I recently watched a TV phone-in, where there was a call from a woman who was still unable to move on 50 years after her relationship had ended. The couple had had a child together, so he remained in her life on and off. Yet she had never got over him, never created a new life for herself and, up to that day, still believed they were destined for each other.
This is probably an extreme case, and without knowing more, it’s impossible to know what else had been happening in this woman’s life for the past 50 years. But that call really stayed with me; I was curious about a life so consumed by another person that it left no room for oneself. How could this woman, have spent the majority of her life living for someone else who had no interest in her.
Ruminating over the loss of a relationship is a normal part of the healing process, but you get stuck when your focus can’t change from “we” to “me”. Learning to move on requires shifting that bias so that you can start to see your life as belonging to you.
Why It’s Serving You To Stay Stuck
One part of your life is over, but you have been handed a new future and must decide what to do with it. This can, unsurprisingly, feel very scary. Stepping into a new life is terrifying and sticking with what we know feels safer. Yes, even pain can be comforting when it is more familiar than the unknown. Therefore, getting over your ex and being happy will mean giving up certain things you use as protection. Even if you’re not aware of them, the following mechanisms actually serve you so well, that you hold on to them:
1. The story of what happened
When we get divorced, the events live on in the Story Of The Break-Up. It’s what we tell people if they ask us “what happened?”, it’s our lived experience of what we went through and how it affected us. Depending on what you tell, the story can invite sympathy and empathy, indignation on our behalf and a rallying of support from others. In the short term this is wonderful and exactly what you need.
The story can also be your own way of keeping truth and reality, especially if different versions of what happened are being told by your ex or others. But at some point you need to move forward and if you are still fully identified with the “story of what happened”, it can be hard to begin a new story about your future. Your story can be invaluable but only if you use it as a point of learning.
2. Resentment and the need to be right
Resentment is a tricky emotion. It is not a comfortable feeling at all, but we hold onto it tightly because to give it up feels like saying we were wrong. The opposite to resentment is letting go or forgiveness, which can seem like an impossible task, so it’s safer to stay with the unyielding position of being right instead of peaceful.
When you say you want to move on, but you are still using the protective barrier of resentment to keep you in the right, you are actually making things so much harder for yourself. Learning to let go is the key.
3. Fear of the future
Uncertainty is risky, so even though our grief is utterly miserable, it is familiar, which becomes comforting in it’s own strange way. Fear and non-acceptance of change keep us from stepping into the unknown. There is so much out there we may not be able to control. What if I never feel happy again? Will I have to leave my home? How will I cope financially? Are my children going to be left damaged by the divorce? What if I never find love again?
Because the expectation of all of this is so overwhelming, it feels safer to not to risk moving forward. However, the truth is that life will move on anyway, regardless of whether you are on board. Embracing the uncertainty is the only way you get a say in what happens. What if things turn out better than you ever imagined?
4. Heart Armour
Putting up a protective emotional barrier is a mechanism which is designed to keep us safe. Trust requires us to be vulnerable and it’s natural to want to stay guarded and wary of future relationships. This is even more true if we’ve been betrayed or treated badly.
Unfortunately, although keeping up an emotional shield may keep out any further pain, it also keeps out bars the possibility of future closeness and real connection in any new relationship.
Awareness is the key
It’s really not surprising that we remain emotionally stuck, even though we truly mean it when we say that we want to move on. On one level we want to put the past behind us, but underneath the surface, so much more is going on to prevent the unknown future and keep us “safe”. Staying unaware of how the pain serves you can leave you stuck for years; just like the woman on the TV call-in. It’s not necessarily your fault, but it is your responsibility to change it.
Many people reach a point when these “safety mechanisms” become so painful in themselves, that they realise change is needed. Perhaps your fear of the future or inability to trust has started to sabotage your day-to-day life. Or maybe your resentment is leading to ill health. You may find yourself simply tired of the story of what happened; fed up of feeling like this break-up is defining your life. This is when you recognise that what you’ve been doing isn’t working and the time has come for a shift.
With awareness however, you have a choice to change these mechanisms for good. By recognising what you’ve been doing you have the opportunity to change your mindset and take new action. This not only heals your divorce emotions, but creates a hopeful new future for yourself.
With love and support,
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