January 18, 2018

5 (seemingly paradoxical) Steps to Working with Heartbreak.

My heart is broken. Again.

I truly believed this time would be different. That he would be different. That what we shared was so deep and pure that it would last our whole lives.

But suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, he decided that this relationship was not for him. That I was not for him. As I racked my brain, thinking of the many lovely times we shared together and where it could have gone wrong, I noticed the excruciating pain coming from my heart and my gut. My first impulse was to find something to make it go away—an alcoholic drink to numb, some rich, decadent chocolate to get the dopamine flowing again, an hour swiping on Bumble for new matches and getting lost in fantasy.

These all helped in the short-term, but ultimately the pain was still there.

There’s nothing worse than a broken heart, and yet it happens all too frequently in this human life of uncertainty and impermanence. Every positive experience we have eventually ends, and as much as we try to plan our lives, we ultimately have little to no control over what happens around us. However, we continue to suffer because we want things to be different than they are; more specifically, we want things to be exactly as we want them to be. Time and time again though, we find that life usually doesn’t go as planned, and that even if it does for a short while, something inevitably shakes us up and brings us more pain.

Many of us spend our lives trying to avoid feeling pain and discomfort through alcohol, drug use, food, technology—pick your poison. Anything that can distract us is fair game. This might work for a bit, if at all, but the problem is, we end up never dealing with, processing, or healing the underlying feelings beneath the pain when we turn to these things. And feelings need to be felt in order for them to resolve. When we don’t feel them, they sit and fester and grow, until eventually, they seep out in other ways.

So then how do we stop this pattern of avoiding and eventually displacing our feelings?

The answer is simply to feel our feelings—which, admittedly, is no simple task. Here are five steps to sitting with our feelings that will allow them to dissipate and us to heal:

Step 1.

Notice that you are having a painful experience. None of this works if you aren’t aware of your physical and emotional experience. We are often so immediately on the hunt for distraction that we haven’t even yet realized how we are feeling. For most of us, a big first step is actually being able to say to ourselves, “Ouch, I’m feeling sad and it hurts in my belly.”

Step 2.

Give yourself a moment to stop. When you are aware that you are in emotional pain, find a spot where you can slow down for a few minutes. For those of us living in big cities, this can be challenging, but if you aren’t home, then it could be a public bathroom, empty sidewalk, or even a bench on the subway platform.

Step 3.

Feel the visceral (physical) sensation of the pain with a sense of curiosity, without judgment or storyline. Now comes the hard part: actually feeling the pain. The goal is to tune into your physical experience of the pain. Where in the body do you feel it? What does it feel like? Does it have a shape, a color, or a texture? Is it moving or does it feel stuck? Feel the intensity. Be curious about it. What’s happening now? Is it different than a few moments ago?

While you’re feeling the pain in your body, let go of any judgment that might be arising, like “I shouldn’t be so upset about this.” Notice the judgment but then just let it go and get back to the physical experience. Additionally, let go of the story line about what happened that caused the pain. Instead of focusing on how angry you are at your ex for ruining what felt like a beautiful relationship, focus on that feeling of your stomach being turned inside out.

Step 4.

Breathe into the pain. Don’t forget to breathe! Take slow, deep breaths, and send the breaths into the pain you are experiencing. Controlled breathing allows the nervous system to relax, which is an added bonus.

Step 5.

Move on with your day with awareness but also gentleness. After about five or ten minutes, it’s time to move on with your day. You will probably notice that the pain has shifted a bit. Maybe it’s less intense, maybe it’s even gone, or maybe it’s just different. Notice that and continue on your day. Continue to be aware of how you are feeling, and remember to be gentle with yourself. You have just experienced something difficult, and right now the only person who can help you is yourself. Nurture yourself and honor your experience.

Showing up and facing our pain is not an easy task. We are so conditioned to avoid this practice that it might seem paradoxical at first; however, it is the only way to truly allow the pain to heal. When we can honor what we are feeling and actually feel it, it thanks us and moves on. For me, sitting with my feeling of heartbreak has been brutal and uncomfortable, but it also has been a gift of healing for myself. Doing the hard work now will allow the pain to fully process and heal.

I will continue to honor my pain and move forward with kindness and gentleness, and I wish the same for you.



Author: Monica Nastasi
Image: Mark Sebastian/Flickr
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Monica Nastasi