I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time because I’ve read so many lists of usual suspects on how to cope with grief, pain, loss and myriad of emotions that comes with a relationship ending. By the usual suspects I mean…
‘Do exercise, don’t drink alcohol, don’t isolate, get therapy, sleep, make sure you’re looking & feeling as good as possible…’
While they are all good suggestions on paper, at the time they can make you want to punch someone or collapse into a heap. Now this is probably a little controversial; these contrived ‘positive thinking and doing’ lists are mostly what we all know to do anyway – most people are not great at taking awesome care of themselves in the good times – so this can make you feel even worse when you’re not holding it together in the bad times. And this brings up what I feel is one of the most important subjects – shame. These ’10 ways to get through a break up’ articles, listing some of the above, can be a real shame trigger. Because when you’re barely getting out of bed or have swapped your tea at bedtime for tequila, the list is yet another thing you’re failing at.
Shame is insidious and deeply damaging. Going through the break down of a marriage can bring up bucket loads of shame and talking about that is, I feel, much more useful. You may well have heard of Brene Brown, one of my favourite authors and shame & vulnerability researcher, she has uncovered for us that shame is feeling that we are somehow bad, rather than we did a bad thing, which would be a feeling of guilt. She explains how nothing good ever comes from feeling shame, there is nothing motivating about it or useful in it. Brene describes shame as ‘the instensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging’. And it’s one of the most human and primitive emotions there is. She also calls it lethal.
My list of ‘how to deal with break ups’ has only one crucial point – do everything you can to avoid shame. When our lives get turned upside down and inside out there will very likely be mistakes, bad behaviour, harsh words, drinking too much, eating too much, skipping the gym for weeks… I’m not saying those are good things and they’ll help you, they won’t, but we’re human and we’re messy. I’m saying it’s ok and you’re ok and whatever you, or others, do and say it doesn’t mean you are bad and deserve to feel shame. In fact quite the opposite. It means you’re in pain and need to be loved, not judged, by yourself and others.
I am all for self love and self care, taking a long bath or going for a massage are wonderful ways to take care of yourself. But what’s even more important is when you’ve fucked up, and trust me I have, to reject the shame you and/or others pour on you. This is warrior self love. Loving yourself in the midst of the battle.
How do you do this? In my experience having just a few close people in your life who can be your champion, even in the darkness, is the most healing. Having someone empathise and reflect back to you your messy humanness and your beautiful spirit – and telling you that it’s all ok and you’re loved no matter what. I have been lucky enough to experience this both through professional support and family and friends. If you don’t currently have someone to be your champion, go find one.
Do all the good things on the lists as much you can, and when you don’t or do the opposite, know that you’re doing the best you can. If anyone tries to shame you, keep your distance for a while. If you’re shaming yourself reach out to your champion and get vulnerable, share your good, bad and ugly feelings and know that you’re not alone. Brene says there are three things that shame needs to keep growing; secrecy, silence and judgment. Being human means being messy and imperfect. I’m holding your hand and you’re not alone.