How To Get In Touch With Your Own Goodness After A Breakup
So: the worst has happened and your heart is broken.
This may have happened very recently, or perhaps you’ve been struggling with these feelings for many months.
In this article, I’m going to help you to accept that your relationship is over, and that because you feel so dreadful, you need help in getting over it, and also that you must take care of yourself.
And that’s where we’re going to start.
Caring for you
Now, if your heartbreak is a recent thing you probably haven’t got round yet to nurturing yourself properly and caring for yourself through this crisis.
And if your heartbreak happened a while ago – but is still really painful – maybe you never went through this period of nurture and care and acceptance, and perhaps that’s one of the reasons why your pain is still so raw.
Caring for yourself is a vital part of your recovery.
So no matter how long you’ve been suffering, try from today to start looking after yourself with kindness and love.
Some of this care will involve diet and nurture of your body, and some will involve care of your emotions. But both kinds of care are important.
If you have a broken heart, you’re likely to feel lousy about yourself. If you’ve chosen to end a marriage or a relationship you’re probably feeling mean, horrible, selfish and frightened.
And if you’ve been bereaved, or dumped then you’re doubtless feeling bleak, unloved, unlovable and unlovely.
Whatever set of emotions you’re experiencing, it’s unlikely that you feel very proud of yourself right now, or that you regard yourself highly, or feel that you’re a very deserving person.
Caring for your body and your mind will help you to regain positive feelings about yourself, because every time you do something loving, kind and nurturing for you, you will reinforce a very important message – which is that you are a unique, worthwhile and wonderful individual.
To care for yourself properly, you need to accept that you are (or have been) in a state of shock – even if you anticipated your current heartbreak.
It might help to compare the end of your relationship with a situation where someone is nursing a relative to his or her death. They talk about the end, they expect the end, they may even long for the end – so that the loved one will have no more pain – but they’re still surprised and shocked when that end comes.
The same is true of the demise of a relationship. So, no matter how your heartbreak came about, please accept that you’re a victim of shock and treat yourself accordingly.
Let me tell you about Anna.
She was a woman in her thirties who had married for all the wrong reasons. Even before her marriage, her relationship was always very hard work, but, like many women, she had been worried that if she didn’t marry this guy, no one else would ask her.
The marriage was not a success. He was work-shy and moody and a champion couch-potato.
In the face of his inadequacies, Anna gradually became the chief organiser and breadwinner.
Over a period of ten years her confidence grew, and so did her resentment that all the work in maintaining the marriage came from her.
Even so, she hung on in there, hoping against hope that her marriage could work and that one day – with her love and encouragement – her husband would change for the better.
He didn’t. And eventually her patience ran out and she ended the relationship.
She had longed for this day of freedom. In fact, she had been plucking up courage for at least five years to ‘call time’ on this hopeless partnership. But when she finally did it, she couldn’t stop sobbing her heart out.
Despite her emotional state, she went to work next day – she was by now a very successful businesswoman – but her secretary took one look at her and bundled her into a taxi and sent her to her mother’s house.
‘I’m really glad I’ve ended it,’ she told her parents, who were massively relieved to be shot of their hopeless son-in-law. But even while she was insisting how glad she was, she continued to weep.
What was she crying for?
Was her heart broken?
You might not think so – especially if you’ve recently been dumped by someone and feel that Anna, having ended her marriage of her own volition, had no right to be sad.
But Anna was sad. Incredibly sad. And she was crying because her heart was broken.
She didn’t want her husband back. But she was heartbroken because:
• she’d wasted time
• she’d picked the wrong guy
• she was 10 years older than she was when she got involved with him
• she had no children
• her hopes and dreams had come to nothing
Anna was in shock, even though she had been the one to end the marriage.
Fortunately, her mother understood what Anna was going through and put her to bed and provided her with lots of that most British of shock treatments – hot, sweet tea! And this was the beginning of her recovery.
But it isn’t just women who fall apart when a relationship ends.
