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How to control your emotions after a breakup: Advice for men

Jesse Martin

July 30, 2013


For many guys a breakup is their first encounter with intense, debilitating emotions. The emotions associated with rejection are visceral and profoundly painful. It's no surprise that these emotions quickly start running the show.

Where we usually like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, now some previously unknown biological force from within has completely overtaken our mind, body and soul. Basic needs and pleasures such as eating and sleeping suddenly become obstacles, difficult to surmount.

Participating in your usual social routine, getting back to work and doing errands don't even seem possible. Truth is, your emotional being has taken over. And as long as you don't control your emotions, they control you. The question becomes, how do you control that what feels uncontrollable?

As long as you don't control your emotions, they control you.

The paradox is: emotions are inherently uncontrollable. You cannot stop an emotion from surfacing. What you can do is train your mind to recognize those emotions, and to talk back at them.

You never lose your feelings, you just learn to not let them control you.

You see, the only thing you have somewhat control over are your thoughts. Fortunately there is a neurological feedback loop between emotions and thoughts through which we can exercise some restraint on our emotions.

Emotions, without warning, swell up. These emotions trigger thoughts which then feed the swelling of the emotions. By controlling your thoughts you can subvert the process and avoid the feedback cycle gaining momentum.

Allow me to explain by using a metaphor. Picture your emotions as steam in a whistling kettle on a stove. The steam is seethingly hot, erratic, densely energetic and desperately wanting to escape from its confines.

During your relationship you never really noticed the kettle and it never really affected you much. But now after the breakup the kettle suddenly comes into focus. It is full of boiling water wanting to escape.

Due to the amount of water, the pressure is untenable and steam inexorably forces its way through the tout of the kettle. The steam that escapes from the kettle makes a loud whistling sound and represents the free flow manifestation of your emotions.

Your job is to manage the escape of the steam. Dealing with a breakup equates to letting your kettle whistle when it suits you, and making sure there's silence, when it doesn't. This is how to deal with anger, grief and the range of other emotions your subjected to.

The stove remains hot, however. As long as you're engaging your ex, the stove is turned on and steam keeps building up. The first step is turning the stove off: you accomplish this by going no contact.

The first step is turning the stove off: you accomplish this by going no contact.

Going no contact does not magically turn off the build up of steam. No contact is the starting point. Where there was a constant build up of steam before, going no contact has reduced the rate of buildup.

However, the stove is still hot. Turning it off didn't magically make all the heat disappear. It needs to dissipate through the kettle. The water in your kettle is still getting heated up, however, it is slowly starting to cool down.

There is a finite amount of heat that is still in the stove that will be converted to steam. Now that the stove is turned off, all that is left is allowing this limited amount of steam to escape.

Going no contact still leaves you with a range of emotions that you are going to have to deal with. The intensity of these emotions, like the steam, will wane with time as long as you keep the stove off. As long as you stick to NC.

Dealing with your breakup amounts to pressure management in your kettle.

Keeping the kettle closed will result in a steam build up which, at some undetermined point in time, will burst its way too freedom. If you bottle up your emotions indefinitely, they will find a way out, without you being able to predict the timing.

The strategy then becomes letting out the steam when it suits you and not letting it build up. Remember, the steam is still building up, its only doing so at a slower rate.

Put differently, there is a time to grieve, and there is a time not to grieve. Grieving is opening the kettle. Choosing not to grieve is closing the kettle temporarily.

Leaving the kettle closed throughout the day might lead it to let out steam during the night as suppressing thoughts and traumatic events often leads to them resurfacing in your dreams.

The powerful lesson here is that once you are aware of the kettle of steam as an analogy for your emotions and you have practiced opening and closing it at your discretion, it will become a tool you can use for the rest of your life.

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