Erika Shershun, MA, MFT
How To Heal A Broken Heart: Part II
Updated: Jan 18
Most everyone who has been through a breakup knows the anguish that accompanies heartbreak. The truth is few of us escape the pain, it's part of the human condition. In How To Heal A Broken Heart Part 1 we looked at some of the ways our physiology plays a role in our response to heartbreak, and our tendency to idealize a love lost. Part 2 addresses the stages of transition at play, along with the abundance of love that is ever present for each of us to tap into.
"Heartbreak is unpreventable: the natural outcome of caring for people and things over which we have no control... " - David Whyte
It's probably no surprise that breakups are among the top 7 most common and traumatic life changes. Heartbreak throws us into a state of transition, a process that involves passing through three universal phases.
It isn't change itself that causes your suffering, explains William Bridges, PhD in Transitions, change is situational, transition is a psychological process that people go through as they "internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about." Although it may not feel like it at the time, this process is an opportunity for growth and renewal.
The transition process that guides us through change is as follows:
1. Letting go - where we let go of what was, mindfully sit with the grief and loss, and identify and process our fears and expectations.
In pondering the word heartbreak, philosopher and poet Whyte writes:
"Heartbreak begins the moment we are asked to let go but cannot, in other words, it colors and inhabits and magnifies each and every day; heartbreak is not a visitation, but a path that human beings follow..."
2. Liminal or In-between - the "neutral zone" where the past is gone but the new isn't fully present. Feeling disoriented, depressed, numb, or out of control are common in this phase of transition.
Author and Psychotherapist Sheryl Paul, MA, writes extensively on transitions:
"As we learn how to let go into the ‘groundlessness’ that defines the in-between stage of transition between the end of the old life and beginning of the new, we move into a more effortless alignment with life. Life is ever-changing, and when we approach transitions consciously and with the intention of growth, we eventually learn how to accept this truth with grace."
3. Rebirth or Renewal, making and embracing the new identity with confidence and excitement about all of the possibilities that this new beginning holds.
The transition process is an "inner reorientation and self-redefinition" that one must go through in order to incorporate the changes that accompany a breakup or any other major transition. Paul explains, "the more you learn about the reasons that contributed to the demise of the relationship, including the impulse for choosing your partner initially, the more prepared you will be to enter the next relationship from a healed placed within."
Let The Love Shine In
The seeds of heartbreak are deeply rooted when we believe the feelings of warmth and expansion ignited in our heart result solely from the one we love. We set our relationship up for failure when we depend on our partner to be an absolute source of unconditional love and attunement. In Perfect Love Imperfect Relationships, John Welwood, Ph.D. explains, "The free flow of love between two intimate partners is usually intermittent at best, since it also inevitably invites the broken, wounded places to step forward into awareness." The belief another holds the key to our heart is a flawed one, the true source of our love lies within each of us.
"...love can touch you only when your own heart is accessible. To be loved, then, is to be love." - John Welwood
Many are fearful and close their hearts after a painful breakup. The imperfect way we have been loved, Welwood writes, "has nothing to do with whether love is trustworthy or whether we are loveable. It doesn't have the slightest bearing on who we really are. It is simply a sign of ordinary human limitation, and nothing more." Vulnerability is a prerequisite to love.
When we connect with a feeling of love our hearts open and expand. We seek love from others, yet it is the expansive warmth of our own heart that we feel when another opens their heart to us. This feeling is always there within us, we need only connect with it.
To Feel Love Is To Be Love
This meditation, adapted from Welwood, invites you to "explore how being loved allows the window of the heart to open, so that you can experience love as something within you, rather than something that someone hands over to you." Begin by getting comfortable, centered and grounded. Take a few deep slow breaths.
1. Think of someone in your life who loves you. If you can't think of a person a pet will also work. Let yourself feel this person or pet's love and caring for you.
2. Notice how you associate this good feeling with the person or pet, and how you tend to see the other as the cause or source of it.
3. Now let go of thinking about the other and pay attention to what happens in your body when you feel loved. Pay particular attention to the heart center. See if you can recognize the warmth or fullness in your heart as your own experience, as something that arises from within you, as something that is yours.
4. How does it feel to recognize this?
More wisdom from Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, by David Whyte:
"Heartbreak is how we mature; yet we use the word heartbreak as if it only occurs when things have gone wrong: an unrequited love, a shattered dream... But heartbreak may be the very essence of being human, of being on the journey from here to there, and of coming to care deeply for what we find along the way."
The closest thing to a remedy, sit with whatever emotion is present without judgment, allow any anger or grief healthy and safe expression, take note of which transitional stage you are in, start a self-compassion practice, and seek support from family, friends or a therapist. Finally, bring awareness to any tendency you may have of grasping for love solely from another and gently learn to find love within.