The Heart Break of Breaking Up

I’m in conversation with several people who are in the midst of a break up, one of whom I’m very close to. So in addition to the chapter on Breaking Up in my free eBook, Conscious Transitions, (which you can download through signing up on the right sidebar), I’d like to offer a few more thoughts about the transition of a break up.

First off, my heart goes out to you. Breaking up is excruciatingly painful, for whether you were together for ten months or ten years, your heart opened to this person and now he or she is gone. There’s a reason why it’s called a “break up”, and it’s not just because you’re separating or breaking off from someone. It’s because a break up also breaks your heart open. You are broken open. Your heart is in pieces.

As I wrote in the Breaking Up chapter, when you’re enduring a break up you’re in a death experience. There may be moments in the day when you feel like you’re not going to be able to make it. The pain sears through your solar plexus rendering you almost incapable of breath. The grief is real and it needs time and attention. Sometimes when you contextualize what you’re enduring as a “death experience”, it helps to validate the enormity of the pain. If someone died, you would give yourself the necessary time to grieve the loss. Well, someone has died: your relationship. The loss needs to be grieved and there’s only one way to do that: cry.

Break ups are one of the transitions that trigger our early blueprints of love and loss. So when you’re grieving the very real and present-day loss of your loved one, you might also be grieving old losses and disappointments from primary caregivers. The early abandonments come shooting to the surface of consciousness and you find yourself immersed in the memory of the first day of kindergarten when your mother dropped you off at the door and you felt like your insides had dropped away. Memories of divorce and death might also figure prominently in your early morning and late night grieving.

As always, the remedy is to allow the grief to move through you. What resists, persist and nowhere is this more true than around the emotional field of grief. You must let yourself cry. You must let yourself break down. The grief is painful, of course, but when it becomes lodged in your body it mutates into depression or anxiety and the pain increases tenfold. Grief fully expressed in the presence of a loving friend or therapist – or wrapped in your own compassionate embrace – isn’t actually as painful as people fear it will be. It needs to wash through you. If you’re going to prepare your inner ground to receive your next partner, you need to clear out this one. And that means crying… a lot.

Clearing out this partner also means actively letting him or her go. If you’re still in love or emotionally attached – which you will be for some time – letting go feels counterintuitive: why would you let go of someone you love? But for whatever reason, the relationship has ended and letting go has to occur. I often prescribe the following exercise to help people practice letting go:

Lie down and settle into your body and your breath. If the tears are at the surface, breathe into them and let them out. Cry for as long as you need to. See if you can imagine a loving and compassionate source close by, holding you in a wise embrace. This source of love sees your essential nature and loves you unconditionally. Once this wave of grief has passed through you, imagine that you can see a cord – or many cords – that attach you to your ex-partner. These are the cords of your love and your relationship. Some are healthy and others aren’t, but they all need to be cut in order for both of you to move on and continue to evolve toward your next stage of growth.

You may find it difficult to execute this exercise at first. That’s okay; that only alerts you to the level of your attachment to this person. Try it again in a few hours or at the end of the day. See the details as clearly as possible, including the kind of tool you’re using (scissors, knife, teeth) to complete the cut. This exercise is called “cutting the cords” and the more you do it, the more you will release yourself from your grief and attachments.

And remember: this too shall pass. You’ve been in grief before and you’ll be here again. Grief has its own timetable and it arrives in waves, so as much as possible allow for it to work through you and practice non-resistance when you feel the swell of grief rise up in you. I know it’s not fun. I know it’s hard and scary. But you will find your way through and when you walk through this transition with consciousness, you will be a better person on the other side, ready to dive into the risky and wonderful world of love once again.

15 comments to The Heart Break of Breaking Up

  • Ok so I open your post – with Crosby Stills and Nash playing in the background I finish reading your post to the words- “Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud-”

    … Well then. What could a 50 year old woman; in a secure relationship for 30 years have to say about break up. I will tell you hind sight pretty clear… I did not cry enough. Thank you once again for your insights. We will see what else I am holding onto – even at my age. 🙂

  • What a great comment! And what a wonderful insight “I did not cry enough.” I think that’s probably true of most people, which is why I always say that it’s never too late to complete unfinished transitions (which really means letting yourself cry about the stuffed away grief about the old losses). Be sure you to download my free eBook, Conscious Transitions, if you haven’t done so already.

  • Crying is a soul cleanse. My mom has always said, “there’s more room out there than in that little body of yours…so let it out.”
    Aside from crying a lot, journaling has been an immeasurable gift. Sometimes it is rambling on and on…not knowing where you are or where you are going, but eventually you find your place.
    I used to have a very hard time with those who’d say, ‘time will heal your pain’ because I truly didn’t believe they could understand JUST HOW MUCH PAIN I WAS IN, but it is absolutely true. Time tempers the hurt and life does go on and so do you. The challenges are gifts though they may not seem like they are at the time of a break-up. I have learned more about myself and my place on this planet these past six months since my relationship ended. It has been the toughest journey and the most enriching at the same time. Your blogs are wonderful and continue to bring me back to my personal truth. Thank you.

  • Thank you, Sophia. Your comments are wonderful and it’s clear that you’re on a transformative journey of personal growth and healing. And YES YES YES, I “prescribe” journaling to every client I work with. For some people, writing just isn’t their way, but I always suggest to give it a try because it’s always accessible and free – so it can’t hurt to try.

  • KD

    It’s amazing how something so fundamental, so basic to human life as crying can really provide the release needed to move on and let go. I have been allowing myself to embrace the emotions as they come and just let them come through me. I can tell you, after each breakdown, hard and challenging breakdown, I feel ready to begin to rebuild. Thanks for reminding us that there really is no timetable.

  • Sarah

    KD – I find myself wanting to reach out to you. Grief is such a hard thing to go through – just when you thought it was done there’s another layer that presents itself. I know in other posts you and I shared a lot in common and I find myself wondering where you are now in your transition. I guess a part of me is also searching for words of wisdom that you may have (there’s that wounded self trying to find answers) because I’m still struggling with figuring out how to navigate this transition. Are you on the forum at all?

  • KD

    Hi Sarah, I have thought the same, as many of your posts really hit home with me. Perhaps we can exchange email addresses with Sheryl’s assistance (I am not on the forum).

    Best, KD

  • Lovebug

    Yes, I would love that. I will email Sheryl.

  • Greg

    I find that time and gratitude (provided it was a positive relationship) are the two most helpful things. I’m two months out of a relationship with the girl I thought I was going to marry, and while time has given me a healthy and “objective” perspective on the relationship as it was (not as I wanted it to be), gratitude has helped me appreciate that, “Yes, the relationship ended, but it still happened, and what a beautiful thing it is to have had the time together that we did.” We still got to receive and give love, and that expanded capacity for both still lives inside us.

  • Ashley

    What if no matter how hard you try, you cannot cry ?

    • Then you examine what beliefs you’re carrying about crying: i.e. It’s not safe to cry. Crying is weak. If I start crying I’ll never stop. If I cry too hard I’ll go crazy or die.

  • Ashley

    Sheryl, my girlfriend and I broke up. I know how I helped to cause that. I was always negative and relied on her to fix me. I want to use this breakup differently than the rest. Which evidently ended because of the same reason. I’ve been crying and usually I use this time to shut off and harden my heart to love. But I don’t want to anymore. I want to be positive and believe in myself and love and accept myself. I know she still loves me and I still love her also and to be honest I don’t know what the future has in store for the both of us. But i know that what we had was real and i dont want to hate myself or her for any mistakess. But I know that my negativity is something that is holding me back. Is there anything or any advice you can give to help me ?