Do you miss her, or do you miss how she made you feel?

Missing our former partner may be the most defining emotion we experience after the end of a relationship. It’s absolutely natural to miss someone, especially if that person played a large role in our lives. And it’s also natural for this feeling to come and go rather unexpectedly. The end of the relationship also means this person, who we are often still in love with, is absent from all the areas of our lives where we had grown so accustomed to their presence. Every time we are confronted with one of those areas, we are once again faced with the loss of that person. And one way in which loss manifests itself is in a feeling of missing the other person.

Although missing someone is both a natural and a common thing to experience after a relationship has come to an end there is more to this feeling than simply missing someone’s presence. As usual it’s helpful to drill down deeper into our emotions and find out what exactly what it is that we believe we’re missing.

Imagine we could wave a wand and make the person you miss appear right in front of you this very minute.

*Poof*.

The person you miss and probably still love is now here. But let’s also imagine that you do not feel loved and you do not feel fulfilled at all, even though they are right there with you.

Is this the situation you wanted? Is this what you were missing?

The answer is undoubtedly no. You don’t miss the person for the sake of the person. You miss the feelings that you have come to associate with their presence. You may miss feeling loved, feeling understood, feeling supported. It just so happens that you experienced those things with this one person so you’ve been conditioned to equate the person you miss with the feelings that you long for. This is normal. We are fundamentally driven by our emotional states. We just fall into the trap of attributing those emotional states to objects and people.

What feelings exactly do you miss?

Let’s go one step further.

Imagine the same scenario as before, where the person you miss is with you, but you feel unloved and unfulfilled. What scenario specifically do you need to imagine that makes you no longer miss them? Whatever that scenario may be, it tells us a lot about the needs that you have that lie underneath the surface-level feeling of “missing the person”. These are your unmet needs that you are projecting onto this person.

For the sake of this example, let’s assume you realize that you no longer miss your ex when you imagine them beside you showing you deep, loving affection. That brings us to the next question: How does them showing you deep, loving affection make you feel? What feeling is created inside of you that takes the place of the original feeling of missing them? 

In this example it might be that when you feel loved by them, then you no longer miss them. Okay, great! We’ve identified which feeling plays the central role here: it’s your feeling of being loved by someone else.

Let’s continue with the thought experiment. Let’s take that feeling you identified, a feeling of being loved by someone else. Imagine you could feel that feeling in the exact same way, but without the feeling being sparked by your ex, but by someone else instead. Are you able to imagine that?

Try not to think about who that person would need to be or where you would find or meet that person. Just focus on whether or not it’s possible that you could feel that same feeling. Again, are you able to imagine that?

If so, then ask yourself this: Do you miss your ex when you are imagining having this feeling? If the answer is no, then that’s another indication that what you are missing is not your ex as a person. Rather, you are missing how she made you feel. After all, when you imagine the feeling without the person, you no longer miss the person. And if you can imagine someone else making you feel the same way you did about your ex, you should (hopefully) realize that fundamentally these emotions you feel for this person aren’t tied to that person — they’re tied to you, and what you are missing is something inside of yourself.

If this isn’t really about them, then why does it always feel like it has everything to do with them?

In order to answer that question, there are a couple of things we may consider.

Reason 1: We don’t bother to drill down into our emotions

For one, it may feel like we miss them as a person simply because we haven’t bothered to investigate that emotion. If we don’t drill down into our emotions and question the beliefs they’re based on, we may find ourselves completely carried away, believing all kinds of things that are detached from any deeper, underlying truth.

For example, for a long time I believed I was lucky to have been born as a highly competitive person. That is, until I investigated my beliefs surrounding my competitiveness and I realized I was competing because at a very deep level I didn’t feel I would be good enough (and worthy of love) if I didn’t! If I never questioned my surface-level beliefs, I would never have learnt that this wasn’t how I was born, but something I internalized growing up.

If we believe our feelings of “missing them” indeed have to do with them, and we never bother to question that, then of course, the natural thing for us to do is to continue to believe our emotional experience has everything to do with that person.

