Our challenge in starting over is to release our pain with forgiveness, understanding, gratitude, and trust.
Without a complete understanding of what is required during the healing process, it is easy to get stuck in a variety of undesirable emotional states. It is not uncommon to be gripped by resentment, blame, indifference, guilt, insecurity, hopelessness, or jealousy and envy. These seven attitudes prevent us from fully loving again. They are clear indications that we are in need of healing. When they persist, it is a sign that we are neglecting a part of the healing process.
These seven attitudes are the opposite of the four "healing emotions," which are anger, sadness, fear, and sorrow. With these seven attitudes, neither feeling them nor resisting them will help. The more we feel them, the more painful they become. They are like emotional quicksand: the more we resist them, the more they pull us down.
Each of the seven negative attitudes is a flashing neon sign pointing us in the direction of the pain we are ignoring. When the particular circumstances of our loss prevent us from fully feeling our pain, these negative attitudes arrive to point out what we are missing in the healing process. Each of these attitudes serves the purpose of revealing where in our hearts we are suppressing particular healing feelings and desires. When we are able to locate and heal our hidden pain, then these negative attitudes automatically disappear.
Letting go of resentment
The most common of the seven attitudes is resentment, particularly when the marriage or relationship that has ended was not loving or nurturing. We resent that we wasted our time. We resent that our hopes and expectations were not met. Although we gave of ourselves, we did not get back what we needed. No matter how hard we tried, our efforts were never enough for our partner. Though this resentment is certainly appropriate, it is a clear indicator that we are not yet ready to get involved again.
When we feel resentful, our biggest challenge is to say goodbye with forgiveness and love. Although we have a right to feel resentful, our new challenge is to remember the love we once felt and then forgive our ex-partner for his mistakes. By taking the time to grieve our loss fully, it is eventually possible to release all our resentments and to wish our partner well.
To uncover our buried love, each of the four healing emotions may first need to be explored.
Then expressing our feelings of forgiveness and understanding will enable us to remember the love we shared in the beginning. Remembering the love is very important. Forgiveness is not real until we can remember our positive feelings of love for another.
The meaning of forgiveness
Sometimes we are unable to forgive because we really do not understand what it means to forgive. We sense that if we forgave our partners and felt love for them, we would have to return to the relationship. This is not true. The best way to say goodbye is with love. We love him, but he is not right for us. If we have to say "I don't love you anymore" in order to leave a relationship, then we will leave with a closed heart. It is hard to attract love in our lives when our hearts are closed.
On the other hand, when our hearts are open, we are able to recognize more clearly the right person for us. We are most attracted to and will attract partners who have a potential to fulfill us instead of disappointing us. The ability to pick the right person comes from an open heart. If thinking about our past closes our hearts, then it is much more difficult to find the love we seek in the future. Sometimes we may find a loving partner, but we are not able to appreciate what we have.
Letting go of blame
Quite often, after ending a relationship, we will simply blame our ex-partner for the problems, feel a huge relief to get out, and then move on. We feel relieved because finally we are out, and we have another chance to find love and happiness. Although this reaction is certainly appropriate, it's a clear indicator that we are denying a host of unresolved feelings. If we continue to ignore these feelings and just move on, we will tend to attract partners who are perfect to trigger our unresolved feelings.
Men and women commonly feel relief for different reasons. A man feels relief when he blames his partner for their problems, while a woman feels relief that she doesn't have to feel responsible for the relationship anymore. Although we both feel relief, we need to look a little deeper to heal our hearts and to find the right partner next time. A man is eager to forget what has happened, but he has not yet forgiven. His immediate solution to the failure of his relationship is to find another partner. Although he may have a positive attitude, when similar issues arise in future relationships, he will be quick to blame and will have a more difficult time finding forgiveness.
To find forgiveness, a man needs to explore how he contributed to the problems in the relationship. The more responsible a man feels, the more he is able to forgive. A forgiving and responsible attitude frees him from being too picky or reacting with blame in future relationships.
To forgive and forget, women need first to explore how they were affected by the problems in a relationship. When a woman attempts to forgive too quickly, she may feel a lingering guilt or feeling of unworthiness. If she first takes time to explore the four healing emotions, she is then able to forgive her partner without bearing the unhealthy burden of guilt.
