Theresa Byrne offers the heartbroken a 6-step program to feel whole again.
A close friend called me the other day and is going through a breakup, and it hurt my heart to listen to the sound of his heartbreak. It’s not that he didn’t know things were in trouble, but he’d always assumed he had more time to get it together, to make things right again. To get things back to the way they were once.
His story isn’t all that unusual or unlike those of any of us who’ve faced those same feelings of utter heartbreak and certain devastation; like falling from a cliff and landing on your back with the wind knocked out of you, unable to move or breathe.
My first and oft repeated words: “You are not broken. You aren’t. You may feel broken, but there’s nothing broken about you.”
As I was talking with him to help him get his logical mind around this awful emotional situation, I mentioned to him that it would make one helluva article, so here it is. (While I won’t share his story with you, will I ask that if you believe in the power of positive thoughts, send good thoughts to anyone going through their own type of heartbreak).
1. Breathe: At first an unexpected breakup is truly like a wound, like an open gaping wound right in the middle of your chest. Like you got socked in the gut. You can’t breathe, you can’t catch your breath, and it hurts to breathe too deeply. The toughest thing to do is to attempt to keep breathing, one in and one out. Breath is really the stuff of life, and when we’re in pain we tend to go for too many shallow breaths. So, while it sounds simple, deep breathing makes a huge difference in your emotional state. Breathe deeply as often as you can, when you first wake up, when you stretch or take a break at work, after a meal, before bed—trust me, it will help. Breathing also keeps your mind in the present and stops you from wallowing in your emotional mess.
2. Avoid Blame: Blame is an attractive and quick game to play when facing a major crisis and threat to our esteem like a looming breakup and heartache. If we can find something or someone outside of ourselves to place blame on, then we might feel that awful tension inside of us lessen for the moment. In blaming something, we can obviously be seen as the victim. We can even blame our potentially soon-to-be ex (I’d actually say anger is healthier, but it’s your show).
However blame isn’t healthy for anyone, and there’s zero power in it. Looking at yourself and the part you played, lamenting that you worked too hard, or didn’t pay enough attention, or whatever sin or lapse you choose to focus on might make you aware of things you wish you’d done differently. That’s awareness. Looking at the situation or circumstances with your potentially soon-to-be ex can also bring awareness. But blame puts all that power outside of you. And blaming yourself or your potentially soon-to-be ex isn’t going to get anyone anywhere.
3. Stop Future Casting: Getting the thought in your head about how awful it will be, how you’ll never see your kids, how every single one of your friends will go with your soon-to-be ex because he or she is so much cooler than you, that you may never find love (or a date) again and how you’ll have to live on the streets because how can you possibly afford to find someplace new to live: isn’t healthy. And there’s a name for it. It’s called negative future casting.
It hasn’t happened yet, and painting your future black isn’t going to help anyone, least of all you. The time will come to deal with whatever’s happening and that time is when it’s happening. Negative future casting will only get you stuck in your head and make you see the worst possible scenarios. Don’t go there. The sun will shine again.
4. Feel Those Feelings: You know those pesky emotional things you used to say others get stuck in? Yes, it’s time for you to learn what you’re feeling if you aren’t a “feelings person.” For anyone who is in touch with their feelings, a breakup can be the worst form of hell on earth.
If part of the reason for the breakup is that you’ve struggled with either having or expressing your feelings, now is the time for you to try. It might be messy and it won’t be easy, but breathe. And feel. Try not to numb yourself with the things you might pick to stop the painful feelings. You will survive, you will make it through this. But you’ll have to feel.
A feeling’s job is to be felt. —Marie D’Angelo in “Is There School in Heaven?“
5. Get Back to Center: Whatever it is that helps you get back to you, even for a minute: do that. The first thing most of us try to do is numb ourselves, or do everything to avoid feeling the pain of our situation. But there are things or activities that remind you of who you are, so go do those. Pick up an old hobby. Reread a favorite book. Reconnect with old friends. And walk, exercise, get support, volunteer—stay in motion. Move that energy out of your body in some way so you can get back to feeling at least partially like yourself. Sometimes.
6. Share: If you are in a situation where you might be able to heal the relationship with your potential soon-to-be ex, or you want to heal your relationship with yourself: share your feelings. Even if you think you might suck at it, and not know what to say. Share what you wish you’d done differently. Share what you’ve learned. Find the strength in your vulnerability—for that is where it lies. These are things that make us human, and help us grow. Even if the relationship isn’t salvageable, you’ll grow from this. But before you throw in the towel, let your potential ex know how you feel, and what you’ve learned. A word to the wise, if you’re not used to sharing these things you will stumble at first, but please give yourself a break and extend yourself grace. Let your potential ex know that sharing feelings is a challenge for you but ask them to listen. Ask for empathy while you stumble once or twice in this new way. But do it. Share.
There are no magic words I have for this challenging time we all face in life, and I hope something I’ve written offers at least some solace or guidance. And to my friend, the one who called to let me know he was going through this, if you’re reading this I’m here for you. I wish you all the support and healing and grace the world can give you right now. Believe me, it will get better, the pain will lessen, this I promise.
And remember, you aren’t broken. You are always, always whole.