I’ve had plenty of devastated and heartbroken men in my consulting room too. One, whom I’ll call Gary, was trembling so violently when he first came to me that he could hardly walk; and when I gave him a cup of coffee, his hands shook so much that he could barely raise the cup to his lips. He cried a lot too and his breathing sounded painful and erratic. In fact, had I met him out on the street, and not known why he was in such a terrible state, I would have assumed he’d just witnessed a terrorist attack, or maybe that he was a heroin addict in need of a ‘fix’.
So, heartbreak is certainly not the sole preserve of the fairer sex. It can happen just as easily to blokes.
As it happens, most of my heartbroken male patients have been heterosexual, but let us not forget that gay men and women also frequently fall in love very romantically and powerfully and can feel utterly distraught at the end of a relationship.
So, whatever your sexual orientation, and whatever has caused your heartbreak, it’s highly likely that you’re experiencing shock.
And you need to treat this shock in order for your broken heart to mend.
The best way to tackle this is to try to imagine how you would want to look after someone else – someone very special in your life – who’d had major surgery, or a terrible car smash.
You’d want to get them plenty of rest, feed them healthy but delicious food and provide them with books or DVDs that would cheer them up. You might also spoil them with thoughtful gifts that would help the nurturing process – like body lotion, or a herb pillow, or a visit to an aromatherapist.
Whatever you’d do for someone else in that kind of situation is exactly what you should now be doing for yourself.
So if you’re numb with mental and physical cold, keep warm and cosy.
If you’re upset and trembly, take plenty of rest.
If you’re feeling rejected and unwanted, do things for yourself that make you feel better – like walking by the sea, or having a long scented bath by candle-light.
If your appetite has gone, tempt your palate with little treats that you might not normally allow yourself.
And if you’re eating a load of junk food for comfort – like burgers and chocolate – make sure that you’re also eating five pieces of fruit a day and drinking at least eight glasses of water. That way, you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing that you’re doing something decent for yourself and your body. If you carry on with a diet consisting solely of junk food, or too much alcohol, or coffee and cigarettes, you will compound your sense of being a failure and not worth bothering with.
Another important factor is exercise. I do know that you may well be so distressed that all you feel you can do is to sit on the sofa and cry. But do try, at least once a day, to get out of the house so you can fill your lungs with fresh air. Even a quick walk to the shops can start to help you feel fitter, and should elevate your spirits.
And please also allow time every day to pamper yourself.
Even the most macho of guys can soak in a fragrant bath, while listening to favourite music – and begin to feel better. And most women not only enjoy soaking in the bath, but feel a greater sense of love and care for their own body if they massage in some body lotion afterwards.
Caring acts like these remind you that you are special, even if your heart is telling you that nothing matters any more.
Sleep too is a great healer when you’re broken hearted, but unfortunately, though some people sleep a lot when they’re distressed, others find sleep very elusive.
Some of these individuals can’t actually fall asleep. Others go off to sleep OK, but wake up in the empty, bleak hours before dawn, and stay awake.
If you are wakeful in the night, don’t toss and turn in bed. Get up and make yourself a milky drink. And read a book that’s an old favourite, or watch a DVD that will cheer you in some way.
But what if your sleeplessness gets worse and you’re getting so little sleep that you’re becoming more upset and unable to cope with a routine day?
First of all, although you may be tempted to use alcohol as a sedative, try to avoid it. It produces rather unnatural and fitful sleep, and increasing your dependence on booze at this time is never helpful.
There are several common herbal remedies that promote slumber, and these are definitely worth trying. You can get them from chemists or health food stores.
But what if your sleep patterns still don’t improve?
And what if you’re so tired you don’t feel able to work?
Or what should you do if you are so miserable that you stop looking after yourself, or functioning in any way normally?
Should you go and seek medical help?
Yes, you should.
I should point out, however, that although you probably feel that you’ve got a dead weight in your chest – and although in some languages the term for a ‘broken heart’ is the same as that of a ‘heart attack!’ – the loss of a relationship is not a medical condition. And some individuals ‘medicalise’ it rather too readily.
One Sussex GP told me about a woman who had been left by her husband on a Saturday, and had turned up at the doctor’s surgery on the Monday for anti-depressants.
Now, of course the end of a relationship, or the death of someone close – or even the death of a pet, or the loss of a job – will seriously upset you and cause desperate misery. But that’s normal. We ought to be sad when something bad happens.
