Acknowledging your feelings

Throughout the aftermath of your breakup you will feel a wide range of emotions. Some will be more overwhelming than others and some will be less pleasant than others.

Our goal is to process these emotions and learn the lessons they are here to teach us. To accomplish that we must strive to acknowledge our emotions when they occur. It is far too easy to lose awareness, and get caught up in the emotions themselves or in our reactions to them.

When we forget or refuse to acknowledge an emotion, we create more suffering for ourselves.

If we refuse to acknowledge we are angry, our anger will not wane and we will remain angry for a longer time.

We must peal back all the layers of the emotional onion we are feeling.

During my most recent breakup, on multiple occasions I would feel anger swell up. I was aware of all the lessons and technique which I try to teach here, but still I managed to lose my awareness.

I was aware of the anger, but since I didn’t want to be angry, I told myself that I wasn’t going to be angry.

I only realized later that in doing so, I was making a value judgment towards the anger I was feeling. I felt it was a petty, primitive emotion that I shouldn’t be feeling.

I did not see this value judgment for what it was, another layer of emotion on top of the underlying anger. It caused me to suppress my anger and gave rise to a longer-term background level of frustration.

Only when I realized this, was I able to allow myself to feel angry but also allow myself to not want to feel angry at the same time.

Acknowledging your emotions becomes more difficult when there are multiple layers of emotions involved and they contradict one another.

Whenever you catch yourself feeling something, bring your awareness to it. What is it you’re feeling? What label can you put on this feeling? Is there any judgment attached to it? If so, always shine the light of your awareness on the judgment. What label can you put on it?

Awareness

A large part, if not the most part, of our behavior is guided by our unconsciousness. Who we are attracted to, when we get mad, what we think about something — we don’t get to *choose* to do any of those things. Even though we have some control over our thoughts, our default mode is an unconscious autopilot mode.

If I could impart on you one thing only, it would be the concept of awareness. Awareness, consciousness, mindfulness are all related terms and together form the paradigm that allows us to become self-correcting in our thoughts and behaviors.

If we want to self-correct, we need to know what it is that we want to correct. We need to be able to label our emotions, and for that, we need consciousness. We need to become *aware* of our emotions.

In the field of psychology a model that is widely used to characterize the states one must go through to learn a new behavior is referred to as the four stages of competence. This model is useful for us as well as it shows us where awareness becomes valuable. The stages are:

1. Unconscious incompetence: You don’t know how to do something, and you don’t recognize the deficit.
2. Conscious incompetence: You don’t know how to do something, but you are able to recognize the deficit.
3. Conscious competence: You know how to do something, but there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
4. Unconscious competence: You know how to do something and it has become second nature.

On the path to learning any new skill or behavior we start as Unconsciously Incompetent. We are unaware of what we could be doing better and do not recognize the benefit of acquiring the skill to do so.

It is only by becoming aware of what you are doing and recognizing that you could be doing something differently, that you are able to make the step from unconscious incompetence to Conscious Incompetence. You still don’t know how to do something, but now you are aware that there is room for improvement.

This awareness allows you to focus on improving and self-correcting which can lead you to becoming more competent at the skill or behavior. In order to reach this level of competency, however, it is requires you to consciously think through every step as you take them. You have become Consciously Competent.

After enough practice the skill or behavior will slowly become second nature and you will be able to perform it without actively thinking about what you are doing. It is at this stage that you’ve become Unconsciously Competetent.

As long as you remain unconscious of an emotion or behavior, you will be powerless to change it. It is through awareness that we can change our behavior and grow.

Take responsibility for your own happiness

One of the natural reactions to adversity is viewing yourself as the victim of some external circumstance.

We find ourselves in pain and ask “what caused this?” The answer, invariably, is something external.

Often, however, the pain we feel is caused, in part, by ourselves. Or at least, propagated by ourselves.

No one is going to make you happy. It’s no one’s job, except yours. Your most important job is making sure you’re happy.

Blaming others or external circumstances for your misery, is not going to lead to your happiness. Blaming keeps you stuck in victimhood, because blame implies there is a victim.

Instead, choose to stop investing time in those things that are outside of your control and take responsibility for those things that are.

Start with taking 1% responsibility.

Nothing can change until you take responsibility for your own happiness. Break the habit of feeling 100% victim and start by taking 1% responsibility.

Reaching your tipping point

You may be reading this and still very much feel in love with your ex-girlfriend. There may have been many signs that would indicate that the relationship is over and she wants nothing to do with you.

