What do you do when the person you rely on for shelter in life is no longer there? How do you deal with the tsunami of emotions that come with a break-up, a divorce, a death? When that person is no longer there, we feel sadness, anger, hurt, fear—sometimes all at the same time. Sue Johnson, author of Love Sense and originator of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) says that “we are wired for connection.” The anxiety and deep sadness we feel when we lose a loved one is not because we are “co-dependent” or “needy”, but because our partners matter to us. They impact our own need to feel accepted and loved. When a relationship ends, it is a loss. We are suddenly alone.
How do we make it through?
If we withdraw and become isolated, the feelings of despair and heartbreak can be paralyzing. We need friends and family to breach the walls of disconnection. In her Ted Talk, Baya Voce explains, “instead of leaning in toward our communities, we’ve learned to suffer alone.”
But reaching out to others may be the last thing we feel like doing.
When I was going through a period of grief in my life, I did not want to talk to anyone. I thought it would just intensify my sadness. I told a friend and colleague that I wanted to avoid the emotional pain of talking about it, but I also felt that by not processing it, I was avoiding the issue. He helped me recognize that I was perpetually living in the feeling of loss, surrounded by it. He let me know that it was ok to come out and breathe. His validation was like a hand, helping me to find my way out. We all need validation, love, and support from our friends and family – someone to say, “I’m here for you” (not “get over it”). This is the first step to moving forward.
It can also help to distract yourself. You don’t have to always sit with those painful feelings. Listen to music. Watch a good television show. Go on a drive. Get to the gym.
In his Ted Talk, Gary Lewandowski expresses that we also have the opportunity to learn about and rediscover ourselves through a break up or significant disconnection. Life may look different, and it should. Moving through a heartbreak or a significant loss is life-changing and there will be change and growth on the other side.
It’s ok to be angry. It’s ok to be sad. It’s ok to feel multiple feelings, sometimes in the course of an hour. Loss is not a happy experience. But don’t take the powerful emotions of loss so much to heart that you think things will never get better. One day at a time, reaching out to others, returning to the things you enjoy, they will.