After finding forgiveness without bearing too much responsibility for the problems, the foundation has been laid for a woman to become fully accountable for her contribution to the problems in the relationship. With an attitude of forgiveness and responsibility, she is then empowered to move on with the self-assurance required to begin a new relationship. She is able to recognize that what she suffered in this relationship will not necessarily occur in the next.
If a woman equates having a relationship with sacrifice, then she will resist getting involved again. If a man remembers a past relationship with blame, he may continue to get involved, but when he is required to make normal sacrifices or compromises he is often quick to back out.
When we feel relief at the end of a relationship, our challenge is to continue looking at our feelings. A significant part of why we feel relief is that we can finally stop having all these uncomfortable feelings. Our tendency is to try to forget what happened. Certainly there are times when this strategy works, but it is not appropriate at the end of an intimate relationship. By taking some time to explore our emotions beneath the surface feelings of relief, we will gradually find a whole world of unresolved feelings. Although we are happy to forget and to move on, it is wise to give ourselves permission to resent the whole experience and to feel all four healing emotions. When we don't have to forget our past to feel better, then we are ready to move into another relationship.
Letting go of indifference
When a breakup does not fully involve our feelings, we run the risk of becoming too detached or indifferent. In trying to be reasonable, we run the risk of suppressing our feelings of loss. Since the mind adjusts faster than the heart, a "reasonable" breakup presents a challenge. When two people decide reasonably to end an intimate relationship or a marriage, in their hearts they may still be attached.
Even though we are better off being apart, we must still take time to grieve the loss. We must recognize that some part of us was hoping that this relationship would last. That part of us needs to be heard again and again until the heart is healed.
When we end a relationship reasonably, we must make sure we give our feelings permission to lag behind. It is okay to regret the loss and feel sad even though it was the best decision. Even if breaking up is the smartest decision, we still need to give ourselves a chance to adjust emotionally. If we do not automatically experience feelings of loss, we should begin to look for them.
You can achieve this by remembering the hopes and dreams you felt in the beginning of the relationship. With this awareness, you can begin to feel your sadness about breaking up. From here you can reflect on what happened that you didn't want to happen and explore feelings of anger and then forgiveness.
You must feel your fear that you could be making a big mistake and your sorrow that you cannot make it work. It is okay if you continue to feel occasional longings to go back and make it work. This is all part of the process of letting go. Having these feelings does not mean that you should act on them. If you are feeling needy and desperate, then this is definitely not the time to consider returning.
Staying in touch with our feelings of loss, even though our minds clearly are not attached, allows us to keep our hearts open. Breaking up in a very reasonable or detached manner can easily be covering up a lifetime of hidden hurt, disappointment, and sadness. If you are unable to find a way into your feelings of loss, then it is advisable to look back to another loss in your life. Somewhere in your past, something happened that blocked your ability to feel fully your need for love. Go back and remember a time when you were young but you had to be strong. A time when there was no one you could turn to. A time when you didn't feel safe to share your pain and so you made the reasonable decision to hold it in until it was finally safe. Well, now's the time to explore these feelings. By getting in touch with each of the four levels and then fully feeling your forgiveness and love, you will be ready to move on.
Letting go of guilt When a relationship ends, there are generally two kinds of guilt we may feel. We feel guilty for all the possible ways we have hurt and disappointed our partner, or we feel guilty because we are ending the relationship. We promised our love and now we are breaking our promise. Whether we feel one or both types of guilt, the solution is the same: to release guilt our challenge is to forgive ourselves.
Although feeling guilty is a normal response to making a mistake, it is not healthy when we continue to feel guilty after recognizing our mistake. Guilt becomes toxic when we hear its message but then cannot release it with self-forgiveness. Guilt is toxic when it prevents us from feeling good about ourselves and our lives.
Just as some people hold on to feeling hurt in response to an injustice, others may hold on to feeling guilty for what they have done or not done. Feeling hurt and guilty are inextricably connected because the antidote for both is forgiveness. To release our hurt, we must forgive another. To release our guilt, we must forgive ourselves.
When we feel guilty after ending a relationship, it is a clear sign that we have not yet healed our hearts. Quite often, we are unable to forgive ourselves until we feel that others can forgive us.
