When your heart is broken

For some it is a cliché, for others a painful reality: when a relationship ends, we may be left with a broken heart. Indeed, it is not uncommon to hear of people dying of a broken heart, when left behind by their love and soul mate - through death or betrayal.

The shock and grief is too much to overcome, and life feels impossible and pointless. In that state not much else matters but the all-consuming pain. We either cannot but feel it, or we try our best to avoid it.

Often people say they feel numb or shell-shocked. They have to be very still, as if every single movement, thought or feeling could be powerful enough to make them crumble for good. Others keep very busy and distracted at all cost to keep the painful reality at bay.

Sometimes it is difficult to carry on with the routines and responsibilities of 'normality'. What is 'normal'? It is as if our radar and compass to navigate life are now broken and can no longer be trusted.

Something has ended: the way we were, the life we had, the things we took for granted and the safety and predictability we may have felt.

If a relationship ends due to a betrayal, an affair, or because one or both can no longer give the other what is needed, then the pain can be mixed with moments of intense anger and self-doubt. How could this happen? Why did I get it so wrong, and why did I not see it coming? How can I take revenge and hurt you the way you hurt me? How can I trust my instincts ever again? Can I ever take the risk again of trusting another and becoming intimate? Who will want me now? Is this my lot  - alone, for the rest of my life?

During this time of pain and self-doubt, everything and everyone can turn into a stabbing reminder of what we have lost. We may either do too much or too little eating, sleeping, going out, crying; we may smoke, drink or engage in other habits in the hope of forgetting. We may rush into a replacement relationship. We may even consider giving the other another chance, in the hope that it all was a terrible mistake, a misunderstanding or just one of those things. More often than not do we know this is a desperate act of not wanting to accept the truth.

Talking with friends or family may not feel helpful after a while.  Some may take sides, or say I told you so. We may not want to upset others.  We start to get less empathy as time goes by and wonder whether people get bored hearing of our predicament.

People who choose counselling or therapy to help deal with relational difficulties often fall into one or more of the following groups:

  • Some are overwhelmed by their feelings and find it difficult to cope.
  • Others have managed to keep a lid on their feelings, but are struggling to continue doing so, and are afraid of what might happen, when their feelings suddenly erupt.
  • Some come to therapy for difficulties in a new relationship not realizing that painful experiences with a previous partner are still lingering and getting in the way.
  • Others may feel they are without a positive outlook, motivation, hope, purpose or energy. They may feel depressed and largely indifferent. Again, this can happen when a broken heart has not been attended to.

Most people share the fear of being unable to cope, of being out of control, of struggling to make sense of what happened. They may find it difficult to move on and get their lives back on track.

How can counselling or therapy help? 
Saying out loud what has happened in the company of another, who is neutral and not directly involved in our lives, can set us on the path of processing and digesting events and their impact on us.

Over time we may find, that we start to get some perspective and clarity about what has happened, where we are and why, and what options we have.  

What before may have felt like some nebulous dark blur, is starting to take on some shape and colour.  We can see and understand more clearly the rubble that is lying in our broken heart, and we may find the courage and inclination to deal with it the best we can.

We may clear some of it, and leave some until another day. We may be able to linger a little bit longer each time we think about and feel the destruction. We may be able to contain and carry those feelings a bit longer without fear of breaking down.

Mending a broken heart, like so many painful things in life, takes time and there is no quick fix. You may have had it before and you may have it again - like all of us. There is no shame.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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