This is for Linda, I hope you like and hang in there girl!
You can also listen to the podcast version of this article.
When you go through a devastating experience like being broken up with or cheated on or betrayed and left by someone you thought was going to be your other half for the rest of your life, it can be uprooting to everything in your world. Shaking the foundation of what you want, how you feel about yourself and the future, what you feel safe with – who you feel safe with, what you believe to be true. Aside the expected affects (the pain, the mourning, the loneliness) this kind of experience can have some very strange effects because when you’re taken by surprise by something like a relationship, it’s traumatic. You have been shocked and therefore a change of perspective has begun. I will try to tackle some of the common feelings you might be experiencing so you can see that hopefully see that you’re not crazy, it’s all quite normal. I will also hopefully offer you a rough timeline for the healing process to come so that you can best care for yourself so you can heal and grow.
Part 1: What you might be feeling now.
If it’s a long-term relationship – or even a short one but one you relied on in immense ways, the loss can make you feel you have nothing to stand on. In short, it can level you and remove all safety from your life.
If you are suffering at a time like this in your life – you might be going through worry over what will come of your life – will you remarry? Will you ever love again, trust again? Are you loveable? Am I too old, am I stupid to have trusted this person? Was I the only one who didn’t know – how didn’t I know? What’s wrong with me that I didn’t see this coming? How do I even move on with love?
Woah. Yeah, that’s a lot. So slow down. It’s going to be okay. Right now you’ve got to put that aside. Now is not the time that you should be thinking about the future. You should simply focus on loving and caring for you, now. And improving the strength and brightness of your world. How could you possibly imagine anything from a place like this? Truly, how could you tackle planning anything other than addressing your immediate needs – you just experienced a traumatic event in your life and you’re in a recovery/healing mode – that’s what you need to be aware of. What do you need – right now – is make yourself feel soothed and healthy and balanced.
Part 2: Why am I feeling this way?
If you’re going through a total limbo of character and it’s freaking you out, here are a couple of common reactions that happen when one is put through a trauma such as yours. And yes, it’s a trauma- which means your person is likely having a time of it – integrating it back into your brain alongside the rest of your experiences.
This is a big one – overwhelming shame that it’s somehow about you. Maybe you also feel you let others down by not having a perfect life – that’s a self-defense mechanism because it removes you from your own pain. You’re hurting for someone else.
Shame usually shows up as a self-blame tactic: if I was more sexy, or if I was more fun, or younger they would be with me still. Stop that thought process as soon as it shows up because it’s not about you. At all.
The harder kind of shame is the kind that makes you feel unable to talk about what happened in your relationship. If it was something shocking to you, your shame around that experience might be preventing you from reaching out to others who might be able to support you right now.
If you don’t want to talk about it – that’s okay. But you should still reach out and not isolate yourself. You can ask for help in the way you need it – and people will show up.
If you’re not ready to be “exposed” you can say, “I can’t talk about it yet, but I could use your support.” Literally dictate what you want – “I want you to come and sit with me and not talk.” A lot of people will show up for you and love you and understand you if you trust them enough to – and much more than you might guess. I know it’s scary – so don’t rush it until you’re ready. Just know that once you own something, you can get to healing much faster.
2. Play-Dumb / Downplay
Denial and minimizing the danger in the world is necessary to function as a human. You can’t take in all the possible danger because then you’d never leave the house – so this is a normal reaction.
Also, if you’re finding out something scary and potentially devastating, it’s healthy to take in that info with a bit of hesitance. You naturally want to confirm the truth before reacting to something that feels impossible.
So at the beginning of an experience like this, denial or avoiding the truth in all its glory is a normal thing to do. The worse the news is, the more likely you are going to be avoiding confronting it – why? Because it’s impossible to take that in all at once. It might destroy you.