It is not necessary that our ex-partner forgives us. It would be too limiting to think that our ex must forgive us before we can feel good about ourselves. It is helpful to write an in-depth apology letter sharing your mistakes and hoping that one day your ex can forgive you. In the meantime, it is most useful to find a therapist or support group and begin to share all that you feel guilty about. Their nonjudgmental and accepting response will help you forgive yourself.
Usually, when people feel guilty about leaving their partners, they too have been left in their past. They personally know the pain of rejection and abandonment, and so they feel particularly guilty for inflicting that pain on another. When this guilt emerges, it is because their own pain of being left is still unresolved.
If we feel guilt in leaving a partner, it is a very useful exercise to remember times in our past when we have been left or hurt.
Some people hold on to guilt because they believe that they are bad and should feel guilty for leaving a partner who feels hurt, betrayed, or abandoned. This is incorrect thinking. If we realize that a relationship is not right for us, then it cannot be right for our partner. The greatest gift we can give someone is the opportunity to find love. If we are unable to get what we need in a relationship, then we can never give another what he needs. We will feel too resentful. Only by leaving him will he be free to find the love he needs.
There are basically four ways our minds will suppress our emotional reactions to cause us to feel guilty about leaving. They are denial, justification, rationalization, and self-blame. Let's look at each in greater detail.
When these four tendencies prevent us from feeling our negative emotions, they are a problem. By taking the time to explore our negative feelings, we can clearly recognize the truth of a situation. Then we can make a decision to leave without feeling bad or guilty.
It is never a loving act to allow a person the opportunity to hurt us. Rather than ending the relationship because our partner is inadequate or abusive in some way, end the relationship with forgiveness, but also with a recognition that he is not the right person for you. Letting go of insecurity
When a relationship ends, we sometimes cling to the hope of reconciliation to cope with our fears and insecurity. This holding onto hope protects us from having to confront our fears and from feeling the depth of our loss. As long as we believe we may get back together, we do not have to consider starting over. Although we may experience some relief, living in the hope of getting back together actually prevents us from completing the healing process.
Even if there really is some hope of reconciliation, the best way to open that door is first to acknowledge emotionally that right now it is not only closed, but locked. We need to let go of hope in order to feel fully and release our pain. Although this is the best thing we can do for ourselves, it is also the best way to unlock the door of reconciliation.
When a relationship ends, it can only be rebuilt on a new foundation of understanding and forgiveness. As long as we are holding on to our hurt, then we have not fully forgiven our partner. When we continue to hurt, it can cause our partner to continue feeling guilt. Anything we say or do to make him feel guilty will only make it more difficult for him to find a desire to return.
If reconciliation is to happen, both partners must change in some way. By fully grieving the end of a relationship, we are eventually able to release our hurt with forgiveness, understanding, and gratitude. By releasing our pain, we are able to find an inner strength and trust that we can get the love we need.
With this new unattached awareness, we are no longer needy, desperate, clingy, anxious, or insecure. In this healthy state of mind and heart, we are then capable of making the necessary adjustments in ourselves either to attract our partner back or to recognize that she is not right for us. By successfully grieving the end of a relationship, we are able either to reconcile or to find a new and better relationship for ourselves.
Letting go of helplessness
Sometimes if we have been victims of abuse, neglect, deception, deprivation, abandonment, or betrayal, we can continue to feel like victims when a relationship ends. Though it's certainly true that we have been victimized, by ending the relationship, we are now free to get what we need. We are no longer victims, but fully responsible once again for what we get.
Although in our minds we recognize that we are no longer victims, we may still feel as if we are victims. As a result, we feel hopeless to ever get what we need and deserve. Unless we learn to let go of this hopelessness, we will not be motivated to make the right choices to find love.
This tendency to feel like a victim is understandable, but it is not healthy. Feeling hopeless is a clear indication that we have layers and layers of unresolved pain. Our challenge is to heal our hurt and find our ability to trust again. Without an understanding of how to release our pain, this attitude can be so strong that for the rest of our lives we feel we are still being victimized by our past. These are some examples of unhealthy victim thinking:
Rather than being limited by these beliefs, we can use them as a springboard for diving into the pool of our unresolved feelings. For example, if I am believing that "I will never love again," then I can take time to explore my feelings of fear. From there I can look at other times in my life when I could have had similar fears.
