Dealing With the Immediate Aftermath

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?

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

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.

The Waves of Emotions

When you’re going through a breakup you’re going to be hit by waves of emotions. Waves turn out to be the perfect metaphor for several reasons. Think of yourself as swimming in the ocean and as an emotion as an approaching wave.

When you’re in the ocean and a wave approaches from out in the sea like emotions there’s not much you can do about the wave itself. It’s coming at you, it’s going to reach you, and all you have control over is how you respond, not whether or not it hits you.

If you stay calm, present and you’re looking at the right place, you can see the wave approach. If you’re still caught up in the previous wave or you’re not calm, you won’t see the next wave approach you.

You cannot fight a wave.

You can hold your breath, and dive under it, and if it wasn’t about to break, you’ll pop up on the other side. You’ll be somewhat out of breath, but you’ll have survived. This corresponds to choosing when to grieve and when not to grieve. You can only keep doing this if you maintain awareness and present-mindedness.

You can try ignoring the wave. But it will either swallow you or smack you down. Leaving you disoriented and confused. This corresponds with being emotionally unaware.

You can anticipate the wave, and float up with it as it goes up, and float down with it as it goes down. This only works if it’s not about to break. This correspond with being emotionally aware.

If it’s about to break, and you’re calm and aware, you can position yourself in order to surf the wave. Depending on how good a surfer you are and how powerful the wave is, you can successfully surf the wave. This corresponds with actively dealing and exploring your emotions.



How to stop thinking you’ll get back together

From Chaz in Mexico:

I am on a really good path to becoming a better man, we broke up two months ago after 7 years together. I am physically and mentally ok. The only problem is this hunch and gut feeling that I will end up marrying her and making my life with her. How can I stop this?

Way to go on getting on the right path.

This is a lingering feeling which I remember having. It’s the feeling that leads guys astray and makes them break no contact.

The way I recommend dealing with any emotion is one of Diversion & Immersion. Let me explain.Continue Reading

My first love left me for someone else

From Brian in the US:

I am trying so hard to stop communicating with my ex. Your articles are very helpful. I feel so “weak”. I am 45 years old and my ex was my first love. I was married for 25 years right out of high school, so when I got divorced I have never been with anyone else. My curent ex was my 2nd date, first true love, and I am suffering. The break up occured 4 months ago, when she went back to her ex, but she has never missed a day contacting me still saying I’m her best friend, she loves me, and meets for sex on occassion although her partner does not know about it. She has a lot of pride so she cant admit that she made a mistake going back to him. She calls me as soon as she gets in the car to drive to work, text me all day long, calls on her way home from work, and moves to emails when she gets home telling me good night before she gets into bed with HIM, and starts the process over. I am tortured and its my own fault. I love her more than anything. It’s killing me and hurting all area’s of my life. I guess I didnt have a questions as much as I need someone to help me. I’m truly suffering.

Hey Brian, thanks for sharing your story. There are certain factors that make a breakup extra painful:

  • The longer the relationship, generally the more painful the breakup
  • If it was your first love
  • If she leaves you for someone else
  • Not sticking to no contact
  • Your ex-girlfriend giving you a false sense of hope

You mention each and every one of these factors in your story. I’m not surprised you say you are truly suffering.

The length of your relationship, the fact it was your first one and her choices thereafter, are beyond your control. They are the starting conditions we need to accept. The other two, however: no contact and her giving you hope, are two things we can have some control over.

Your pain is understandable, but your behavior is exacerbating the situation. You need to stop listening to what she is telling you with her words and start listening to what she is telling you with her actions.

Regardless what she tells you, she’s with another man. She would have to be devoid of any emotion not to still feel some level of affection to you. But unwittingly, she’s hurting you by still showing that affection, because she’s giving you hope. She’s giving you a reason to hold on. Her action tells you that although she still cares about you, she wants to be with another man now.

Not sticking to no contact is fuelling your pain. Every interaction with her is firing up all the memories and emotions in your brain, keeping them fresh and in the foreground. Every word she says you’re over analyzing and finding reasons to be hopeful. The pain we cannot change – the suffering we can.

