As a psychotherapist for over 20 years, I have witnessed a lot of heartbreak.
I have had the unique experience of going “behind the scenes” and observing how we experience pain, joy, and every emotion in between.
But somehow, with all of my so-called therapist “expertise”, I was stuck when it came to healing my own broken heart. And, as a card-carrying member of the tribe of humanity, I have been no stranger to the raw, gut wrenching feelings of heartbreak. I have been through a divorce, several painful cancer deaths, and many once hopeful, but currently shattered relationships. I have been guilty of writing off any possibility of finding love, after feeling the tenderness of a broken heart.
When my heart is broken, I close. I resist. I allow fear to take hold and shrink me down into a small, dimmed-down version of myself. I often find myself clinging to fear, instead of the embrace of love and all of her miraculous healing. I taste a heartbroken bitterness so strong that it dilutes the taste of joy in my life.
At one point in my life, I felt so withered from heartbreak and loss that I started to wonder if there would ever be space for my light again. I had become so hungry for love that I refused to take it in anymore. I was working against my own best interest and keeping love away. I was a love anorexic.
After many tear-soaked sheets, dates with yoga mats and a heavy dose of spiritual soul searching over the years, I realized that the key to healing heartbreak was to do exactly the thing I feared.
The key was to open my heart again. The key was to keep it vulnerable, but strong, and o-p-e-n. Even when I thought I could never open again. I accepted that denying my potential for love was poison for my soul.
I realized that keeping the heart open didn’t mean going on a date right after a break up. I tried that many times. It doesn’t mean drinking bottles of wine or shopping until the credit card is denied. Tried that too.
It simply meant that I had to become present with my pain. I had to take time to heal my shattered world.
Carl Jung once said, “what we resist persists”. This is key when it comes to healing heartbreak. I learned that when I when I resisted the pain, or tried to distract from it, it had no escape route. My pain needed to be witnessed, to be expressed, to release. I needed to allow my pain to surface and detach from my being, to prevent it from becoming a festering wound in need of healing.
I learned the value in allowing pain to rise to the surface and to trust that it is ok to feel it. I noticed that every emotion is like an ocean wave. Temporary. Flowing. Some are tsunamis. Some are gentle waves that disappear on the shore. I learned to courageously anticipate that the wave is coming, and that I could ride it to the shore.
I also learned to cultivate compassion for myself, and for the people whom I loved and lost. I became a student of my relationships, and lovingly allowed myself to look deeply at the patterns between two people that created pain. I turned my enemies into my teachers. I found the gifts in every heartbreak, in every loss.
I also learned that healing heartbreak meant taking time to be gentle with myself. I cry when I need to cry. I get angry when I need to get angry. I have my tribe of support and I talk to them. I retreat into solitude when I need quiet and calm. I tend to my spiritual garden, because when I am in touch with the bigger picture, I realize that we are all loved and connected, and that connection brings with it an immense healing capacity. Most of all, I’ve learned to deeply, compassionately love myself in every way possible.
And now, every time my tender heart has released her pain and healed after a heartbreak, I stand up, and I vow to open to love again. I embrace my vulnerable heart. This time around, and possibly the next, my goal is to expand my ability to love instead of allowing my heart to shrink in fear. With every new love, I have the opportunity to open, to love and be loved more deeply, or to close off, put my walls up, and shrink in fear. I trust that I can surf the pain of heartbreak, again and again, I don’t have to fear it, come storms or calm seas. I keep my heart open and trust that love, not fear, is the answer.
Author: Chelli Pumphrey, MA, LPC
Editor: Caroline Beaton
Image: Flickr/Mark Sebastian