All of us go through painful experiences and heartbreaking losses at times in our lives.
Having loved ones around us certainly can help us to heal.
But when you’re feeling hopeless about feeling better, the person who can best help you is…you.
While others can certainly comfort and reassure you, you are the one with the most power to calm yourself and build your resilience when life knocks you around.
Here’s a letter to my Washington Blade advice column from a woman blaming herself for a devastating breakup (all identifying information altered).
If you are going through a difficult time, I hope my response will give you some pointers on how you can get better at soothing yourself.
Feel free to reach out to me if you are struggling and could use some help. I’ll be glad to work with you on developing the strength to move forward.
My girlfriend of 18 months dumped me last month and I feel like I’m losing my mind. I can’t get any food down. I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back asleep. I can’t stop thinking of her and wondering how I screwed this up. I’ve heard breakups can be bad and now I am finding out just how awful they can be.
She broke up with me after I brought up the idea that we should get married. She responded that she actually felt like we had been “growing apart.” Then she added that she feels like we’re “best friends” but she doesn’t “feel it” for me anymore.
I’m driving myself crazy thinking over and over about what I might have done wrong. I thought we had a terrific relationship and our sex life seemed absolutely fine. I was dreaming of spending the rest of my life with her.
I can tell that my friends are getting tired of listening to me go on about what I might have done to ruin things. I know I sound and think like a broken record but I can’t stop the thoughts. I feel like there’s no one who really cares.
Basically I don’t know how to pull myself out of this. Is there some way to stop mourning?
Yes, I think you can get past this. The first thing you can do is tell yourself that many people go through this sort of self-lacerating heartbreak and come out the other side. It’s true and it might help you to calm down, even a bit. That would be a good start.
It sounds to me like you’re seeing the relationship and its aftermath through a distorted lens: your girlfriend and your relationship were great, while you, now single and on your own, are awful.
I’m basing this on your description of the relationship as flat-out terrific, on your questioning only your own contribution to the breakup, on your dramatic sense of loss and on the way you’re tearing into yourself.
When we see our lives through this lens, we need to work at grinding a new lens. That new lens is equanimity, the ability to stay calm and believe you’ll be OK even as life rolls over you and knocks you around. Just as it does to everyone.
Your job now is to move forward even if you don’t feel like it. This will help you start to build up your own belief that you will ultimately be fine. Accept that the relationship is over and find things to take even a little pleasure in. Enroll in a class at a local restaurant, museum or meditation center; adopt an animal; go see hilarious movies with friends; take up a new sport. Anything to pull your mind out of the tragic, self-criticizing groove in which you’re currently stuck, and move forward step by step. And don’t despair if you occasionally take a step back.
What you may have done “wrong” is to try and keep all the less-than-perfect stuff out of your relationship. You believed you were living a romantic idyll with no problems. Maybe your girlfriend was joining you in this view or maybe she wasn’t. But evidently there were some problems and neither of you was equipped to deal with them. You wanted to shove them under the proverbial rug, while she felt that the solution was to terminate the relationship without any discussion.
Not incidentally, when you can view life with equanimity, you’re better able to accept the difficulties that come with being in a relationship as something to deal with rather than something you must ignore or flee from.
You did not waste your time in the relationship. Going through this painful aftermath is handing you the opportunity to learn the invaluable skill of self-soothing.