You need to get to your tipping point. Where you decide that no one person is worth this much pain. Where you assume that you will never get back together again. What she’s doing right now is not fair to you. If she wants to be with another man, she needs to own that decision and take responsibility for the consequences. Right now she’s being unfair to you and you need to protect yourself from that.

Regardless if there is hope for you guys in the future or not, your working assumption must be that there isn’t. Because any alternative involves being in touch with her and thinking about her. Both will exacerbate the pain you’re feeling and will continue to fuel your suffering.

You need to tell her you’re initiating no contact and that you’d like her to respect that decision. You need to be strict in this – and it’s going to be very hard. You need to start reaching out to your support network and make sure you have friends and family on standby. And lastly, you need to start exercising if you aren’t already.

All this can only happen if you reach your tipping point. If you catch yourself talking to her again. Looking for signs to be hopeful again. Realize, that only if YOU DECIDE that at some point the pain is not worth it anymore. Only when you decide to assume it will never work out again can you start on your path to recovery.

Best of luck my man, we all feel for you!

Your different personalities

Have you ever felt a certain way about something only later to completely lose that feeling and even to have a hard time remembering how you felt in the first place. Sometimes you’re motivated to do something and it seems to happen automatically. Other times it seems like a chore, like an uphill battle. What’s the difference? I don’t necessarily have an answer to that question but I’ve learnt a different way of looking at this phenomenon.

The way I look at it is that you as a person do not comprise of just one personality. Rather, you possess different personalities which live along side one another. These personalities can have different, yet compatible, motivations that express themselves at different times. Sometimes, however, these motivations are opposed to one another and put you at odds with yourself.

Sometimes I’ll be in more of a lazy, laid back, mood. I won’t feel like pursuing the goals I’ve set out when I was in a more focused, ambitious mood. I used to resent those feelings and fight those moods. I used to hate my laziness and scold my inability to retain focus. Now I look at those things differently.

One of my personalities is a laid back Jesse. This laid back Jesse believes life isn’t just about rushing yourself and working non-stop at the expense of forgetting the current moment. This Jesse won’t often dictate my mood, but on occasion, her is.

I used to fight this version of myself, but more recently I have learnt to embrace him. I have learnt to relish in his idiosyncrasies. Much like embracing your emotions, embracing your personalities is a useful mindset to adopt.

When I’m feeling laid-back-Jesse, I no longer impose ambitious-Jesse’s goals on myself. Conversely, when I’m feeling ambitious-Jesse, chilling out just isn’t what I’m in the mood for.

This is a mindset which give me peace of mind and allows me to leverage each personality’s strengths and deal with the weaknesses.

People, whether they know it or not, often think in these terms already. When someone says “part of me wants…” they’re labelling their different personalities and their personality’s moods.

Thinking back to my breakup, I remember part of me feeling pissed off, part of me feeling relieved and part of my feeling incredibly sad and alone. These feelings would flare up, sometimes one after the other, sometimes at the same time.

Looking back, it feels as if I had multiple personalities with their associated emotions that were surfacing in waves.

Recognizing and labelling those personalities allows you to better understand them, and distance yourself from them.

No contact when you work together

Hey Jesse,
I love your website and have started to really get into the reading. I am coming out of a 7 year relationship and it is truly horrible. I have a particular problem, we work together. We own a company together. I know if I could cut off all contact for 6 months I would heal and move on. But that is not really possible with our business.

What advice do you have?

Thanks,

Dave

Sometimes no contact does not apply: when you have children together, when you’re living together, or in your case – when you have a business together.

There are two points I’d like to make.

First, beware of what you label impossible, for it might just become impossible by virtue of you thinking it. From what it sounds like, it’s not impossible to go no contact. In your case it might mean neglecting your business for 6 months, which in turn might mean its demise. You might not want that – which is understandable – but don’t label it impossible.

Viewing something as impossible closes all doors and leaves no room for creativity. The goal here is to move on, not no contact in and of itself. No contact just happens to be an effective means of moving towards that goal.

