March 7, 2017

A Soap Opera Lesson on Moving Past Heartbreak. 

Important insights can come from the strangest places.

A while ago, I saw a scene in the German soap opera, Alles was zählt, that stuck with me. The name of the soap opera translates to “All that matters,” which felt spot on when I watched the scene.

To be clear, I usually do not turn to soap operas for insights into the workings of the universe, philosophical lessons about the human experience, or even just novel ideas on how to best coach my clients.

In my view, soap operas largely paint an unrealistic (and unhelpful) picture of human interactions and relationships.

However, who am I to ignore a good lesson on how we could change our approach to disappointment and heartbreak, just because of the medium through which it was delivered?

Before I explain my takeaways from this scene, let me describe it from my memory:

A woman is sitting on a sofa in a villa, crying her eyes out. This feels like the worst day of her life.

An attractive man in a suit enters the room. He carries a bottle of champagne and two glasses. The man sits down next to the crying woman and says, “I want to celebrate with you.”

The woman shoots him a confused look through her tears. He opens the bottle and says, “I know you probably don’t feel like celebrating because the man you thought you would spend your life with is getting married to someone else today.” (This is a soap opera, after all.)

He pours two glasses of champagne and continues, “My grandmother always used to say that if a particularly beautiful chapter of your life comes to an end, you can either be sad, or you can celebrate that it happened.”

Handing her a glass, he says, “To the next chapter of your life!”

I think this small scene is a powerful example of steps we can take to help someone (including ourselves) on the journey of recovering from any type of disappointment or heartbreak.

Here is a step-by-step breakdown of what makes the man’s behavior so powerful:

>> The power of a pattern interrupt (“I want to celebrate with you.”)

The scene started out with a powerful pattern interrupt. A pattern interrupt is a coaching tool that gets someone out of the state they are currently in, often using the element of surprise or humor. In the soap opera example, the woman felt sad and was crying because her love interest was getting married to someone else.

A typical reaction to her heartbreak would be to declare how sorry we feel for her, which wouldn’t fundamentally change her emotional state. In contrast, the man’s unusual response—bringing in champagne and announcing his desire to celebrate with her—startled her out of her current state and brought her into the present moment.

>> The power of honoring feelings (“I know you probably don’t feel like celebrating…”)

The man didn’t just startle the woman out of her emotional state. After getting her full attention, he made it clear to her that he understood how she felt and how disappointed she was. If he had skipped this step, the woman would have likely felt resentful and angry at him for being oblivious to her reality and her sadness.

>> The power of honoring the reality of what we leave behind (“celebrate that it happened”)

Often, when it comes to letting go of something or someone, people get stuck between two bad choices: they either feel a need to be negative about what they leave behind (negative detachment) or use their positive memories to cling on to it (positive attachment).

For instance, a woman who wants to get over a past boyfriend may find it necessary to talk about everything that was bad about her time with him, as this helps her to distance herself from him. Or conversely, she may go through her good memories with him to negate the reality of their separation.

At the root of both these bad options is a certain denial of reality. In the first case, it’s a denial of the good sides of what we’re leaving behind, in the second case it’s a denial of the reality that this has come to an end. While these partial denials of reality can be part of the letting go process, we need to move to a higher level to really come to terms with the past.

What does this higher level look like?

I would describe true letting go as positive detachment.

Instead of convincing yourself that the chapter of your life is not really ending or that it wasn’t a beautiful chapter, you open to the truth of the situation.

Positive detachment happens when we acknowledge the beauty of what we leave behind, and the reality of its ending. And then we react to the truth of the situation in a positive way.

The man in the soap opera described this as follows: “My grandmother always used to say that if a particularly beautiful chapter of your life comes to an end, you can either be sad, or you can celebrate that it happened.”

As modeled in this scene, a surefire way to know that we have truly let go of something is that any sense of disappointment has been replaced with gratitude.

>> The power of reframing (“To the next chapter of your life!”)

With only a few sentences, the man in the soap opera reframed the entire situation. Instead of making the day about the woman’s disappointment, he turned it into a celebration of what she had had and of what was yet to come. He helped her welcome in the future instead of clinging to the past.

Letting go of heartbreak and disappointment is a process that can take a while to complete. However, there are often faster and more efficient ways to complete such a process.

The template provided by the soap opera may be one of them.

If you liked this article, please also check out my soulmate meditation here.


Author: Bere Blissenbach

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

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