A break-up is like a death. It requires a grieving process. That process is more painful if you are the one being left.
When someone in our lives dies, we are hit with a variety of painful feelings, varying from depression, panic, anger, loss. Theorists used to think that these feelings progressed in orderly “stages,” the stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. Now, however, clinicians think the process is messier than that, with feelings cycling back and forth in no orderly progression.
When mourning the loss of a relationship, it is important to process all the feelings that arise, as when grieving a death, to be able to “work through” and emotionally metabolize the feelings and events. If we don’t process the feelings, there could be consequences: depression, anxiety, numbness, physical symptoms, insomnia, and lack of insight and the ability to “learn” from the relationship.
Generally the grieving process hits us like ocean waves. A wave of grief comes in, washes over us, then recedes. When the wave goes out, we get a break naturally. If the wave is in too long and we feel like we’re drowning, we can push it out by taking the break ourselves. We can insert self-soothing activities such as exercise, social support, music, relaxation tapes, hobbies, getting out.
It’s important to avoid any maladaptive behaviors that could worsen our situation: alcohol and drug abuse, emotional and/or physical abuse, stalking, threats, etc. All of these behaviors are self-defeating for the griever and can make the situation worse.
It is also valuable to learn from the break-up so that we can become what Hemingway called “Stronger in the broken places.” We can analyze any maladaptive patterns we brought into the relationship, whether we are picking certain “types” that may be self-defeating for us (substance abusers, philanderers, dependents), whether our past baggage from prior relationships contaminated the present. Therapy can be helpful developing these insights to prevent repetitions in future relationships. (Even though we swear we will never be in another relationship again after the break-up.)
The grieving process eventually abates in frequency, duration, and intensity with the passage of time. (Socrates—“Time heals all wounds.”) Therapy can facilitate the processing and insight. So that some form of resolution can be achieved. So that you can swim with the waves vs. against them.
Kay Allen LPC