.

Making a decision about your next relationship while you are in pain: from this place of pain, people sometimes say things like, “I will never get into a relationship again.” This ‘I am never doing that again’ is silly. The belief that cutting yourself off from love because it didn’t work out the way you wanted it to is a defense to try and keep yourself safe, yet when we cut ourselves off from experiences, the pain of being cut off is much greater than anything you will ever meet in the space of being open.

Another decision that people make out of pain is taking on the next person who presents themselves. This is sometimes known as rebound. The person who becomes the rebound is often someone completely the opposite of the lover you just lost. They become a band aid for you truly feeling your feelings. You hear it all the time in movies, people say things like, “just go on, get out there, find another person and you will forget about your ex. ” or “the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” From personal experience, there is no easy way to get rid of your ex from your thoughts. The experience of loss is one that needs to be processed through, it takes time  and it is not easy and there are no shortcuts. Give yourself time and try not to make decision about your life from a wounded space.

A little 5 to 10 minute exercise you might try if you are going through a heartbreak:

1. Sit or lie quietly with yourself. Allow your mind to slow and settle down. Bring yourself into the present moment and become aware of the sensations or feelings in your body. Begin to breath deeply into your body.

2. Turn your attention towards the pain you are feeling in your body. Let yourself begin to meet the pain without needing to fix it, change it, attach meaning about yourself or judge it. See if you can let go of your story about the pain. An example of a story would be, my ex hurt me on purpose, or I am a terrible person and that is why they left, this means I am unlovable.  Judging is another very common thing we do with our feelings,  saying something to yourself about whether the feeling is good or bad. Simply feel and become aware of the experience inside of you. How does it affect you to make contact with the pain and allow it to be as it is?

3. Notice the contours of the feelings. How big does it feel, what is the shape, how are you holding it in your body, how are you trying to cut off from the feeling or not allowing it to be fully felt. When you feel the pain in your body, how does it affect you? How does it affect your body? If you feel tight or constricted, let your breath go touch and permeate theses places.

5. Allow yourself to open and turn to the feeling with loving compassion. Just like you would open your arms to a baby who is just learning to walk and falls down, open yourself to your pain with the same compassion and warmth. You can even imagine wrapping your arms around the pain as if to hug it. Allow your pain to be held in a soft and gentle space inside of you.

6. Notice how your relationship with the pain changes as you hold it in a loving way. See if you can continue to relate to your pain with compassion and gentleness.

John Welwood writes in Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, “If there is one thing I’ve learned in thirty years as a psychotherapist, it is this: If you can let your experience happen, it will release its knots and unfold, leading to a deeper, more grounded experience of yourself. No matter how painful or scary your feelings appear to be, your willingness to engage with them draws forth your essential strength, leading in a more life-positive direction.”

If we love, we will get hurt. There is no way out of this one. To be human is to have the full human experience and the full range of emotions and feelings that go with it, including heartbreak. Asking for support from close friends and sharing with them your experience is also important. If you notice the bashing starts to happen, see if you can steer the help in a more useful directions. Or you can always send them this article.

I hope you love deeply and I am sorry for your heartache! Like my sister said, “I know it hurts, I have felt this way too. I can’t take the pain away. I can tell you it gets better, over time, it will hurt less.”

– Keeley