Reason 2: Your ex — your brain’s go-to solution for the problem of feeling lonely

A second reason is that your relationship has come to represent a very strong and very recent association in your brain between pleasant feelings on the one hand, and the person you attribute those feelings to on the other. Throughout your relationship your brain has gotten used to associating those pleasant emotions with that person.

Take away the person, and in some sense you also take away the source of those pleasant emotions. Because this association exists, your brain knows it can restore those pleasant feelings by motivating you to pursue your partner.

Put differently, your brain’s go-to solution for the problem of ”not feeling loved“ is: your partner. And it’s a solution that works pretty well — that is, until you break up. That’s when it becomes painfully counterproductive. Even though it may be you brain’s go-to solution, it definitely doesn’t mean it’s the only solution — or even the best one — on offer. It just happens to be the solution your brain is the most used to bringing to your attention.

Reason 3: The evidence in your life paint a picture where love is rare

A third important reason may be your perception of alternatives. There may be many reasons why you may (incorrectly) perceive this person to be your only realistic chance at love. You may feel this way if, while growing up, you didn’t receive the affection you needed as a child. These feelings may be exacerbated if you haven’t had much success in the dating world, or by holding a belief that you are not attractive enough to find love again.

If you don’t have much evidence in your history that you are worthy of love you may believe — incorrectly —  that love is rare and any chance at it must be grabbed by both arms and held tightly. In a very real sense the love you felt with your ex feels like the love you’ve been waiting for your entire life. No wonder it feels impossible to let go! But feelings all too often disguise as truths and although they feel real — that doesn’t make them true.

We miss the feelings we experienced with our ex

The larger point here is that what we miss is not the person themselves, not the conversations themselves, not the company of the person themselves — what we miss is the emotional experience those things brought us. What we miss is the feeling of being loved, the feeling of being understood, the feeling of being cared for and the feeling of being desired.

In a relationship we become so accustomed to experiencing those pleasant emotions with our partners, we come to think of them as the only possible source for that emotional experience. We want to feel a sense of belonging, we want to feel loved and we want to feel understood. Since we felt those things most recently and most strongly with the person we were recently with, naturally we feel drawn to that person. Sadly, in our hopes of re-establishing those pleasant feelings we often turn a blind eye to all the negative aspects of the person and the relationship.

Why differentiate between the person and the emotions?

Drawing the distinction between missing the person and missing the emotions is not about making this person less special than they were to you. It’s more about being accurate about what we feel, and specifically about what lies at the root of those feelings. Reaching the root of our emotions also helps us decouple ourselves from this idea that we desperately need our exes. If we are able to imagine someone else meeting our emotional needs then we may realize our ex is not our only ticket to happiness.

“Do miss her, or do I just feel lonely?” and “Do I miss her, or do I miss the relationship?”

A final note about these questions, which are closely related to the main topic of this article. If you’re asking yourself a question like this, you probably sense that your surface-level feeling of missing this other person might not have everything to do with that other person. Although you’re correct to sense that — explanations suggesting you miss the relationship or that you are simply feeling lonely don’t go far enough.

Loneliness is a feeling which points to something else — something that’s missing. What are we missing when we feel lonely? When we experience loneliness we may be missing the feelings we associate with friendship, support, understanding or perhaps the joy of laughter.

When we feel we miss the relationship, we miss the emotions the relationship sparked within us. Possibly companionship, feeling loved, intimacy or adventure.

So again, we’re able to identify emotional experiences (feelings) which we’re missing, which lie underneath the surface experiences of, in this case, loneliness or missing the relationship.

Conclusion

When we miss someone we are missing the emotions we associated with them. This could be anything from companionship to joy, from understanding to feeling alive. If we’re able to imagine experiencing those emotions without this person, we can free ourselves from the limiting belief that this person, and this person alone, can cure our loneliness. It’s no easy task to separate the emotions you experienced from the person that sparked them inside of you, especially if they’re the only person you ever experienced those emotions with.

As if often the case, by taking the time to understand ourselves more deeply we’re able to find peace right now within ourselves while also finding reasons to be feel good about what’s to come.

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