And that’s the time when we have to treat ourselves as though we were an invalid and lean on other people.
But if – after several days or weeks of shock and distress – you’re really not functioning, and you can’t stop crying, or you don’t feel able to leave the house, or you’re not sleeping, or you feel so devastated that you’re considering suicide, then you very definitely must see a doctor.
Quite apart from anything else, you might need your GP to sign you off work for a while: few of us are much use to our employers while we’re in this kind of a state.
Doctors are generally sympathetic to the problems surrounding the end of a relationship and will usually do their best to help. It would be wise, I think, to ask for a double-length appointment when booking up to see your GP. This will ensure that he or she has adequate time to allow you to unburden yourself.
Your doctor may possibly offer a prescription for some sleeping pills. You might be worried about this and wonder if you’ll get hooked on them and merely add to your already considerable problems.
But if you just take them for a very brief period, or only occasionally, you won’t run into problems of addiction, and you will also start coping better once you’re no longer so fatigued.
Some doctors will also offer tranquillisers for a short time – particul0arly if you’ve suffered sudden trauma like the death of someone close, or if your partner has just walked out with no warning.
Again, this medical help can be timely, but should definitely not be long-term. There’s only so much good that can be achieved by wrapping you in a chemical haze to protect you from harsh and uncomfortable feelings. These feelings mostly have to be lived with and talked about if they are to be dealt with adequately.
And what about anti-depressants?
These are of little help at the beginning of your distress. For a start, they don’t immediately alter your mood because they usually take a couple of weeks to work. Secondly, the sadness you feel is not the same as clinical depression, at least not at the beginning.
However, if your sadness goes on and on and makes your life really difficult – and if you can find no pleasure from anything that would normally please you – then I do think there’s a case for discussing anti-depressants with your GP.
However, in the early days of your heartbreak, the most important things you can do are to:
• talk to friends or family about how you feel
• eat as healthily as possible – and tempt yourself with special treats
• drink alcohol only sparingly
• take some exercise
• play music that you like – or even music that puts you in touch with your sorrowful feelings and makes you cry
• get out of the house at least once a day watch some DVDs, especially if you’ve got old films saved that you could never watch with your ex partner because your tastes weren’t similar.
• take plenty of scented baths
• treat your body with love and kindness – perhaps go for a massage or an aromatherapy session, and /or use fragrant emollients on your skin so that your body feels nurtured and cared for.
Allowing Other People To Support You
I’ve already suggested that when you’re heartbroken it’s vital to lean on your friends or close family. For some people this is the easy bit. Like Anna, they have a mother who wraps them in cotton wool and provides, tea and sympathy and very soothing chicken soup!
But not all of us are blessed with relatives like Anna’s. And of course sometimes we feel so distressed, or such a failure, that we don’t feel able to cry on anyone’s shoulder.
It can be particularly difficult to open up to our friends or family if none of them approved of our relationship in the first place.
It’s also tough to admit to the end of a romance if you’ve already had a string of relationship failures.
And parents aren’t always helpful. Let’s say you have a mother who blames you for not yet making her a granny. You’re unlikely to want to confide in her if you’re fearful that you’re going to get a sermon about how hopeless you are, and how disappointed she is that you’ve ‘failed’ yet again.
Then, if you’re gay, you’re likely to have all sorts of other issues to deal with. If you’re broken hearted about the loss of your first same gender romance, and your family were hostile to you ‘coming out’, they may choose to assume that you’ve now seen the error of your ways and that you’re straight after all. And if they’re bigoted and narrow-minded, they may even see your unhappiness as a judgement on you.
Small wonder then that many people don’t feel they want to lean on their families when the worst happens.
And of course, seemingly tough and capable guys frequently have real difficulty in confiding in anyone. The chances are that their relationships with their mates centre on sport or drinking, and they can’t see how they can possibly discuss how devastated they feel to any of them. Such blokes may also find it difficult to unburden themselves to their family – even the female members. Fortunately, many young males nowadays have platonic women friends who are usually good at providing female affirmation and sympathy, but some men are so buttoned-up emotionally that they can’t even talk to them. This aversion to sharing sorrow is a big problem and can make their recovery a much lengthier and lonelier one.