It really depends on the details of your situation and your business, but maybe you and your ex can take turns running the business by yourselves for 3 months on end while the other takes a sabbatical. That would require some coordination and wouldn’t strictly be no contact, but you could get pretty close. Perhaps both have a friend or relative fill in during your 3 month shift, thereby allowing each other the room to heal and move on.

Maybe the relationship soured and its time to move on emotionally as well as professionally. Maybe this is the perfect moment to close down the business which is the last tie holding you guys together. Maybe this is your opportunity to finally start out for yourself.

In any case, this is not an impossible situation where you cannot remove yourself from a situation where you see your ex on a daily basis. You have to ask yourself: “How important is getting over this for me?”. Because if it’s not that important, you just keep doing what you’re doing.

That brings me to my second point: contact minimization. If you cannot disengage completely and stick to no contact, you must minimize contact as much as possible. Those moments that you are required to see your ex and interact with her, you make sure you behave your absolute best. No being depressed, no resentment and no small talk. Be civil, professional and courteous. We’re taking the high road here. Not for her, but for you. So you can look back and be proud of how you handled yourself. Save the emotions for later.

At the same time, don’t pretend you’re happy if you’re not. The key here is behaving how your best self would behave. When in doubt, ask yourself that very question: How would my best self behave? It will tend to give you an answer, which when followed, you will not regret later on.

So, in summary. Be creative in your recovery. Don’t limit yourself by labeling things impossible. Minimize contact if you cannot eradicate it, but always, always remain civil. You will want to give in to the sadness, the resentment, the disbelief. But trust me, you will feel so much better if you don’t and pull through.

Good luck my man!

I’m Going No Contact, Now What?

No Contact Now What?From a reader:

Hey Jesse!
My girlfriend and I had been dating on and off for about 3 and a half years, now that we are both about to go off to college things got stressful and we started fighting much more. She broke it off, and has never seemed to look back. The times I have seen her she literally has not cared a inch about me wanting to get back together or anything along those lines. She is also talking to mutiple guys and I’m confused how she got over it so fast. Since I’m not going to school yet It’s really hard for me to meet anyone new. We hung out one night, and everything was like it was before, and the next morning we woke up and she told me “this doesn’t change anything” and then told me she didn’t want to be in a relationship and drove away. Since then I told her I couldn’t be friends with her anymore and she hasn’t tried to contact me in anyway and seems fine talking to other guys. (No contact for about a week and half now) What to do?

Hey man, thanks for sharing your story. I’m sure a lot of readers can relate to the feelings of confusion, and abandonment you must be feeling. I’ve written about how ex-girlfriends move on so fast in the past, so I suggest you start by checking out that post.

If you’re in a relationship and one or both of you are about to go to college, or are about to finish college, you’re in for a major relationship test. A lot of relationships don’t pass the stress test and dissolve. All that usually means is that they weren’t built to last in the first place.

Think about it. If you can’t hold the relationship together when you’re both about to go to college, what about finding a job, getting kids, becoming sick? These are all stress tests on the relationship, and if you fail one the first ones, you should be grateful you’re getting this information now, and not after having invested more time into the relationship.

You might not be able to fully appreciate this right now, but it seems she is putting the past behind her, you should too.

I think it’s GREAT you said you can’t be friends anymore. You’re absolutely right, I don’t think you can. But you can’t just say it, and hope for her to contact you (that’s what it sounds like you’re doing). You have to LIVE it. You have to fully accept that things are over, you have to commit to continuing now as a new, bachelor version of yourself.

It might be hard to meet new people right now, but is it impossible? It sounds to me like something you should be doing, even though it might feel hard and strenuous at the moment. And that touches on a critical point. You need to get into the habit of doing what you know you should be doing.

You need to get into the habit of doing what you know you should be doing.

What would your life look like if you had never met her but at the same time you had the most awesome, amazing life? What would you be doing? What hobbies would you have, what people would you interact with?

Take that picture, of your ideal bachelor life, and start growing towards it.

Here are my three favorite pieces of advice you can start off with:

  1. Strictly no contact
  2. Lift weights/run
  3. Do radically new things