It’s amazing how long we can carry a relationship in our heads and hearts and continue to live as though we are in the relationship at that moment, yet it ended days, weeks, months, and even years before. What creates this stuckness? Our brain and attachment is what hooks us in and keeps us trapped. Our brain releases dopamine whenever we feel a strong emotion, including pain, regret, sadness, or longing, and this dopamine tells us that we need more of whatever led to the release. So we get caught in a physiological trap that prevents us from moving on as our brain is finding seeming benefit in the pain caused by rumination. Subjectively, we are suffering.
Fantasy and memory keep relationships alive well beyond their expiry date. This may not be pleasant fantasy or memory, it just means that we are not living in our current reality. When we are living in fantasy and memory, the trap is that these systems are imperfect and we start to focus on stories and versions of reality rather than what is or was true. It is here that we start to only be able to see the benefits of the relationship or remember the good times while being unable to recall the dysfunction, hurts, or issues that led to the end of the relationship. This does not just apply to romantic relationships, it can also happen with friendships, coworkers, and family relationships.
How do we move on after a relationship has ended? First, we have to accept the reality that the relationship is over. Your brain may try to bargain and fight this, so reminding yourself gently and respectfully that the relationship has ended or changed is important. Second, it is important to turn your attention to your life and coping in the here and now. Establishing internal boundaries with yourself to move away from rumination, dwelling, fantasy, and memory will be part of this process. Another part is taking care of your physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual health needs with daily actions that connect you to these parts of self. Third, take time to sit with the feelings and let yourself cry, feel angry, regret, pain, sadness, and whatever else is coming up for you but do it consciously and purposefully, set boundaries and limits around it so that it does not spill into the rest of your day and life. Honor the grieving and change process but don’t drown in it.
Last, remember that you can and will get through. People are incredibly important and meaningful to us, but the most important relationship we will ever have is with ourselves. If you stick by yourself and have your own back, then you know you will be okay.
By Paige Abbott, Registered Psychologist @holisticpsycyyc on Instagram for more information about this and other topics related to mental health and freeing ourselves from problem behaviours, relationships, and substances that keep us stuck