I have, incidentally, known some individuals who have been so concerned with keeping up appearances that they have actually pretended that the split in their relationship hasn’t happened.
For instance, one woman whose new husband walked out soon after their marriage – a five-star affair with a huge marquee in the grounds of a country house, designer presents and a Caribbean honeymoon – refused to tell anyone about the demise of the relationship. Instead, she pretended that her man had suddenly got the job of his dreams abroad. Unfortunately it wasn’t long before he was spotted shopping for one in Waitrose!
Keeping your personal tragedy private will not help in the long run, so no matter how difficult it is for you, do find someone to confide in. I know this tends to be easier for women than for men, but everyone needs a shoulder to cry on.
In fact you need a friend who will be there for you – or at least at the end of a phone – at all times. It’s very common for your heart to ache most at three in the morning, and having someone who will be available to you, even at that hour, is the biggest of comforts.
So don’t be secret about your suffering. Let other people help you. It may hurt your pride, but it will heal your heart.
And you may even make new friends through this bleakest of times. For example, there may be someone in your office whom you hardly know who has been through some similar trauma and becomes a real rock for you.
Of course you may worry that you’re being a nuisance, but I’m sure you would be a listening ear for one of your friends if he or she were in the same situation.
Also, the more you talk in the early days – and you can talk it out with several friends, not just one – the quicker you’ll recover.
Most pals will happily put up with you weeping all over them for at least a couple of months: but their patience may wear thin after six months or more. So make the most of the early days when sympathy is being extended to you. Allow other people to nurse you and cuddle you and take over your life. They want to help, and even if you’re generally a very self-reliant person, this is the time to let them.
But what if your family is a long way away? Or what if you have no friends nearby?
Well, fortunately technology is really on your side compared with 10 or 15 years ago. You can text, Skype, email, or phone people no matter how far away they live. It may not be as good as faceto- face support, but it certainly beats not having any.
One word of caution though, you might want to avoid tweeting in the midst of serious misery. I have known some people who have really opened their hearts and spilled out their devastation – often when a bit tipsy – and have felt mortified and ashamed afterwards.
And what about a lack of friends?
Very, very few people have no friends. These unfortunate individuals are generally without friends for a very good reason – which is that they’ve never realised that to have a friend you have to be one.
I doubt very much if any readers of this article are friendless. But if you are, let me just say that it isn’t just your broken heart that needs mending, it’s your whole attitude to life. Tough though it is, you need to start making a lot of changes, and perhaps now that you’ve suffered such a blow, you will.
But most of us do have friends. However, yours may not be very near you, and you may not have kept up with them as much as you’d like to have done. You may have moved round the country because of your partner’s job – and lost touch with school or college friends. You may have had children, and perhaps never quite made the time to keep up with old pals.
Your social circle might consist only of couples – people who know you as half of a pair – who are reluctant to take sides in your split. Or you may have been so unhappy during the dying months of the relationship that you shut yourself away and neglected all your friends.
But somewhere in your past – or even on the periphery of your present – there will be warmth, love and concern flowing in your direction.
So take a look around you. Spot who is on your side and who loves and wants to help you, and then let them.
Usually part of the recovery process with our friends will involve us in learning about their past romantic history and benefiting from finding out how they got over traumas such as you’re experiencing now.
It’s no bad thing to discover that whatever we’re going through, others have been through similar situations, or worse. It also helps to know that your suffering is not unique and that others have triumphed over heartbreak – even if, deep down, you suspect that no one has ever been quite so cruelly rejected, or so publicly humiliated as you have!
So, share these experiences, but most of all, talk about you. This will help you heal.
As soon as we open up and share our pain and distress it immediately ceases to have such a powerful hold over us. So, get talking. And one day you’ll realise that your story has become boring, not just to others, but yourself. And then you’ll be well on the way to recovery.
Nowadays, there are also support organisations where you can share what’s happened to you with other people. One of the best is So You’ve Been Dumped (www.soyouvebeendumped.com)
They’ve helped thousands of people over the years and I hope they’ll help you too.
