The painful experience of a breakup can stick with us, preventing us from showing up fully for our lives and creating a great life that we can be excited about. There are a couple of patterns that we can get stuck in: We can find ourselves pining after our ex, idealizing our past relationship and believing that this person was perfect for us. Alternatively, we can believe they were the worst, and hold on to resentment for what they did to us. Neither of these patterns allows us to be present. Fortunately, you can learn to get over your ex and get on with your life.
Keeping the old flame alive
Guy (names are changed for privacy) was convinced that Laura was the only woman for him. He had never really fallen in love before, he was ready to have a “real” relationship, and he felt like she was the perfect person for him to share life with. When Laura broke up with him, she broke his heart. For weeks that turned into months, his friends noticed that he was struggling, and they were surprised, as they had never seen him so vulnerable. His first instinct was to try to win her back. They faltered for a few more months, but finally it became clear that they were not going to make it. He suffered, and then he realized he had two choices: hang on to idealizing Laura, living in the past; or let her go, realize that their relationships was not as perfect as he wanted to believe, and move forward with his life. He finally chose the second option. He started going out with friends, then started dating, and in about six months he was ready to open up to the possibility of falling in love again.
Holding on to a hot coal
Grace was so angry with her ex; she felt betrayed and was sure that she would never forgive him. He had cheated on her and broken up their family. She told him that she would hate him till the day she died, and she meant it. When she ran into him at their children’s sporting events, she gave him dirty looks, barely spoke to him, and made it clear to everyone who saw them that she despised him. Her children couldn’t help but notice, either.
None of this made the situation easier or healthier for anyone involved ― especially the children. Grace didn’t care. Finally she realized that she was stuck in the past, and that this was not serving her. She realized that her children were hurting because of her animosity toward their dad. Grace understood that she would never be able to open up to a new love if she held on to this anger. Buddha said that holding on to anger is like holding onto a hot coal: we are the one getting burned. Grace understood this, and chose to let her anger, and her ex, go.
Cultivate the opposite
Yoga sutra book 2, sutra 33 tells us that when a negative thought is present, we should cultivate its opposite. Guy and Grace both chose to recognize their negative thoughts and to replace them with the opposite. Guy reframed his experience, practicing telling himself that Laura was not perfect for him. If he wanted a relationship, he would certainly find another love. Grace practiced telling herself that while her ex’s actions were hurtful and destructive, she choose to let it go anyway. She chose to leave the past in the past, and allow herself to be happy for what she had. This created the opening for new love.
During the first months after a loss, it is perfectly healthy and normal to feel the full range of feelings: denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression. For more on the stages of grief after a breakup, read my last post here. Eventually we need to get to the place of acceptance. This allows us to show up in a big way in our lives, be fully present with the people we love, and make the contributions we are here to make.
Breakups hurt. They also make us stronger, if we let them. You can get through it!