Breaking up is hard to do.

File:Just divorced.jpg

How many of us stay in relationships when we are not happy. Stubbornly hanging in there, when we should be letting go. Like an old jumper or pair of shoes, full of holes but still we go on wearing them. They are familiar, we hope as if by some divine intervention that everything will be alright, yet deep down we know it won’t.

It is not easy moving out of our comfort zone, letting go of situations or relationships, moving out into the great unknown. All significant relationships are tied up with threads of attachment, ties of affection and commitment. Breaking them will always feel scary, yet it is only when you can step away, take stock and honestly evaluate your situation that you will see what you really need.  A period of abstinence can enable a clearer picture to emerge.

All change involves loss, so they say, very often it also involves taking a risk. The risk that we will never have what we had before, the risk that we will wander aimlessly into the future devoid of happiness.. Do we really want to go round in an endless loop, with more of the same? Smacks of “ground-hog day” to me. Taking a risk though, trusting our ability to cope can bring about wonderful rewards. Yes, life can be very painful at times, particularly if change has been instigated by another. It is during these times that we wonder how we can possibly cope, but somehow we manage to do so.

From a CBT perspective, its not what happens to us in our life that determines happiness, its the way we react to what happens that does. It’s OUR CHOICE whether we move forward with life or whether we ruminate and chain ourselves to the past. Finding happiness is not always the easiest of tasks, it can be a painful road and represent a significant challenge. It can sometimes take all the courage we can muster, but we all need to take responsibility by choosing to focus on what we have got, rather than what we haven’t (1)

Ten tips to help you cope with change:

  1. Try to accept your situation. When you lose something that was important to you, it is understandable that you will feel a sense of sadness for this is a natural part of the healing process.
  2. Change your routine, do things differently. Disrupting the neural pathways helps break the habit (yes, relationships just like old jumpers become familiar and habitual) human beings like routine and quickly develop fixed patterns of behaviour. Stop listening to the music you associate with your ex, move the furniture and change your living environment. Eat your meals in a different place, change seats, even change the hands you hold your knife and fork in!
  3. Try to step back and look from the outside. Imagine what advice you would give to your best friend if they were in the same situation.
  4. Try to let go of fear. Over-estimation of danger, coupled with an under-estimation of our ability to cope, creates anxiety which keeps us feeling bad for longer. This creates a heavy burden, a vicious cycle of heartbreak.
  5. Begin by putting yourself first, this is not “being selfish,” it is what I call “self-caring.” Putting yourself in the centre of your world then building your world around it. Imagine a wagon wheel where you put someone or something in the centre, then you build your world around that centre hub. Everything is wonderful all the while everything remains in place. If however, one day that centre hub disappears, what happens then? Quite simply, everything collapses. Now if you put yourself in the centre it will be a much better proposition. Now, no matter what happens, if any of the spokes disappear, job, partner, friends, finances…your wagon wheel will not collapse.
  6. Take time to grieve. Don’t avoid grief, for it is a natural part of the healing process. You will heal quicker if you allow yourself to grieve whilst you move forward and turn your attention to other things.
  7. According to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, there are four stages to grief. Firstly, we deny the event; secondly, we bargain to have the situation changed; Next, we become very mad, sad and scared; finally, when we have gone through these processes, we begin to reconcile and experience forgiveness and gratitude (2).
  8. Set yourself small goals, take up a new activity and find a new purpose (whatever it is!) this will serve as an anchor and enable you to build a bridge into a new life. Keep busy, remember exercise is the most effective non drug treatment for low mood.
  9. Let go of blaming. Blaming and guilt are both dangerous and harmful. Forget revenge. Whether we blame God, blame others or blame ourselves, we are avoiding the real issue. The need to take action, to do something about the problem not live in the past hanging on to grudges (1).
  10. Visualise the future as a road stretching ahead. Imagine walking ahead to an archway leading to another world. A world in which you will have recovered from your loss. Imagine what you will look like, what will you be wearing, where you are going. Imagine lush surroundings where the new happy you can reside. See yourself stepping into this new world.

Until next time. Steve Clifford,Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     www.steveclifford.info

References:                                                                                                                                               (1) Matthews, A (1988) Being Happy,Media Masters.                                                             (2) Childs-Gowell, E (1992) Good Grief Rituals,Station Hill Press.

Image reference: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJust_divorced.jpg

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