My only cautioning would be if you are far past the initial learning of this information and find yourself unable to confront it. You might want to seek some help in the form of a therapist. Because this has to come out of you at some point, and if you’re pushing it down – you’re carrying a very very heavy weight that will bring down your happiness and ability to function – in all parts of your life. You can’t go on like that, nor should you.
I know how you feel – why you’re doing that. Because it’s terrifying to think about looking at this. There’s too much to feel and it’s too scary. Don’t be afraid – you can get yourself a great amount of help and you will do it a little bit at a time. And at the end of it you will feel reborn and amazing. You will be happy and alive and vibrant. Just start by seeking out some form of support- like a therapist or a help group. Or even just one friend you can talk to and feel safe. Start there – and walk slow.
3. Role Play
Acting out what the person “wanted” that was not you. It’s crazy I know, but sometimes we run into the fire to feel comfortable with it, so if this person left you for someone based on what you perceive to be something you lacked, you might feel compelled to act out whatever it is they wanted somehow. It might feel like an itch of curiosity or a craving for information – what is it that they wanted? I can be that – ha, I am that.
If this is happening to you, become aware of it – and back away. Be disciplined about examining your reasons. Ask yourself: what is the motive for this act? Is this what’s best for me and my happiness or is this coming from a different place?
You don’t want to do anything that you will regret in the future. Also, you must be self-protective. So often when these feelings take over, you are driven toward acts that are not in alignment with good self-care. You need to be loving to yourself and your values. You must covet and protect your heart, especially now. So be vigilant about being honest with yourself. Do what your best thinking tells you, especially right now.
4. Grossy Gross Gross-out
or, Total repulsion to all potential relationships to come. If you got burned by someone you trusted, you are likely to be completely devoid of a want of anyone else coming near you. You might even be repulsed by everyone of the same gender. That’s to be expected when you are violated. Intimacy requires trust – so if yours has been shattered, you are going to be unable to envision regrowing it from scratch. It’s not for you to think about now. Maybe you will fall in love and trust that person completely, and maybe you won’t. But either way your life will be wonderful and happy – and you will have trust in that life.
If love or sex or a relationship feels terrifying from here, yeah! That makes sense. You’re putting together a new castle block by block – so why even jump to “is someone gonna spend eternity here with me?” But to answer any fears or doubts, you will absolutely recover and one day be able to love and trust another person. But don’t go there, now!
5. Opposites Attract
If you got burned really bad, you might suddenly be attracted to the opposite gender. Because hey, something life changing just happened and your vision of the world has shifted. Your truth has changed- so that might shift what you are attracted to in others. Don’t be freaked out – it’s normal. It doesn’t mean you might change your mind again about that later – but let it be. Just honor how you feel – allow what needs to – to come out of you and don’t be frightened by it. You’ve been through something big, and now’s the time to allow yourself to be soothed. Just be gentle with yourself.
6. Stalkery Obsession
This is one that you might suffer from against your own best thinking. Needing and obsessing about information about the betrayers acts of betrayal. Gross, right? Yet you’re investigating like a private detective. Why? You’re trying to get grounded in reality and as of now – there are a lot of gaping holes, so this process is really about your brain needing to make sense of your version of the story vs. the truth. It’s to get oriented.
Your going through a library of your past experiences and weighing them against your own experiences to see how much of your reality can be trusted. The tough part is – this keeps you from healing. You should be focusing on your life moving forward – not the other person. So I know it’s tough, but you’ve got to curb your desire to seek this out. You have to look at yourself and what – in you – needs attention, if anything.
If there are issues that blocked you from seeing this coming, now’s the time to examine those and understand yourself. If there are habits that possibly made you ignore your life and your needs – now is the time you need to focus on those needs more. Make you and your feelings your focus and priority. Not the other person’s. This is about you getting to the bottom of you.
If you’ve been all about someone else’s thoughts and feelings for your whole life, that’s from childhood. It’s got a source – so now’s the time to seek it out.