Getting In Touch With Your Own Goodness
Learning to lean on other people may be very hard for some adults, as we’ve seen. But it becomes easier with practice. And I cannot stress how important it is.
However, talking to others – and letting them comfort us – is not the whole solution. We also need to open ourselves up to our own goodness.
When we’re heartbroken, we tend to act like a hedgehog. We roll into an emotional ball that has forbidding spikes all over it.
Allowing other people to penetrate our defences requires trust and love, but most of us get there eventually.
Unfortunately, even though we may gradually open ourselves up to the care and love of others, we often continue to feel very, very prickly.
This is because we feel so desolate and so betrayed.
One of the ways we can become more open, more attractive and also more at peace with ourselves and others is to become more aware of our own goodness: the goodness that we do, and the goodness that is part of our basic nature.
You see, when we’re heartbroken we usually feel very down on ourselves.
It’s true that from time to time we get angry and might say things like: ‘she just used me,’ or ‘I did everything to make the relationship work’ or even, ‘none of this is my fault’. But even while we rail against the gods, the universe and our ex-partner, there’s generally a small voice inside us telling us that we’re no good and that we’re hateful and that it’s no wonder we’ve ended up lonely and alone.
It’s this small voice that needs sorting now. And the best way of doing that is to become aware of the good that you do.
So, if you smile at someone while standing in a queue, or you buy a small gift for someone who’s been comforting helping you, or you reach up and get something from a top shelf in a supermarket to help an older, less mobile person, just take a moment and inwardly register that you’ve been kind and that you’ve done something good.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you can take on the world’s problems – certainly not at present – but I am pressing you to be aware of other people’s difficulties, even though you feel so very bound up in your own.
If you turn yourself into an island of hurt and hate, your recovery will be a very slow one. So, even in the midst of your own pain, try to extend to others the charity and generosity that exists inside you. When you do this, you’ll feel better about yourself.
A very badly hurt patient of mine, whom I’ll call Lizzie, had become closed off to her own good qualities. I tried talking to her about them, but whenever I did, she gave me a withering glance.
But she found out – all by herself – that uncovering your own goodness, and giving it expression, can be an enormous help.
Lizzie’s birthday came three months after her boyfriend left her. She’d been dreading it; so much so that she refused to celebrate it, and, to keep out of her friends’ way, she drove to the coast for the day, alone.
It was cold. The sun and sea looked grey and charmless and as she stomped along, she muttered angrily to herself that her life was a complete mess and that she was a total dead loss as a person.
On a windy corner, she came upon an old guy playing a saxophone. She plodded on, angrily, determined not to give him any money. But then, despite her bad mood she found herself walking more jauntily in time to his rhythm.
Why was this talented man busking on a street corner, she wondered? Why were his clothes threadbare? What troubles in his life – relationship, drugs, drink … whatever – had brought him to this? She didn’t know the answers to these questions. But what she did know was that his playing had penetrated the hostile barrier she’d erected round herself.
She went back, stopped and listened. Other people followed her example, and soon there was a crowd around him. He played several popular melodies, and soon people were clapping and singing along and smiling, even though it was such a foul day. Many of them dropped money in the guy’s cap and when he finally stopped playing, Lizzie pressed twenty pounds into his hand and thanked him for his music.
As she walked away, she found herself crying. But the tears weren’t her usual ones of sorrow and hurt and recrimination. Instead, they were something to do with the man’s talent and how it had opened her up, and also about how her example had led to others stopping and supporting him and having a good time so that the whole atmosphere in that small, windswept seaside town had improved.
Her heart, which she had thought was irreparably damaged, began to glow with a weird kind of achievement and some sort of emotion approaching happiness. It was strange: she hadn’t felt that way in months.
Lizzie went into a café bar and ordered some food and a glass of wine, and she toasted herself and her future.
I’d like to tell you that from that moment, Lizzie lived happily ever after. But I’m not writing a fairy story, I’m writing about real people, with very real problems! However, what I can tell you is that although Lizzie still had plenty of obstacles to happiness to overcome, she did improve dramatically from that day when she had got herself back in touch with her own goodness.