going through a break up? try these 5 steps
Nov 18, 2021
Speaking as someone going through a separation I find mindfulness a struggle, mainly because I return, time and again, to the juiciness of hot emotions. However, I also find, when my self-righteous mind-chatter lessens, that there is consolation to be found in the wisdom of teachers, practitioners, and influencers who can help guide us through such struggles and that mindfulness practice is available to help you start again and recommit to healing. One source of healing wisdom can be found in these 5 steps, summarised from a conversation between author and marriage and family therapist, Katherine Woodward Thomas, and the psychologist, Rick Hanson.
Step One: Know that the relationship has been successful. There were definitely successful aspects to this relationship, so keep that in mind. The big thing that gets in the way is a sense of shame and hot emotions. Acknowledge the hot emotions but also commit to getting a handle on them. Hot emotions are in your body, so learn how to self-soothe. Mindfulness helps. Recognize the emotion. Acknowledge it for what it is by observing it as it arises. Then see if you can let it go. Letting it go can come from labeling the emotion as it arises. Be open to it. But also see if you can find some space in the emotion: experience the emotion more objectively. For instance, you might want to feel the emotion in the body, and breathe into it, or breathe with it.
And here's a mindful reframe: identify the hot emotion of another as their suffering, their survival strategy. See if you can reframe it as their default, rather than their fault.
Step Two: Don’t build a shrine to your perceived sense of being a victim, or of being blamed. The first flush of feeling unfairly blamed is a truly difficult, painful emotion to work with. It’s deep in the body. It wounds. So you have to practice befriending the embodied reaction. This takes work. But start now to take a curious, befriending interest in yourself as a feeling being, even when the feeling is uncomfortable. This links to step one and labeling where emotions land for you in the body and maybe saying something like, oh, that's where I'm feeling this. You might even notice the movement of sensation - its distribution in the body. Perhaps you can track its distribution, out of curiosity. In doing this you take yourself away from the story you are telling yourself about the reason for your feelings.
Step Three: Find the source fracture wound. These wounds are deeper than our relationship but they dig into it. They come from our past but lacerate our present moment, especially when the present moment is difficult. For me, it was attachment and abandonment concerns (it is for a lot of us). Do the work of finding out what it is for you. What’s the story you’re telling yourself about the what, why, and how of your feelings? How are you projecting that story onto your partner?
Step Four: Become deeply present to the injury you caused the other, to the injury as it lives in the other person. It may be you did not hurt this person intentionally but can you show up for it? Say something like, wow, I didn’t know that this had such an impact on you. Then, how can I make that right? How can I make it up to you? This is the point where a couple can repair. They might even get back together again because they never covered or traveled into such territory before.
Step Five: Commit to a future you are creating together. Everybody has to be set up to thrive moving forward. Nobody can take sides. There’s a community of feelings involved. If you have children you cannot put them into a state of loss. They will be grieving or at least experiencing feelings that are ones of loss. So we have to show them that we are really close friends but that our friendship has grown into something else. So, no bad-mouthing in front of the kids.
And remember, this is wisdom available to you. Take it slow. Don't expect to be able to do all 5 steps straight away. Make your mistakes and start again.