How to move on
Rejection hurts. Let’s face it, however thick-skinned we are, rejection by someone else stings.
The corny one-liner you may have heard in your teenage years or maybe even in adulthood ….’It’s not you, it’s me’ ….is in fact right. When something doesn’t feel right for one party in an existing or potential relationship, it is rarely because the other person is bad or wrong, there just isn’t a fit. Even when the person doing the dumping creates a list of things highlighting incompatibility with the other person, that’s simply a reflection of their perspective.
Rejection doesn’t mean you’re not good enough; it just means the other person failed to notice what you have to offer, or, very often, they’ve taken what they need from you.
During divorce and separation, rejection, especially being replaced by another person, can be devastating. Our nervous system is wired to need others. Sensitivity to emotional pain lives in the same area of our brain as physical pain and they can hurt equally. Our reaction to pain is influenced by genetics. If we have increased sensitivity to physical pain, we’re more vulnerable to feelings of rejection. Moreover, love stimulates such strong feel-good neurochemicals that rejection can feel like withdrawal from a drug. It can compel us to engage in obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour.
Most people start to feel better after about 11 weeks following rejection and report a sense of personal growth; similarly, after divorce. Partners start to feel better after months, not years. However, up to 15% of people suffer longer than 3 months. Rejection can feed depression, especially if we’re already mildly depressed or have suffered depression and other losses in the past. An oft quoted statistic is that it takes a month of recovery for every year of the marriage. Yes, in the worst cases, this is true, but, with help and the right level of support from a neutral person, this can be cut drastically.
There are a number of factors that will impact how you feel in the aftermath of a breakup.
· How long was the marriage?
· What is your attachment style?
· How committed and intimate were you?
· Were problems acknowledged and discussed?
· Was the breakup foreseeable?
· Is there cultural or family disapproval?
· What is your level of self-worth?
· How have you dealt with other losses?
If you have an anxious attachment style, always afraid of rejection, being clingy, you are prone to obsess, and have negative feelings, and will attempt to restore the relationship making the final rejection even more difficult. A secure healthy attachment style, makes you more resilient and able to self-soothe. An avoidant attachment style, may make the other person feel kept at arms-length and may in some way be responsible for driving them away.
If the relationship lacked true intimacy, pseudo intimacy may have substituted for a real binding connection. In some relationships, intimacy is tenuous, because one or both partners is emotionally unavailable. E.g. a partner of a narcissist frequently feels unimportant or unloved, yet strives to win love and approval to validate that they are. Lack of intimacy can be a warning sign that the relationship is troubled.
Rejection can devastate us if our self-worth is low. Our self-esteem affects how dependent we are upon the relationship for our sense of self and self-esteem.co-dependents are more prone to being reactive to signs of disfavour by their partner, and tend to take their words and actions as a comment on themselves and their value.
Additionally, many co-dependents give up personal interests, aspirations, and friends once they are romantically involved. They adapt to their partner and their life revolves around their relationship. Losing it can make their world crumble if they’re left without hobbies, goals and a support system. Often lack of self-definition and autonomy beforehand prompted them to seek someone to fill their inner emptiness which not only can lead to relationship problems, but it resurfaces once they’re alone.
Internalised or toxic shame causes us to blame ourselves and/or blame our partner. It can foster feelings of failure and unlovability that are hard to shake. We might feel guilty and responsible not only for our own shortcomings and actions, but also for the feelings and actions of our partner; ie blaming ourselves for our partner’s affair. Toxic shame usually starts in childhood.
Breakups can also trigger grief that more appropriately pertains to early parental abandonment. Many people enter relationships looking for unconditional love, hoping to salve inner needs and wounds from childhood. We can get caught in a negative cycle of abandonment that breeds shame, fear, and abandoning relationships. If we feel unworthy, and expect rejection, we’re even likely to provoke it. Healing our past allows us to live in the present time and respond appropriately to others.
One thing I see all the time is that people expect themselves to just move on. Well meaning friends and family may urge you to do so, only to make you feel worse. Or they devalue the ex you still love and yearn for, which can make you ashamed of your feelings or that you may still want the relationship. Many victims of abuse still miss their ex. It’s more helpful to honour your feelings and recognise that they’re normal. You may find yourself cycling through the stages of grief.
· Denial – can’t believe it’s over, the reason given, or your ex doesn’t want to love you
· Anger – anger or resentment towards your ex, and maybe jealous of someone taking your place
· Bargaining – trying to get your ex back even if just in your head
· Guilt – about your behaviour, can be tied to shame of feeling not enough
· Depression – including sadness
You might feel angry in the morning and believe you’ve moved on, only to break down in tears by the afternoon. This is normal, as you process your emotions. It’s natural to long for your ex more when you’re lonely, so balance alone time with activities with friends.
For optimal results, start making changes in your relationship with yourself and with others; first with your ex. Experts agree that, although it’s difficult and may be more painful in the short term, no contact with your former partner will help you recover sooner. Avoid calling, texting, asking others about or checking social media. Doing so may give you momentary relief, but reinforces obsessive-compulsive behaviour and ties you to the relationship. If you’re engaged in divorce proceedings, necessary messages can be written or conveyed through lawyers. They should NOT be delivered via your children.
Here are a few more suggestions:
1. Meditate with healing recordings, such as exercises for self-love, self-soothing, and confidence. There’s plenty of these on You Tube.
2. Practice letting go strategies
3. Prolonged feelings of guilt can limit your enjoyment of life and your ability to find love again. Forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made in the relationship. No-one is perfect.
4. Write about the benefits of the relationship being over. What can you do now that you couldn’t do before?
5. Challenge false beliefs and assumptions such as ‘I’m a failure’ or ‘I’m unlovable’
6. Set clear boundaries with your ex. This is really important if you are going to co-parent. Establish rules early on and don’t be too accommodating or defensive or aggressive. Assertiveness is fine.
7. Although grieving is normal, continued depression is unhealthy. If depression is hindering your daily life or work seek medical help.
8. Avoid triggers like going to places you went to together, or listening to ‘your song’ or love melodies. It might make you feel connected but it will also bring up painful feelings
9. Write letter you DON’T mail to your ex to express your feelings or better still keep a journal. Over time you will see how far you’ve come.
10. Keep a gratitude journal. Every day write down three things that you’re grateful for. Over time these will become deeper. I now write my gratitude to my first husband for setting me free to find myself and for allowing Bill to find me after 33 years apart. (That’s another story)
You will recover, but your actions play a considerable role in how long it takes, as well as whether you grow and better yourself from your experience.