I’ve noticed something interesting over the last several years.
As a blogger and online business owner, one of the things I do is look at my Google Analytics to see how people are finding my website and which posts are getting the most hits. And year after year, it’s the posts I write about relationships, more specifically posts about my breakups and the heartbreak they ensued.
I’ve written about how to get over your ex, which has been shared more than 120,000 times (it’s probably much more, we installed the share tracking about a year after I wrote it). I’ve also had to turn off comments because of all the spam, people selling their love potions (not kidding. People selling poor heartbroken people love potions. There is a place in hell for those spammers). What’s obvious about the popularity of that topic is simply this: Most people in the world have had their heart broken by someone else and they have a really hard time healing.
I don’t pretend to be the absolute expert at this, as I am still navigating it every day in my own life. But, I’m compelled to write about it today because I’ve been turning over and over the question in my head:
Are we ever truly healed from heartbreak? And either way– what does that even look like?
At my ripe old age of 41 (which btw, I still consider myself young with A LOT to learn about life and love) I’m starting to think the answer to that question sometimes is no. And that’s okay.
Let me explain. Here’s where I think the problem starts: I think we make up that we need to get over the people that have hurt us. And I’m not just talking about intimate relationships, I’m talking about parents, friends, anyone we’re close to that we’ve trusted and felt at some point or another has “broken our hearts”. We make up that we as humans, must get to a place in our hearts where we’re not hurt anymore. We don’t think about what happened, and if we do, we hold no sadness, anger, or hurt about it.
I don’t know about you, but that seems awfully robotic and ….impossible.
The problem worsens when we make up what it means when we’re not “over it”. We make up that we’re weak or broken, that we’re doing something wrong, that there’s something innately wrong with us, and we might keep obsessing on that person that hurt us.
As humans, I think we want a definitive answer. Are we through it or not? Are we healed– emphasis on the past tense?
And my honest answer is I don’t know.
I think we look for this place outside of us– this place “over there” where we will be absent from all the difficult feelings around it. It’s completely subjective what this looks like but I think so many people spend the better part of their lives searching for this.
It’s also important to get clear on what your definition of this is. If you think about a wound, if you get a small prick or papercut, when it heals there’s no scar. You don’t even remember all the small picks and papercuts you’ve received over your lifetime. They’re inconsequential.
But, when the wound is more substantial, when it’s deep and there’s a decent amount of bleeding that happens, maybe a scab forms and we have a scar. I have many tiny scars all over my body; as I type this, I can see three on my hands (only one I can remember how it got there– hot glue gun, ouch). These scars become a part of us, a part of the biggest organ of our body. We more or less have to accept them, right?
So, what if we accepted the scars we have on our hearts?
And while I don’t know if we are ever fully healed, recovered or over it, I do know there are some key elements that are necessary in working your way through it.
#1 You have to feel all the feels. I see you going to Numbing McNumbtown. Parents disappoint you? Cake. Partner was an asshole? Wine. Kids stressing you out? Online shopping.
We don’t want to feel our pain. Or anger, or stress, or frustration, or sadness, grief, and on and on. This falls into the “how you do one thing is how you do everything”. If you’re numbing out on the stress of your job, most likely you’re numbing out on the huge heartbreak of your divorce or breakup. If you’re numbing out about the overwhelm you feel as a parent, you’re most likely numbing out about the miscarriage you had five years ago.
The only way out is through. The only way you’re going to “get over it” or whatever the magical thing is of feeling better is to respect the feelings that happen. You don’t have to like them, but you have to respect them. If you don’t, they come out in other ways and it’s not always numbing: blaming, rage, avoidance, and sometimes we shove it so far down it manifests as insomnia, depression and anxiety.
The bottom line: FEEL YOUR FEELINGS.
#2 Your brain has literally been affected, so practice self-compassion. Many times heartbreak = trauma. I used to think trauma was reserved for people who had been through horrible, tragic circumstances like war or abuse. But, research shows that being dumped and similar situations can actually have an effect on our brains that is categorized as traumatic. I’ve recently had two guests on my podcast who talk about this (here and here), so please, look into doing the work on that. If nothing else, it will help you foster some self-compassion.
#3 Who do you need to forgive? Like it or not, learning to let go has a lot to do with forgiveness. Dragging around resentments, anger, bitterness, and thoughts of revenge will only encourage you to stay exactly where you are and in some cases, get worse. The other person is not suffering more because you choose to not forgive them. Typically, they don’t care.
Forgiveness is complicated, but possible. Trust me I get it. I’ve forgiven people who’ve done massive acts of betrayal to me, and I can’t imagine my life if I hadn’t forgiven them. For me, I wanted peace, not to carry around the same hatred from years ago. It had everything to do with me, and nothing to do with them. I forgave them for my own love, not theirs.
“To forgive…is a process that does not exclude anger or hatred. These emotions are part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things. The depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.” -Desmond Tutu
I love this quote from Archbishop Tutu because he normalizes the feelings around forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t magically forgetting all the difficult feelings and turning things around into happiness and warm fuzzy feelings. Sometimes forgiveness means you still think they’re an asshole and that’s okay.
These three steps aren’t guaranteed to magically get to to let go of whatever it is that’s plaguing you, but they are essential in getting you closer to it.
Resources for this episode:
The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu