How To Find Peace After A Breakup
Guilt, self-pitying, self-destruction, lack of motivation and longing are the notorious hallmarks of a mind cast errantly into the void of a relationship breakup. These subset of states are often viewed from afar by others, most often well-wishers such as family and friends, as a dreamlike distortion which will eventually fix itself as time fades old wounds. They will encourage the victim (and also the person who did the breaking up -- it can be just as devastating for them as well) to distract themselves through nights-out, exercise, attention and treats.
This is an effective process in dealing with stress. But it often ignores one of the most important and painful aspects of breaking-up, memory triggers. Let's be honest here, it is incredibly difficult to just walk out of someone's life decisively, leaving a large slice of a very tangible life closed away -- forever. Because the chasm between a life with, and a life without can seem overwhelming, especially on short notice, we litter the world around us with memory triggers (items,songs,films,scents -- anything we associate with our "ex" partner). It is simply our brain's attempt to heal a wound which cannot be healed.
Raising the dead with memory triggers
In PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) the effects of an adrenal memory trigger are well known. Functionally, the memory trigger works the same way with a breakup. Allow me to illustrate the similarity with two examples.
- A man walks into a supermarket, he feels nauseous and nervous the entire time - without knowing why. Upon reaching the counter, his anxiety peaks into a full-blown panic attack and an ambulance is called.
- A woman opens an old box in the house while she is cleaning up, while the box contains nothing of note, the hint of a scent reminding her of her ex refreshes the pain of a violent breakup once more, seemingly nullyfing any gains made over the last few weeks of effort.
The two examples may seem wildly different at first. In the first case, a psychologist ruled that the beeping of the cash-machine had resurrected a subconscious memory of his time in intensive care. When he was close to the counter and the beeping was loudest, his brain perceived the threat and attempted to prepare him for physical danger by inducing a panic attack (the flight or fight response).
As we can see the pain and anxiety were caused by subconscious fears. While the second example may seem conscious, the mechanism is essentially the same. It is easy to see why removing an unwanted series of memory triggers is difficult, simply because they are subconscious and we may feel like we are unable to control them. Don't let anyone tell you this is easy! But having understood that the sadness comes not from loss, but from within, it becomes digestible and the road to resurrection is within walking distance. Read on.
Getting Over It
Be realistic. You are not going to shed all traces of your ex relationship from one day to another. If we reflect back on why attention, treats, nights-out and exercise are such popular methods of post-breakup revivial, it is simply because they offer you the ability to:
- Reprogram your memory triggers - Hearing "the song" while you are having fun with your friends will go a long way in instructing your brain to review the effect it will have on you. Given time, it's meaning will change. This is a subconscious process, so don't actively try to achieve it, rather, make sure you are in places where it might occur.
- Have fun - I disagree with the idea that going out with friends is a distraction. Calling it this way suggests that your fun is only a temporary mask for an underlying canvas of pain and depression. Instead, remember that your fun is genuine and not at all relative to your previous state. Ultimately you alone are responsible for your own happiness.
- Build self-worth and confidence - An abrupt breakup can leave a feeling emptiness and worthlessness. Isolation only leads to a negative cycle of self-reinforcement. Remind yourself that what you are feeling has deep chemical roots and you are likely to overstate your guilt, fears or shortcomings. Aside from being active socially, accept that a passive healing process has begun, time and experience will dull the ache. Know it.
Down with the king
Our thoughts are our worst enemy when it comes to healing. To many of us, it seems that a single thought or memory can wash away a week's worth of effort and progress. Cutting negative routines and cyclical pitfalls is an important part of finding peace. Avoid the following issues wherever possible:
- No contact with your ex - Being relegated to a backseat driver in the life for someone you once drove for will sap your energy and morale. Stay away. Friendship will come naturally once you are free of any negative anchors.
- They weren't that special - Every couple claims that their partner is special. It is both a subjective truth and part of love's intoxication. There is every chance that your ex was that special. But so is everyone else in their own way. As the video above claims, "this is why you will fall in love again". Remember to come back here and thank me when you do :)
- "The good times" - Love, as you already know, is not an endless downhill. While you should not erase the good times you had together, balance them with the things you had to juggle and sacrifice. Build on them. Do things you couldn't, or missed out on.
- It wasn't a waste of time - Don't let the feeling that time has tricked you. You have learned much about yourself, and have loved. You will benefit from that experience in your next relationship despite that being not very obvious in the present.
If the pain is severe, then there are various psychological tools that can help you deal with the pain. The most accessible is neuro linguistic programming, a tool that has helped many "reprogram" their attitudes and anchors. For the record, professional NLP experts are popular solutions for the curing of many disorders such as phobias and depression.
I advise strongly against self-medication although we all know that anxiety drops, pills and other sedatives have found a strong consumer base, especially in the U.S. If you feel you need some temporary help in the form of medicine, you should consult a doctor (and not feel guilty about it!).
In closing, know how to make the best use of your social connections and stay active. Thank you very much for reading this article, I wish you the best of luck in your revival, please let me know how things are going in the comment section of this article!
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