Looking to heal after a breakup? Embrace the pain! Sound crazy? After walking away from my marriage and making the decision to divorce, I experienced emotional pain like never before. I’m talking about the want to crawl up and die, why did I wake up, do I really need to get out of bed and lord take me now type of pain.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about then I very happy for you and hope you will never experience such depths of despair. If you know what I’m talking about or if you’re there right now, then I feel for you. Emotional pain on that level seems unbearable, palpable, even becomes physical. You can feel the heaviness of your heart and become convinced you are afflicted with a chronic condition called heartbreak.
Just as I might visit WebMD to research any physical condition, I hit the internet to find out what god forsaken side effect of divorce had invaded my being. I wanted to know the symptoms, prognosis and treatment options. While there was no doctor I could visit to get a prescription for a seven-day course of antibiotics to clear this right up, there were consistent themes in the suggestions for getting through a difficult breakup or divorce.
Go no contact, get out and exercise, try meetups to explore your interests, embrace the pain. Though my mind wondered why on earth one would choose to do such a thing, something told me to start there. If I did not target the pain, there was no way I would find the strength to move on to the other recommended activities.
Step One: Reconcile to Face the Pain
A lot of what I read encouraged embracing pain but did not offer suggestions on how exactly to do that. Math was one of my best subjects and that’s how my mind processes information. I need a formula here, embrace pain is too abstract.
Let’s break this down. Embrace means to move toward pain instead of running away from it. Running away or steering clear is a natural human response to adverse events. The idea of moving toward this incredible pain appeared counterintuitive but hey, desperate for relief, I’ll try it if there’s sufficient evidence that this technique works. Ok pain, bring it on! Fight or flight? Time to fight.
The first step is just that, deciding to stand up and face the pain. Time to get out of bed, empty the wine bottles and remove all pain numbing distractions.
Step 2: Define Pain
Pain means different things to different people. Figure out what exactly related to this breakup is ailing you. If you went to the doctor complaining of physical pain, the doctor would complete a pain assessment. Where does it hurt? On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the greatest pain, what level of pain are you experiencing? What type of pain is it? Is it steady or intermittent? What about the quality of the pain? Is it a throbbing, shooting or stabbing sensation?
Take inventory. What type of emotional pain are you experiencing? Is it the I can’t believe he left me kind of pain? Abandonment. Or is it the did she really sleep with my best friend kind of pain? Betrayal. You might also have a touch of I’m going to be alone forever pain. Fear. Figure out as many of the emotional ailments you are experiencing and give them a level. Is abandonment pain greater than the fear of being alone? Once you clearly define the pain you are experiencing, move on to the next step.
Step 3: Visualize the Worst-Case Scenario
This may sound a little crazy but remember crazy is the paradigm we are working within. Start with the highest-level pain you identified in step two and imagine the worst-case scenario. This is the difference between removing a tightly affixed bandage slowly or in one quick, clean swoop. If your greatest pain is betrayal, imagine the worst that could happen. What if they get married, have kids and live happily ever after?
Imagining the worst-case scenario is not enough. You have to visualize it until you feel the intensity of the pain associated with that possibility. Picture the wedding, the baby swaddled in their arms, until you can smell the new baby smell on the blanket your soon to be ex mother in law knitted. Repeat this step for every pain you identified in step two.
What’s the point of torturing yourself this way? In doing so you reclaim your power, the power you have given factors beyond your control to hurt you. If you’ve already had a front row seat at the wedding, what’s seeing a picture of them hugged up together at what used to be our spot going to hurt?
Step 4: Desensitize
Once you have your worst-case pain scenario mental movie reel ready, start to desensitize your response to these events and images. They say talking to yourself is normal but answering yourself means you’re crazy. Go a little crazy. Chances are if you did a really good job in step three, the pain you identified in step two will begin to speak to you. Take some time to simply listen to it.
By the time I reached this point, that inner voice came down to one repetitive line. For me, it was a calm repetitive statement. You know he doesn’t care about you. In the beginning this bothered me greatly. How could he not care about me? After all the years I invested, all that I put into him, into us, this is what I get? I expected to feel anger but I didn’t, just great sadness.
I looked for any evidence to the contrary, a text, an expression in his countenance during the few times we actually had to see each other, anything to convince me the inner voice was lying. Perhaps out of sheer exhaustion I finally stopped. Then came acceptance. I realized my intellectual and emotional IQ had processed steps one through three and came up with an answer. The next time I heard my frequent reminder whisper he doesn’t care about you, I simply replied yes, I know. Then my response progressed to you told me already and gradually the frequency of the reminder decreased until it stopped completely.
When the voice of pain speaks to you, listen and then respond. Keep the response simple and affirmative. Eventually pain will get bored with the conversation and so will you.
Step 5: Replace
This is the home stretch. You’ve decided to face the pain, defined what has been ailing you, taken yourself through the worst and accepted the totality of your hurt. Now start replacing the pain with joy. Repeat the steps on the other side of the continuum. Reconcile yourself to find happiness in life again. Define what happiness means to you. Visualize your kairos moments, those moments where everything would fall right into place. Awaken the feeling inside you, the desire to live. Listen to that voice, let it guide you and answer it!If you feel like you’ve tried everything and nothing has worked, then give steps one through five a shot. Now I do caution this method is not for the faint of heart. Earlier I said there was no doctor to go to for a seven day heal all prescription. While that’s true, there are mental health professionals you can consult. Do what’s right for you.