Do you find it hard to say goodbye?
When relationships end, it can be difficult, particularly if you did not want things to change. It may be that a romantic relationship is over, or that a friendship has drifted away despite your best efforts, or even that someone has died. In all of these situations, the relationship between you and the other person is over. However, we construct our reality, and despite this change outside of ourselves, it is not always the case that the relationship is over for us internally. Sometimes you may find yourself experiencing a past relationship as if it were still happening years after it ended.
Endings provoke a grief reaction if we allow ourselves to feel them. It might sound odd to grieve for someone who is not dead, but grieving for our lost relationships and friendships is important; feeling our emotions allows us to move on and experience life as it now is.
If a loss is not accepted, we may hold onto the idea of a person, often idealising them and looking back with rose tinted glasses. It may seem as if they are still literally close to us, even though the relationship is long over. The person you are no longer in touch with may loom large in your consciousness. As a result, thinking may become distorted and the relationship may be experienced internally as if it were significant in our life here and now.
The impact of this can be significant. If, in your mind, a past relationship or friendship is absorbing your attention, it leaves you with less space to be able to connect with people in the here and now. This means that your social contact may, over time, lessen, and that can leave you feeling lonely and disconnected. It can also result in feelings of depression, given that attention is focused on the past and not the present in which we are alive now.
Grieving someone that is no longer in our life requires of us to transition from having a direct, actual relationship with someone, to having a symbolic, internal relationship with them within ourself. We still have our memories, and also our sense of a person, but that is all. We might imagine what they would say or do, but we know that we are accessing our internal representation of them, and that the relationship with them is now in the past.
This transition is about letting go. It means allowing the person we have lost to move from being prominent in our awareness, into the background. It calls us to experience fully our emotions, our sadness, hurt and vulnerability as we transition away from the closeness we used to feel. This process can take time, and is entirely normal when we are suffering a loss. Sometimes we can expect ourselves to suddenly make a change, but thinking and feeling are habits - they take time to evolve.
Counselling is a place where you can explore how you are holding your past and present relationships in your awareness. A counsellor can help you to identify where you are still holding onto what is in the past, and help you to make the transition from holding on into letting go and entering more fully into your here and now. Along the way they can help you to make room for your emotional transition. This will leave you with the space to make new connections and relationships more easily in your life.
The way a counselling relationship ends is itself important. It is an opportunity to experience an ending positively, with all that needs saying said, and with a graceful, well-timed move towards separation. This can serve as a model for our management of endings more generally, if we can end the intimacy and closeness of a therapeutic encounter smoothly, we teach our mind-body system a new possibility for navigating endings in our life.
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About Fe Robinson
Fe Robinson is a psychotherapist, couples counsellor, EMDR practitioner and clinical supervisor working in Durham on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays with some evening appointments available. Her mission is to help clients thrive, whatever their life circumstances. For grounded, authentic support, get in touch.