Someone I care about has had difficulty letting go of a toxic relationship. As I have helped her through it, I thought her story might help others facing a similar anguish.
First and foremost, as I reminded her, always remember love is NOT rational!
Even when you clearly recognize your relationship is toxic or that the object of your affection is unworthy, your heart may not listen.
Love is one of the most powerful additions on earth according to Stanton Peele, a social psychologist who has studied the phenomenon for more than forty years. He wrote in Psychology Today that the seven hardest addictions to quit are cocaine, alcohol, Valium, heroin, cigarettes, fatty foods, and—in the top spot—love. So recovery means you will need to detox yourself from the object of your affection and then follow a relapse prevention plan.
Dr. Debora Phillips, in her book How to Fall Out of Love, has a few tips that my friend found to be useful.
- Learn the practice of thought-stopping—a technique that reduces the amount of time you spend thinking about him or her. When you keep ruminating over all of the wonderful moments you once shared, you are actually feeding into your painful emotions and stoking the fire. Instead, starve the flames and stop reinforcing the loving feelings you once had. In essence, actively and systematically replace all thoughts of the relationship.First, make a list of your best and most positive experiences and pleasures—all of which must NOT include your ex. They could include savoring your favorite music or food (chocolate soufflé works for me), remembering the freedom and adventure of a motorcycle ride across the country, or recalling a happy celebration with friends, a special vacation, a personal accomplishment of some sort, or a memorable family event. Second, as soon as your ex pops into your head, yell STOP! If you prefer, wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it so it hurts. Do NOT allow that thought; instantly bring up one of the thoughts from your list. Thought-stopping takes practice, but it works if you work it.
- Learn to use silent ridicule. If you have a sense of humor or, more importantly, an ability to laugh at yourself, you are much more likely to have good mental health and a positive outlook. First, allow yourself a reasonable amount of time to really cry and scream at the unfairness of it all. Then, decide that you will stop seeing the other person in any sort of favorable light. Get rid of all photos and triggers at home, everything with a connection to the relationship must go. Focus on all of his or her character defects, personality faults, and terrible habits; remember all of the bad times. If necessary, try imagining a ridiculous context in which to visualize your former beloved; perhaps picture him or her wearing a very tiny sombrero, or wearing a giant diaper while sucking his or her thumb, or doing a pirouette naked or in a tutu, or toothless and speaking with a Mickey Mouse voice. Once you have the scene, evoke it at least five times a day.
- Build your self-esteem and foster positive feelings toward yourself. Try helping someone else. When you turn your attention to another person—especially someone who is struggling with the same kind of pain—you forget about yourself for a moment. And, on some days, that feels like a miracle.Figure out the activities that make you feel good and the ones that make you start crying. Avoid activities that may be hurtful such as checking out his wall on Facebook and seeing that he has just posted a photo of his gorgeous new girlfriend. Do NOT send e-mails or make phone calls to his buddies, fishing for information about him. Instead, delete all of his e-mails and texts, pawn the jewelry he gave you (using the cash for much needed retail therapy), and laugh over coffee with a new friend who doesn’t know him from Adam (to ensure his name won’t come up).
Write down two or three things every day that you have done or experienced that were rewarding or for which you are grateful. They can be self-affirmations, personal triumphs, or just noticing how much you love your dog or hearing the birds sing early in the morning.
- Work it out. Literally go into training and work out your grief by running, swimming, exercising, walking, or kick-boxing—because the activity will give you immediate relief. On a physiological level, exercise increases the activity of serotonin and/or norepinephrine, which stimulate a sense of well-being. On an emotional level, you are taking charge and becoming the master of your mind and body. As a bonus, you can always visualize yourself giving your ex a good kick in the can. Now, doesn’t that feel good!
- Find hope. Forgiveness is essential and it requires hope. Believe that a better place is within your reach, the aching emptiness and pain won’t be with you forever, and one day you’ll be excited to make coffee in the morning or go to a movie with friends. Forgiveness is the hardest part of recovery, but it will make all the difference to your healing. Once you let go of the past and the pain, you can reclaim your life. Believe that the sadness will evaporate, and one day your smile won’t be forced. Move past your fear and anger, and find hope.
Bouncing back from the trauma of breaking up is one of the most unpleasant of all human experiences. However, as my friend found out by practicing these five simple steps, the process can be hurried along.
Sometimes, extra help is needed. A life coach can make your efforts substantially more effective. Your coach will keep you accountable, will keep you motivated, and has the expertise to provide you with insights and techniques that will enable you to more quickly accomplish your goals. None of us can avoid the grieving process, but you can choose to turn a painful situation into an opportunity for growth and renewal.