As you can imagine, I’ve seen a lot of tears in my office.
Love is an emotional topic.
Some of the hardest moments happen during breakups.
My clients tell me it hurts so much they can hardly breathe.
They can’t bear it. They don’t know what to do.
Should they beg him to come back? Is the pain a sign they never should have let him go?
So many questions. So much confusion.
We often hear that “pain is the price for loving,” but that’s no consolation when your heart is breaking.
It can feel like there’s this great big ball of pain inside you, crowding out hunger, crowding out thirst, crowding out everything but the burning need to make it stop.
So that’s what most people do.
They do everything they can think of to make it stop. They distract, disassociate, deny.
They want to get away from the pain, not go towards it.
But one of the things we know is that putting words to feelings—even unmanageable, unbearable ones—can be really helpful.
In therapy-speak, this is known as affect labeling.
The act of observing what’s going on inside of us and trying to figure out how to describe it gives us a little distance.
We are no longer overwhelmed by a feeling. Rather, we have an awareness of that feeling.
It opens up some space. It gives us room to breathe.
Now, that’s easier said than done when you look inside and all you see is a burning wall of pain and grief.
So let me give you a tool that can help.
It’s a list of some of the most common emotions felt at the end of a relationship.
To use it, check off the words that describe how you’re feeling right now.
(If you’re not the one in pain but rather a friend, share it with her.)
When you can tease out the threads of that great big ball of pain, those feelings become more manageable.
Breakups Can Make Us Feel…
Abandoned – You may feel a sense of betrayal from relying on yet another person who ended up leaving you.
Adrift – You may wonder, “Who am I now?”
Angry – You may blame him for what happened and even hope he pays for the pain he caused.
Confused – You may wonder how this could have happened and whether there were signs you missed.
Despair – You may worry that you’ll never find love again.
Desperate – You may feel that the situation is intolerable and you can’t go on.
Disappointed – You may mourn the loss of all your hopes and dreams.
Grief – You may grieve all the things you gave up to make this relationship work, all the years you spent with him, or the innocence you’ll never get back.
Guilt – You may feel responsible for not being able to make it work.
Helpless – You may feel incapable of doing everything that needs to be done: extricating him from your life, keeping up a brave face at work, and rebuilding life on your own.
Hopeless – You may be unable to imagine a future without him.
Irritable – You may find yourself irritated by everything, because your normal coping strategies have been exhausted.
Lonely – You may feel a deep and profound sense of being alone in the world.
Loss – You may mourn the simple daily routines you took for granted. You may mourn the loss of your friendship group, now that his friends are no longer yours.
Shame – You may feel ashamed of what the breakup means about you. You may worry about how you’ll tell the people closest to you and what they’ll think.
Shock – You may find it impossible to wrap your head around what just happened or deny that it’s really over.
Withdrawal – You may feel like you’re in physical withdrawal. (That’s because loving relationships provide us with a supply of feel-good chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin.)
Worry – You may find yourself preoccupied by fears about how you’re going to make things work and what will happen to you.
And Yet Breakups Can Also Make Us Feel…
Relief – You don’t have to keep trying to fix the relationship or deal with his behavior.
Freedom – You can do absolutely anything you want, even things he didn’t like.
Empowerment – You no longer have to run your decisions by him. You’re in charge of your life.
Anticipation – You might notice an attractive guy or hear a friend’s dating story and feel a tingle of excitement about getting back out there.
How many of these feelings do you have?
Did any of them surprise you?
A lot goes through our hearts and minds at the end of a relationship. It’s complicated.
Just remember that processing those feelings is a better option than pushing the pain away.
In fact, one study found that this is one reason women tend to heal from breakups more fully than men.
We men tend to push the pain away in the moment, compartmentalize it, and carry it for years. In contrast, women tend to feel everything more acutely in the days and weeks just after a breakup. But then you emerge with a more resilient heart.
Wishing you love, happiness, and resilience,