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My perspective on breakups as a human being:
It’s amazing to me how you can invest so much time and energy into building a relationship—platonic or romantic—and poof! it’s gone.
Vanished without a trace. (They should make a show about missing exes.)
You share memories and experiences. You share your innermost thoughts and feelings. A part of you is given to another. Then, when that relationship ends or that person walks away, it’s like a piece of you has been cast away and forgotten. You feel like that person put you in the “goodwill” pile instead of the “keep” pile when they cleaned out their closet.
When this experience happens to me, my mind often races with thoughts of, “How can they throw me away after what we shared?” I feel betrayed and abandoned, and like the whole relationship was a lie. All the trust I had in that person disappears due to the pain of how we parted.
My brain tries to put the pieces of the aftermath together. It starts surging with negative thoughts about myself, such as, “I was not enough for them to stay,” and “I always mess everything up.” Every insecurity from childhood comes flying back with a vengeance.
There is nothing left after all the time and energy invested—just pain and a broken heart. When you work toward something, like a goal, such as a college degree or running a marathon, your effort leads you to a place of accomplishment. Even if you don’t make it all the way, you still have something. When you work and invest in a relationship and it does not work out, it’s crushing. It feels like it was all a waste of time. It sure as hell makes you not want to trust or love again.
My perspective as a therapist:
When I am sitting across the room from a client, and they begin to share a recent ending of a relationship, there are a few main points I want the client to recognize.
First, I have them identify what they have learned from that particular relationship. This is to help them process that even though the relationship is over, they’ve gained experience or insight. I help them understand that it was not all a waste because they learned something in the process, something that cannot be taken away.
Next, I would help them identify what contributed to the ending of the relationship. Oftentimes, clients take on a sense of worthlessness and believe, “I was not enough,” “I must have meant nothing,” and “I am unlovable.” I help them process how a breakup is not related to their worth or value. We identify alternative factors such as timing, distance, and goals that interfere with relationships. We often identify that the other person in the relations has their own issues to resolve, independent from my client.
Then, I have the client reflect on the unhealthy or toxic interactions within the relationship. This helps stop the client from romanticizing the past relationship—sometimes we skip over or ignore the negative aspects of the relationship, which often happened at the of it. The goal is to increase their feelings of peace with the ending of a relationship.
As a human and a therapist:
I often say to clients, “people come into our lives in different seasons, for different reasons.” Or I state, “not everyone is meant to stay.” Sometimes I throw in, “Love is not always enough.” All of these statements have helped me through my own times of loss.
The idea that no relationship is permanent or necessarily healthy can ease the process of loss (and let’s be real, so does a heavy pour of wine, sometimes). This is using the rational and logical side of the brain to process our loss.
However, logic does not take away from the emotional pain of loss. Sometimes, it just sucks and nothing can make it feel better—not even a therapist, not even a glass of wine.