5. Crazy-Making Waves
Denial is the first stage you might go through because it’s too much to take in and comprehend at once. Just too much. After that you might find that you get little bits and pieces of powerful emotions and realizations – like the truth will hit you at a million miles an hour, hard in the face. Then it will subside and you will feel something different.
Think of it like a pressure cooker – your body and brain, to protect you, will only allow a little bit to hit you at once. So you won’t experience more than in safe for you – at one time. So if you’re not feeling any sadness yet, that makes sense. You can’t rush the feelings. They come at their own time.
Because the feelings of each stage of realization are powerful, you must be diligent about taking care of yourself and not pushing yourself too hard. It’s like a physical purge of sorts – there are toxins moving through your body – so take it slow. Don’t “twist the knife” because you think it’s going to speed along your acceptance of reality and advance you through this mourning stage. That’s not healthy, or helpful for that matter. Allow yourself to rest, allow yourself to heal in as balanced a way as possible. Keep yourself “safe” and supported. You will heal as quickly as possible as long as you are taking diligent care of yourself and acting in your own best interests. Surrounding yourself with support.
6. Yearning for Your Missing Half
Outside of any of the gory or hard to swallow details – you are still experiencing the loss of someone you loved. That is something you will experience much like a death – it is a traumatic loss – of a person and your whole way of life built around them.
So whether or not you “should” miss them, your mourning the loss of this person is valid and real. They have left a gaping hole. You are allowed to feel that pain as a separate thing – if it helps, separate it in your mind when it comes up and think of it as a symbolic death. I also suggest a ritual of sorts to say goodbye. Like lighting a candle and saying farewell to the person you knew. The person you saw and loved.
Don’t be angry with yourself, and don’t disregard all of your relationship past as stupid or a waste – because it was not. Your life is real. Your experience is real. It has worth and weight. You don’t have to disregard all that was – because it was real in your experience. It was not just a lie. It existed.
Right now you’re going through a trauma that will shift your feelings in all different directions: you’re healing from a wound caused by shock. And you’re mourning a loss. But your life before this happened was not “invalidated” by this. All that is happening now is change.
6. Intense Anger / Rage
This is a later stage in processing so take it as a sign you’re healing nicely. It means you have understood the reality of what has happened and you are moving through the awareness and accepting it. Which is good – you should feel anger, that’s a self-loving healthy reaction to have.
Because a lot of the time, anger doesn’t feel “natural” to us – you might be totally unaware of the emotion inside of you. You might be burying it in self-blame subconsciously to protect yourself from it because it’s scary – yikes, anger is volatile and unpleasant – and you really don’t want to feel it.
If you’re in the self-blame mode, I think it’s helpful to coach yourself into the anger. Literally journal about it, focus on the fact that you are precious and vulnerable and this other person really fucked you up. What the hell?! You don’t deserve this?! This is not your mess – this has been done to you, not by you – and you deserve better damn it! There I got you started. Carry on!
If you were abused as a kid, you’re waaay more likely to be afraid to get mad – to even go near that emotion – especially if the person who abused you is still in your life. So I recco you go see a therapist or read a book or get to a help group. Or all three!
In general, I won’t say expect – but be okay with feeling at random times – shock, horror, rage – and also love and sadness – there are a lot of different emotions that exist related to this experience and a lot of them contradict.
Everyone heals at a different pace. Sometimes these feelings come up right away, sometimes they take their sweet time. So just accept whatever comes up – and don’t judge it. It’s working its way out – almost like a bad cold.
The most important point is, don’t hate on yourself even when you don’t understand yourself. You’ve got to have your own back, and hold your own hand if you need to take a walk. Or get yourself some hot tea if you just want to quietly rest. Especially right now.
If you’re thinking – “Well this sucks…” I offer you this perspective.
Often when an event in our life confronts us it brings into sharp focus a whole mess of issues that are not dealt with in ourselves. Things we never looked at – because we had someone else to bury them in. If this might be you – this is a rare and very powerful opportunity. You have a window of growth than many can cannot reach – ever in their lives. Because it cannot be fabricated.
