• Richard Hughes

How To Mend A Broken Heart

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'As anyone knows who's been through heartbreak - you need to find your way back to your self' - Armistead Maupin - Tales of the City

A broken heart, few of us ever escape that one, but why is it that some people bounce back and move on, whilst others are left wounded, believing they will never find love again?

Knowing that I was writing this blog, a friend who had been through a debilitating heartbreak, asked me to share their experience:

'The first year I thought I was fine, the second year was worse and by the third year I thought I was going mad'. For some, heartbreak really can last that long; abandonment is a wound they carry forever.

It is no understatement to say a broken heart is akin to a bereavement. Grief is the longing for what is lost and can never be again. The author Howard Jacobson, captures the pain of this in his novel, The Finkler Question: ‘just when you think you've overcome the grief you are left with the loneliness’.

But perhaps the hardest part of a break up is knowing that the other person is still out there, getting on with their life, perhaps even enjoying themselves. Meanwhile for you, the world has ground to a halt and gone monochrome. And like any loss, there is no blueprint, nor a timeframe for recovery.

As well as the grief, a break-up can be a serious dent to the 'ego', our sense of who we are. Caught up in a cycle of anger, self-blame and forensic questioning of what went wrong, it is not unreasonable to ask, 'why has this happened to me?' Heartbreak also impacts productivity; people struggle to get on with their day-to-day lives. This can be debilitating and exhausting. No surprise then that 40% of people who go through heartbreak have clinically measurable depression.

A relationship needs two people to create it, whilst a break up can feel like an individual experience, especially if the other person has moved on. The fact is, you may never truly know why the other person made the decision to end the relationship and at some point you will need to accept that. There will always be unknowns, and of course that can be unsettling.

At a deeper level you may be left with a nagging sense of not being good enough, of being incapable of love, or dare I say it, of being unlovable. Not so much 'why has this happened to me?' but 'what is wrong with me?' This shame process goes to a very deep place, and again can seriously debilitate a fragile sense of self.

In his popular Ted Talk, How To Mend A Broken Heart - 7 million views and counting - the psychologist Guy Winch, offers a toolkit on how to overcome heartbreak and eventually move on. It is a persuasive argument:

He reminds us that getting over heartbreak 'is not a journey: it is a fight.' You have to let go and accept it's over. According to Guy, 'hope' can be paralysing when your heart is broken, as it can prevent you from moving on. He says, rather than focusing on the minutiae of why the relationship ended, remind yourself of why your ex was wrong for you, if necessary, write it down and repeat as a mantra.

If going heartbreak 'cold turkey' isn't right for you, how about trying this daily ritual, which a psychotherapist colleague shared with me. They recommend gently leaning into the heartbreak: create a shrine, light a candle and actively mourn the end of the relationship. Allow yourself to do this for half an hour every day, and then dismantle the shrine, put it aside and get on with the rest of your day. This can help if you ruminate too much, and feel overwhelmed by feelings that come out of the blue.

If you are still struggling, there will come a point where you will need to delve into some tough questions. I suspect you will have experienced other heartbreaks and abandonments, and there may be a pattern. You will need to ask yourself, 'why do I believe I deserve so little?' or 'why do I hold on to someone who cannot give me what I need?'

None of this is straight forward, and it will take time. It will involve reflecting on how you were parented and cared for. The experiences of our early relationships are fundamental to who we are, they are the framework for how we function and feel in current relationships. If we do not heal these wounds, we will repeat the same patterns. Again, it may be helpful to explore all of this in a therapetic setting.

Along the way you will need to take 'exquisite care of yourself'. A fellow psychotherapist reminded me of how important this is. To heal, we need to look after ourselves, be gentle with ourselves, take time and reconnect.

Yes, what may come as a suprise is that 'relationships' are the key to healing and finding your way back to your self'. Psychotherapy can be part of this. I believe that through the therapeutic relationship, in which we experience another with curiosity and openness, we begin to find the space and opportunity to try new ways of being, relating, and loving.

Further reading:

Attached: Are You Anxious, Avoidant or Secure? How the science of adult attachment can help you find - and keep love - Dr Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller

Women Who Love Too Much - Robin Norwood

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