Yet you cannot let go. You understand intellectually that it’s just chemicals gushing through your brain, but it’s more powerful than that. Your subjective truth is more powerful than the objective truth.

So you continue to pursue her. You continue to initiate contact. You look at her pictures on Facebook. You attempt to reconnect and rekindle the flame that was lost.

You end up repeatedly tearing open the same old wounds, never allowing them to heal.

Part of you wants to move on, but a larger, stronger, part of you refuses to. It’s protesting. It’s holding on.

I can only help you once that that part of you that wants to move on has enough resolve, enough clarity and enough determination to say: enough is enough.

In order to start to recover, you must reach your tipping point.

Your tipping point is the point you reach when you realize that you cannot continue to put yourself through this pain. It is the moment you realize that no one person is worth all this pain.

Your tipping point is also the point at which you decide that you, and you alone, are responsible for your own happiness. It is not up to others or one single person to provide you with happiness. You derive happiness by taking responsibility, not by giving it away.

It is the point you give up hope, you give up fighting and only sadness remains.

You are ill-equipped to deal with grief

Grief is the normal reaction to a loss of any kind. The feelings you are having are normal and natural.

However, in a society where we are increasingly conditioned to expect instant solutions — usually pharmaceutical ones — few people know what to do with these feelings, let alone how to help others that are experiencing them.

Grief is the most neglected and misunderstood experience, often by both the griever and those around them.

—Grief Recovery Handbook

The reality is, it hurts. And only when we take the time to acknowledge — and if necessary, explore — our pain, do we reap the benefits of coming out the other end as a stronger person.

We are taught many unhelpful things about grief, some of which are even counterproductive because they fail to communicate the single most important message:

It’s okay to feel the way you feel.

Here are some of them:

1. “Don’t feel bad” — Message: If you do feel bad, that’s not okay.
2. “Replace the loss” — Message: There’s more fish in the sea, if you get hung up on this one, that’s not okay.
3. “Grieve alone” — Message: You should be able to process your grief by yourself, if not, that’s not okay.
4. “Just give it time” — Message: If you feel sad, it’s just because you haven’t waited long enough.
5. “Be strong for others” — Message: It’s not okay to be sad.
6. “Keep busy” — Message: It’s not okay to listen to your emotions.

Your friends and family are ill-prepared to help you deal with your loss

Most people around us, although well-meaning, have no successful grief recovery experiences to share. They often unintentionally encourage us to act recovered. {James:2009tm}

They don’t know what to say. Even a well-meaning friend who has had a parallel loss does not know how you feel.

  1. They’re afraid of our feelings.
  2. They try to change the subject
  3. They intellectualize
  4. They don’t hear us

 

Source: the Grief Recovery Handbook

This can be harder on you than on her

Generally, the initiator of the breakup has an easier time getting over the relationship.

If you’re reading this, more often than not, you’re not the initiator. So that will make things a bit harder on you.

The main reason has to do with breakups not coming out of the blue. The initiator, on some level, has been contemplating the breakup for a longer time. This level of preparation allows them to move on quicker.

Secondly, men are often more dependent on their partners. As a rule, men tend to have fewer ties to relatives and friends.

So while your ex-girlfriend might have a network of friends and family that are able to support her during these times, you may be much more on your own. Another reason this may be harder on you than on her.

Your pain may be rooted in old wounds you did not know about

Growing up as children we are constantly observing the world around us, absorbing it, and learning what lessons we need to learn to help us to prepare for the road ahead.

So too with attachment. We look to our parents to teach us what love looks like and how to participate in it.

What we learn at this time goes on to form an unconscious framework which determines who we fall in love with as adults.

If there was pain involved during your childhood lessons on love and attachment, you may now, as an adult, associate love with pain.

You may then seek out relationships that resemble what you learnt to be love, but in reality you’re also seeking out pain — because it’s all you know.

So too, when the relationship ends, you will not fall back on a cushion of self-acceptance and unconditional love, unless that’s the type of environment you grew up in.

Instead, you may feel scared and deeply hurt, as you did as a child.

So in effect, a relationship breakup as an adult has brought back childhood wounds you were not aware of.

Feelings disguised as facts

If you say “She is the only one I could ever love,” you feel it is true. This statement is a feeling disguised as a fact. [1]

When certain thoughts are played over and over again inside your head, the associated beliefs become deeper ingrained and the association with emotions becomes stronger.

