All the hurts and rejections from the beginning of time and beyond are stirred, like a finger pressing hard on a bruise. Hearing the words we have to move on, is like a physical punch to the body, I feel my fight or flight response being activated, energy tingling up my spine and skill. My survival is at stake.
After the initial shock, I wait and anticipate the usual wave of secondary emotions: hurt, disappointment, outrage, sadness, hopelessness, despair, depression.
I wait and realise the stone has been thrown into the pond but there are no ripples.
My reaction to this most recent rejection, which in the past would quickly tumble down into despair, hopelessness and depression seems to have stopped in its tracks. Has my heart become accustomed to breaking? Did I not love him as much as I thought? Or are the wounds for which he was a trigger almost healed?
There is something to say for the healing of old wounds, yes, I am getting closer. But what I’ve realised during these raw, uncompromising days is that there are three major reasons why I am not spiralling out of control.
And here they are:
Three keys to navigating the first week after a break up
- Listen to your body
- Don’t rationalise what you’re feeling
- Don’t go into the he said/she said with all your friends
As much as possible, listen to your body only and not your mind. Of course, external stimuli, like a gift, a photo or a place you went to often will spark a memory, a thought and a reaction. Let yourself have the physical reaction. Feel the pain in your body. Cry, scream or punch a pillow. Do this as often as the wave of emotion hits you. That’s why it’s a good idea to give yourself space and privacy in the days following a break-up, so that you can authentically react to your emotions in the moment, when they are most powerful. Don’t put on a brave face straight away. This will only suppress the emotions and they will need to find a way to show their face sooner or later. I’m not saying run hysterically down the supermarket aisles, but if you feel an uncomfortable emotion arising in you, find a private space even if it’s a bathroom, and let it be expressed.
Once you let the emotion out physically, its energy will dissipate. The way we keep ourselves feeling bad, down and depressed is by feeding the emotion with thoughts.
The thought it hurts becomes: he never loved me, I’ll never find anyone else, I’m so bad at relationships. Or whatever your broken record is. And that is exactly what it is, a broken record. If you observe closely enough you’ll see that your mind tells you the same things in these situations. They may come from a place of self preservation but the result is keeping you stuck in an old pattern.
Rather than using positive thinking, don’t feed the thoughts at all.
In the first week, only listen to your body. If it’s tired, let it sleep. If it’s not hungry, don’t feed it. If it wants to wail and thrash, let it. If you feel tears coming, let them come. Amazingly you will find that the charge of an emotion, if felt 100% and not fed with further thoughts, is incredibly brief.
A therapist I visited many years ago gave me a pearl of wisdom that I carry with me always: try approaching the world from the neck down. Try it and I guarantee you will minimise the damage a break-up can cause. This is actually the number one thing you can do to help yourself and if you follow it completely, the next two tips won’t even be needed.
If you are rationalising then you are in your mind again. We feed ourselves slogans and friends feed us slogans and reassurances in an attempt to make us feel better: plenty more fish in the sea, it wasn’t meant to be, his loss, she doesn’t deserve you. Don’t try to make yourself feel better. You are only creating a diversion and a distraction if you don’t allow the feeling to be felt 100%. When you do allow a feeling to be felt 100% you will notice an interesting phenomenon. By living the emotion in all its intensity through physicality, you actually become an observer of the feeling, you are not the feeling itself.
Don’t rush to lessons and conclusions. You will learn the lessons you need to learn when they have time to integrate.
The biggest one for me is self judgment. My mind quickly turns to judgments and recriminations about why I let that person in, why I put their interests before my own, and why I am still attracting the wrong type of person. Even though the motivation is to make myself feel better and protect myself from future harm, in reality what I’m doing is kicking myself when I’m already down.
The rationalisations of the mind can’t heal the pain of the body and soul.
Rather than being an authoritarian parent to yourself (I told you so!) be loving and compassionate. Comfort yourself with self hugs, warm inner thoughts and nurturing (not comfort) foods. The loving parent listens, acknowledges, is present and offers love and no judgment.
It’s normal to want to vent and share your pain in order to alleviate some of it. Tell a close friend or two, but don’t tell the whole world. All you will do is reinforce the story and your patterns if you keep telling it over and over again, even if friends encourage you to do so.
Being rejected by a lover is a primal physical pain. It needs primal physical healing.
The best support is the hug and understanding of a friend.
Let them witness your pain, hold you while you cry in anguish and remain by your side. The abandonment you are feeling from your lover will be alleviated to some extent by the loyalty of your friend. The most healing and comfort I have had in the aftermath of a break up is from a friend, their loving arms around me, witnessing my pain in non-judgment.
Once again, if you are following the first key and living by the body and not the mind in the first week after a break up, you will avoid doing unnecessary damage to yourself and you will heal much more quickly.
One of the most poisonous thoughts that can spring from a break-up is the idea that you will never find love again. Often the pain of a break up is the pain of lost potential, rather than the actual person lost. It brings with it despair and it also hardens the heart.I would like to end with the wise words (paraphrased) of my beloved teacher Osho: “Love is like a rose. Don’t hold onto a dying rose. Know that flowers will keep on coming.”
Rebecca is a lawyer and hypnotherapist practising in Melbourne. She specialises in conscious dating and relationships, as well as deep healing of wounds through talk, touch and sound.