I’m sure you have all heard, “There are plenty of fish in the sea” or “Don’t worry, someone better will come your way.” Romantic break-ups can be devastating, heartbreaking, and leave us feeling numb. One might think that these comments would make us feel better, but unfortunately, they don’t. We may respond by nodding our heads in agreement, but inside we may feel like we are bleeding to death. Some people may feel as though they have lost a piece of themselves, and their hearts ache at the thought of having to let go. Break-ups are often a life-altering experience, as one is forced to adapt to the change in daily routines, rituals, and lifestyle.
Losses such as a break-up may lead us to utilizing STERBS, as we have been taught that they will help us to move forward. What is a STERB you may ask? It is the acronym for Short-term Energy Relieving Behaviours. According to The Grief Recovery Institute, it is common for us to begin to engage in such behaviours as a way to distract ourselves. These behaviours may include indulging in food, alcohol, drugs, gambling, netflix, or shopping. These STERBS only make us feel different, not better, and the effects only temporarily distract us from the pain we are feeling. We may find after a break-up that we need to live out our single lives or jump into a new relationship right away. We may feel as though we do not want to get out of bed or perhaps we throw ourselves into a new hobby to keep busy. We may excessively sleep or isolate ourselves in an attempt to feel better.
STERBS are not an effective way to recover after loss as they don’t offer long-term relief from the pain. While participating in these short-term relievers, we repress our emotions and prevent our normal and natural feelings from being expressed. After some time has passed, we may begin to believe that it has been long enough and it is time to move on; “I’m ready to get out of bed”, “I’m done partying”, “I’m ready to date again”. We may run into an array of difficulties because we have not truly allowed ourselves to grieve. We engage in STERBS as a way to “help us” through the loss, but at the core, we may not be aware of the impact the break-up has had on our sense of self, our sense of relationships, or our future.
One of the most heart wrenching losses after a break-up is loss of trust. Whether or not your partner was unfaithful or abusive, or the break-up was for the better, we can all experience a loss of trust when a relationship ends. When we build trust and then lose it, we may feel devastated, confused, and discouraged. It is almost like building a tower, a tower of trust, and watching it crash and crumble at our feet. If we do not acknowledge that we have lost trust with our previous partner, we will carry our incompleteness into our future relationships. If you are finding yourself becoming clingy, suspicious, or tentative in your new relationship, ask yourself why. If this statement rings true for you, “He/She has never given me any reason to not trust him/her”, this may be an indication that you are carrying the baggage from your past into your current relationship.
After a break-up we may lose hope for finding love again. In this day and age, it seems like meeting people is becoming more difficult and traditional dating is transitioning into online connections. Starting over can be a scary experience; especially if we fear we won’t find someone good for us. We tend to also grieve the loss of dreams and expectations we had for our relationship. This may include places that we wished to travel or live, and the plans we had for the future (ie. buying a house; marriage; children; retirement).
When we dedicate our lives to a person and open ourselves up to be vulnerable, and the relationship ends we may feel defeated. The emotional reaction of putting immediate walls up to protect our hearts is common after a break-up. Having emotional walls up to protect our hearts is a natural and normal reaction to a significant loss. We may say comments such as, “That person hurt me, and I don’t want to become heart broken again” or “Why should I open myself up again, just for someone to break my heart?” We may worry that we won’t recover from the heartache and question if we will ever be able to open up our hearts to someone again.
Moving forward, we must accept what has happened to us and acknowledge what we have lost. Once we acknowledge and accept what we have lost, we can begin to move forward and become complete with the loss.
On a personal note, I too have gone through a romantic break-up and have felt stuck. I grieved the loss of hopes, dreams and expectations, but also felt excitement that I would be able to start fresh. I remember journalling and visualizing what qualities I wanted in a partner and what I deserved in a relationship. I later met a man that just fell into my life perfectly, almost like the last puzzle piece to my life. He had what I was looking for. You could say he was the perfect man for me. Although I was fortunate enough to meet him, I was struggling with a few losses I had not become complete with from my past. I caught myself worrying that he was going to hurt me like my previous partners, even though he had done nothing to break my trust or give me any reason to question his love or intentions. I quickly realized that I was going to push him away and sabotage the relationship if I kept bringing the baggage from my past relationships into my current one.
Well how did I become complete? A very special friend of mine gave me a great piece of advice that began my journey toward healing. She said that “You have to tell yourself that you are not in that relationship anymore, you are in this new relationship.” Sounds simple right? Well once I learned that what someone did in the past was irrelevant to my current relationship, I found a renewed sense of freedom. The next action I took to truly complete and say goodbye to my past relationship was taking the actions laid out in The Grief Recovery Method® Program. Other forms of coping that supported my healing included meditation, journalling, exercise, and sharing my feelings with people I trust.
If you are having a hard time moving on after a break-up, our Registered Psychologists and Certified Grief Recovery Specialists® at The Grief & Trauma Healing Center are here to help guide your healing and recovery. We offer individual and group programs to suit your unique needs.
This article was written by Gina Baretta, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs.
Photo credit: http://www.steadyhealth.com/articles/romantic-breakup-causes-pain-just-like-a-real-injury?show_all=1