The strength of these emotions or the familiarity of these stories have no bearing whatsoever on whether or not they represent an actual truth.

By becoming conscious of these cycles, we can break out of them.

First, through reason and empirical evidence.

Based on what we observe in the world, through our senses, we formulate a theory that is consistent with those observations, and arrive at a reasonable understanding of what is actually true.

This is how scientists have come to understand the world. Because reality is logical and consistent, we are able to observe it and formulate theories about it which can be successfully applied to the whole of reality.

We cannot arrive at truth through emotions — even though we very often think we do.

I remember a Skype conversation with my mother during my breakup. I was in a deep and dark place at the time and I called her up in tears. I could not stop crying. I remember saying about my ex-girlfriend: “Mom, she’s my soulmate.”

At the time, I “knew” this to be true. She “was” my soulmate, there wasn’t a cell in my body that doubted it.

It turned out, however, not to be the case.

I, like many others, had arrived at a supposed truth through emotion rather than reason and evidence. There was no evidence to back up my case.

“I know whether or not someone is my soulmate,“ you might say, “without needing an argument to support that claim.”

This, however, is circular logic. You know she is your soulmate. How do you know that? Well, because you know it.

The fact you feel something to be true, has no bearing on whether it is actually true.

Examine the evidence.

[1]: I Can Mend Your Broken Heart. (2016). I Can Mend Your Broken Heart. Hay House.

Distortion of Time (Infant time)

One difficult you may have experienced is that certain feelings — your longing for your ex in particular — can unexpectedly overwhelm you. It is easier to come to terms with these cases if we come to a better understanding why we feel overwhelmed.

Your longing for your ex is linked to the longing you felt as a small child for your mother. Both are governed by the same biological processes in your body and in your brain.

Feeling this longing as a grown up can bring you back to this visceral, childhood feeling. Not only that, but you may experience this feeling as the child would have.

Young children are known to have a very limited concept of time and are routinely overwhelmed by their emotions.

You too may become overwhelmed by your longing for your ex-partner and, in that moment, may lose any concept of time you may have had.

Howard Halpern from “How to break your addiction to a person” calls this longing “Attachment Hunger” and the childhood emotional state “Infant Time.” Here’s an excerpt from his book:

Since attachment hunger is an early childhood memory, when it is dominant it places you, in effect, on Infant Time, and Infant Time is a very different dimension from adult time.

These distortions in time can make you more aware of the early childhood origins of Attachment Hunger than almost any other experience.

But the paradox is that once Attachment Hunger has taken hold, you do not know that you are distorting! You need to get at least one foot on solid ground outside the Attachment Hunger state to see time in more mature perspective, and to recognize how you are misshaping it.

Like Halpern suggests, we need one foot on solid ground to see what’s going on. This is where awareness and mindfulness can help us out.

Does she really love this new guy?

Getting dumped and having your ex-girlfriend leave you for another guy is the most painful thing I have ever experience and many of the guys that have commented on this blog would probably agree with me.

One question that I’ve heard these guys ask, more often than once, is: “Does she really love this new guy?”

My answer is, perhaps, slightly surprising.

First, let’s observe the premise. After all, is this even a valid or useful question to be asking?

First of all, are you ever going to get a clear, definitive, fact-based answer to this question? Let me answer that for you: probably not. Is there, then, some type of non-fact based, non-definitive answer that you’re going to be satisfied with? Again: no, most likely not.

Second of all, we need to look at what lies at the epicenter of the question. Is it you, and your feelings? Or is it her, and her feelings? In this case it’s the latter. But we know that it’s important, during and after a breakup, to keep the focus on ourselves. It is what we know, it is what we can control. Worrying about things that are beyond out control, drive us mad.

Question every question.

Is this question on the path towards self-reflection, self-exploration and ultimately growth? Or is on the path of continued victimhood, reverence of your ex-girlfriend and the perpetuation of the pain cycle you find yourself in.

Instead, experiment with a different mindset.

Treat the question not as a question to be answered. Instead, treat the question as a feeling.

Instead of looking for the answer to whether or not she loves this guy, embrace whatever sentiment it is that you feel that led to the question in the first place.

Observe and acknowledge in yourself that right now you feel like you want to know whether or not she loves the guy. Perhaps you feel scared that you may lose her forever if she really does. Or perhaps you feel that it’s true and that knowing would give you closure.

Your question can be a feeling disguised as a question.

Embrace it as a feeling and you may find yourself no longer in need of an answer.