It's not you, it's me: The pain of breaking up with yourself
It’s over. I imagine that most of us have experienced the devastating loss of a break-up. Perhaps your mind has transported itself back to the heartache that came from splitting up with your first love, or maybe it’s a pain that is more recent.
Whenever it may have been, it’s hard to forget that feeling: a weird combination of crushing pain, numbness and longing. When a relationship ends, whether it is a romantic one, a friendship or a separation from a family member, we not only experience the loss of that person, but we also lose a part of ourselves too.
When a relationship ends, you will never again be that exact same person, fulfilling that exact same role. Now, for those people lucky enough to have put some time and healing between that breakup, they will begin to feel safer, have a sense of contentment, and often feel relieved about the decision that was made.
And with some good old hindsight, people can reflect on past relationships and wonder why they didn’t end sooner. It's when we reach this stage that we can see how much we have changed and grown and, more often than not, vow never to make the same mistakes twice.
Experience will often tell us though, that this is more easily said than done!
Society seems to have a global understanding of heartbreak and loss. Many books and articles have been written about it over the years. However, as a culture, we seem to be less aware or accepting of the pain that comes with personal change.
Growth is often painted as a positive thing, with a focus on what you can gain from a healthier lifestyle, a change in mindset or a new career. We should feel empowered and excited about new opportunities and the promise of a newly found sense of happiness, right?
Wrong. You wouldn’t expect someone to skip away from a breakup with a sense of joy and excitement, so it is unrealistic to think that we can embark on a journey of self-discovery and change without our hearts breaking a little bit. In order to change, we must let go of parts of ourselves that we have become very attached to.
A long term relationship
The relationship you have with yourself is the longest and most consistent one you’ve ever had. You may not have always been your biggest fan, but you’ve been your own best friend, advocate and safety net.
From the day you were born, you have been fighting to survive, to be loved, to fit in and to flourish. You have done your absolute best, with the tools that life and your caregivers provided you with. That was all your hard work.
So, however far you have got in life and wherever you are now, well done! It hasn’t been easy, but you have survived the process and now find yourself looking for something different.
Take a moment to reflect on that journey, its hardships, sorrows, and successes. You did that, often against the odds. Allow yourself to feel proud.
A change of focus
When we look to change our lives, we realise that many of our old patterns and belief systems no longer fit and we begin to want to change them. But that can feel scary, just like breaking up from a long-term relationship, we fear the isolation, the uncertainty and the hard work that comes from going it alone.
When we make personal change, the process can feel similar. Effectively, we are breaking up with an old version of ourselves and that can be painful. Many people take months, years or even decades to leave an unhappy relationship. We often leave, only to return a few times before finally realising that we’ll never get what we are looking for.
I remember my first experience of heartbreak at 16 and genuinely thinking my life had come to an end. I believed that I would never feel better and that nobody could begin to understand the feelings I was struggling with. Of course, that wasn’t true at all, but try telling a 16-year-old that!
I had to feel it, to grieve and adapt to the change. Nobody was able to do that for me. I had lessons I needed to learn, in my own good time, and they aren’t always easy.
When we change a part of ourselves, we will often grieve that loss intently. We may experience feelings of anger, rejection, resistance and fear. What if change doesn’t make me happy? What if I feel worse and have nobody to blame but myself?
We often look to others to help make difficult decisions for us, just so we don’t have to feel the full weight of responsibility on our own. However, in the same way that there were no words that could have healed my 16-year-old heart, personal change is a choice we must make for ourselves and, although we can be supported by others, it is foolish to think that we can be led by them.
So why put ourselves through it?
I am not writing this to be a Negative Nancy or to discourage anyone from improving their lives, but it helps to be realistic. If we, as a society, begin to acknowledge that change is a tough process, then perhaps we will stop being so hard on ourselves when we don’t succeed immediately.
With more acceptance, people may feel less shame for staying in the same career, at the same dress size or in the same relationship, for longer than they feel they want to. We have been our own best friend for many years; we don’t always have the energy to leave that person behind. For some of us, we have been all that there was to rely on.
You are not alone.
If we can acknowledge how difficult it is to break old patterns and belief systems, then we may feel more confident in seeking professional help. You wouldn’t build a new home without an architect. When rebuilding yourself, you may find the process overwhelming at first or perhaps your dreams feel so ambitious, you would appreciate an impartial and understanding person by your side, at least until you feel ready to take on the project by yourself.
How can counselling help?
Whatever you call it, this is what a therapeutic relationship can provide:
- Support through the initial stages of pain and loss, to help you pick through the debris and decide what is worth keeping.
- A patient presence providing encouragement throughout the planning and trial and error stages.
- Then, finally, a space to celebrate your achievements. Eventually, you will realise that you are capable and worthy of a new and fulfilling future. As counsellors, we see this in you from the outset, but we also understand it takes time for our clients to trust in it for themselves.
I love my job and it would be a privilege to help you love yourself just as much!
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