It has been dropped like an anvil into your lap and so you cannot ignore it – so know that it is a gift. A rare one that you should very much take – and learn whatever it is you have to learn about who you are and what in you might need some love and care. I personally, highly recommend it – because just past all that self-work and self-discovery comes a high like no other. It’s like you discover SUPER YOU has been tangled inside an outdated costume that doesn’t fit anymore – and finally you burst out of yourself ALIVE and FREE and full of joy and gratitude that you’ve never ever felt before. It’s a gift in a very heavy disguise.
Part 3: Moving forward: what do I do now?
Go with the flow and embrace yourself. For this window of time in your life, you are going to need to be selfish compared to the past you. Focus inward. You need to pour all your focus into you – soothing you and growing more “you.”
I like to picture it like you’re an atom that just split, and now you’ve got to “find your shape” again, minus this other person. There’s a lot of stuff that needs to be rebuilt and put into a new, fresh order. And that takes time. I have two simple tools for you right now: the first is a mantra.
1. Get comfortable with ugly.
I recommend to you that you embrace wherever you are at any given time: literally yell it out to the world, own it. Get comfortable with it. Because shit is real! Sometimes you just have to fall apart and look ugly and cry really loud. That’s okay. Fall apart. Cough those tears out, then get back up and go back to work.
2. Keep moving.
It’s simple. Never stop moving. You cannot dwell here, you must continue to move forward – and progress. You cannot wallow, you must not enjoy your suffering. Because yes – you have a license to now. But throw that in the trash. And though the wallowing path seems easier now, it gets harder and harder as you go. You must keep moving on with your life – and grow into who you are – as you. Which is quite amazing and wonderful.
Before I end this I have something very important that I want you to really think on, and hear.
Do not begin to talk yourself out of the value of your own life experience. It hasn’t been denigrated, nor has the happiness you’ve lived lost its truth. Your life exists as proof of that. It doesn’t matter when or how the tides changed – because the truth is, you will never know exactly what happened or why– and when it comes to the other person, it is a very dense sea of grey. What I mean is, there’s no one reason or one time or one action that made this happen. It’s a layering of history and present and it’s intricate – beyond your ability and responsibility to decipher. Most importantly, it’s not your fault and it’s not because of you. This person has their own stuff and they are acting based on it. That’s all you need to know. Because regardless of the reasons – this had to happen, and you can’t go back to the way things were. And I know that is a painfully large multivitamin to swallow.
Change will always be scary and foreign and uncomfortable – but it will not be bad. You are at a beginning of a growth spurt. You are changing so quickly that it feels unwanted. To be forced into such dramatic change is very traumatic – but very soon you will regain your balance, and day by day you will feel more joy and excitement. One day soon you will know who you are and what you want and maybe even whom you want. What is most important is that you keep your awareness of that truth. That you maintain your faith in that day’s existence. You must confirm to yourself your life’s value – and your own strength – by continuing to take care of yourself and gently pushing yourself to bravely grow.
This is not a sob story to define your future and past. This is simply a fork in the road. And though it is jarring, it is not the end of your happiness – it is the beginning. You will feel much joy in your future – and it will be of a different shade. It will be a much richer one – likely – than you could have ever imagined. I believe that, 100% without a doubt.
In closing, the truth is whatever you’re feeling right now it’s normal. It’s not the end of your life story and it’s not forever. Right now: this is you-time. It’s not for anyone else. And that is so nice and wonderful – just to be you, with you – celebrating all that is you. So enjoy this time in your life. Savor it. Know that it will not be forever, but it is a treasure to be in your company. You are very lucky to have you.
I hope this helped in some way and that you liked this, and as always, write to me if you have requests – smile lovely friends!
xox Sarah-May B.
Featured image via Flickr