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  • Lee Lovett, LCSW-C

Moving Beyond Breakup

“Breakups” are hard, to state the obvious. Each side — being broken up with or initiating the break — presents their own set of unique challenges, though each may experience an array of negative emotions including but not limited to hurt, shame, guilt, fear, sadness and anger.  While these challenges are subjective and will be nuanced, based on your attachment style, temperament, personality traits, and attitude, there are some common themes which can help when coping with breakups.

1) Change the language — It can be challenging to truly feel empowered and strong when you’re being “dumped” or “broken up” with.  As opposed to calling it “dumping” or “breaking up” how about “parting ways” or “moving in a different direction”? Think for a moment about the term “breaking up” … did someone have the power to break you? Did you break someone else?  The answer is no, but you may have believed that you had that power at the time, and beliefs are incredibly influential.  Our beliefs are a main contributor towards shaping our view of life and all its inhabitants. As parting ways can carry with it a sense of losing control, try paying attention to the language that you use and how it shapes your experience.  Ideally, we want to accurately acknowledge how much control we have over the situation, and make our peace with the factors that are outside of our control. 

2) Slow down to tolerate difficult emotions-  Once we’ve identified and implemented an empowering, strengths-oriented interpretation of the event, we can deliberately slow down.   One simple way to slow down your mind and your body’s responses to stress and difficult emotions or sensations, is through the breath.  There are an abundance of breathing and relaxation techniques — no one-size-fits-all (see link below for specifics).    Grieving is necessary for healing, and everyone has their own process with this — there’s no “right” timeline, and patience is vital to apply towards oneself and others, regardless of perceived circumstances.  Allowing ourselves to slow down and lean into the space of acknowledging that there’s pain and hurt leads up to the next important strategy, acceptance.

3) Accept - Part of the grieving process, which helps us move forward, is accepting the loss.  This means acknowledging “what is” in the moment, as it is happening.  Resisting what has already happened makes no sense and causes more suffering, though we all end up doing it.  To move toward acceptance, first, notice if you’re resisting.  Scan your body and look for areas of tension, contraction, or some other sensation that you may be subtly perceiving and naming as “bad”.  This is our body sending us signals that we may be resisting.  Instead, try to allow these sensations to be, observe them, and then tune into ways to allow for release and relaxation.  By staying in the moment, we allow our pain to move through making it feel more manageable.  When we accept what is, we instill and build internal peace, contentment, and a notion that everything was, is and will be ok, regardless of the external events that have impacted us throughout our lifetimes.   Pain in life is inevitable.  We choose suffering when we avoid or run from pain.  

4) Assert your truth-  Be as truthful to yourself and others as you can, and express that truth even when it feels hard.  Lying to yourself or others is often a form of avoidance, which is often accompanied by a host of negative emotions, including but not limited to shame, guilt, anxiety, in addition to body sensations that can feel tense rather than slower and more relaxed. To put this into the context of parting ways — have you ever delayed parting with someone out of fear of hurting that person?  While it’s a form of lying, there’s positive intent underneath.  Unfortunately, that intent is often unnoticed, ultimately overshadowed by the inevitable pain of break ups aforementioned.  If the lying in this context resonates, know that you’re not alone and it means that you care.  But staying in a relationship that you don’t want to be in wouldn’t be authentic or true to you and ultimately does not serve the other person.  

It can also be useful to try writing out a “future experience” that you’d ideally like to have when parting with someone.  This may help to think ahead in a more strategic manner.  Assertion requires us to examine our values and consider how we want those values expressed in our interactions.  So, you have choices; it starts with bringing awareness to what those choices may be, and how you would then like to act.  See how you can apply these steps, regardless of your position in the breakup dynamic.  Try them out, everyday, for the next month, and evaluate any changes that you notice along the way.

No matter which side of a relationship’s end you are on, parting ways is painful and challenging.  However, there are practical steps that we can all take to ensure that when managing a current or future “breakup” we may be a lot less negatively affected.  We will always have choices, including how we choose to label the experience, slow ourselves down to tolerate hard emotions and sensations, accept what is happening in real time, and asserting our next steps with values in mind.  Our responses are in our control, even when life circumstances may not be, and our responses ultimately shape our experiences. 



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