Certainly, during the healing process it is understandable to have many of the above beliefs, but our goal is to identify incorrect thinking. By recognizing that we are caught in victim beliefs, we can begin to process the negative emotions associated with these beliefs. By triggering our inner healing response, our intuitive wisdom, receptivity, and creativity are automatically accessed. By turning on the light of our inner wisdom, the darkness of these victim beliefs is dispelled.
When we continue to blame our past for our pain, then the pain we feel today has everything to do with our past and nothing to do with our present reality. The unresolved pain from our past prevents us from fully experiencing the possibilities of the present. Until we heal our hearts, we will be unable to reach our inner power to create a new life. Instead, to various degrees, we will continue to suffer the pain of our past.
Letting go of jealousy and envy
When a marriage or relationship ends, sometimes our reaction is jealousy. Besides being a thorn in our side, jealousy prevents us from sharing in the good fortune of others. Although jealousy does block our ability to love, it is still important to identify so that we can work to heal it.
Jealousy and envy come up in a variety of ways. A few examples are listed below:
Jealousy has many expressions and ways that it makes our life miserable. Rather than suffer the symptoms of jealousy, we can use it to heal ourselves. Jealousy is a clear indicator that we are denying a host of unfulfilled desires and ignoring our unresolved feelings.
Jealousy arises when someone else has what we are wanting. Envy arises when we tell ourselves that we are happy with what we have when really we are not and we want more. It is like a pointer that helps us to discover what we are hiding from ourselves. If I am envious of another's success, then I am wanting more success. If I am jealous that another is being loved or acknowledged, then I too am wanting to be loved. Jealousy and envy reveal what we are secretly wanting.
When we want something but believe we cannot have it, one of the ways to avoid feeling the pain of disappointment is to minimize the want or even deny it. We reason, "If I can't have it then it really isn't that important. I didn't want it anyway." If some hidden part of us is still wanting it, when someone else gets it, we are jealous.
Unless we are able to share in the happiness and success of others, our chances of being happy and fulfilled are diminished. As long as we feel jealous or envious, we are actually pushing away the very thing we want in life. Envy is clearly a sign that we are denying our potential to manifest what we want in life.
Jealousy is one of the most agonizing emotional states. Like each of the other six negative attitudes, the more we feel jealousy, the more painful and agonizing it becomes.
A touch of envy says, "You have what I want," but painful jealousy says, "You have what I want and I am in pain because I do not have it." Envy is actually a great guide that reveals where within ourselves we need to process our feelings and release our pain. If we do not confront and heal these deeper feelings, we will unknowingly obstruct or push away the very love, happiness, and success that we want.
Rather than being caught in the grip of jealousy, we can use this negative attitude to feel our deeper healing emotions. Let's say you are feeling jealous that your ex-partner is getting remarried. Rather than being jealous, uncomfortable, resentful, or critical, you could explore or write out the following kinds of feelings.
An exploration of feelings underlying jealousy
In this example, rather than being caught up in feelings of jealousy, a person can go a little deeper to feel the deeper emotions bottled up inside. After exploring the negative feelings, then the bottled-up positive feelings have a chance to come up as well.
Healing our past
Rather than being limited by the seven negative attitudes, we can use them to discover and heal the unresolved feelings in our heart. As long as we are stuck in any of these seven attitudes, we are not yet ready to get involved again. To experience the limitless possibilities for love and happiness that are available, we must be able to heal the wounds of our past.
When we eventually are able to celebrate the ending of a relationship and be grateful for the lessons we learned, we have fully released and healed our hearts. If we were mistreated in a relationship, then certainly we are not grateful for the mistreatment, but we are grateful for the strength and wisdom we have gained as a result of letting go and then healing our hearts.
This article has been excerpted from Mars and Venus Starting Over: A Practical Guide for Finding Love Again After a Painful Breakup, Divorce, or the Loss of a Loved One by John Gray, Ph.D. (HarperCollins Publishers). This supportive and practical guide offers a step-by-step process for healing a broken heart and becoming whole again, including: grieving the loss of love, getting unstuck, finding forgiveness, and 101 ways to heal your heart.