How to Care for Yourself When Ending a Relationship
Ending a relationship is something that causes many to enter counseling. What happens when the person you normally would go to for support and relief, is now the person that is causing these negative feelings? How do you learn how to function without this support in your life? These are the questions that I witness daily.
I was recently asked by a friend, “how do I just terminate this person from my memories?” I often sit with words as they float in the air, and this pause often creates an even deeper meaning of the words. I had so many places to help navigate this conversation. However, my gut had me immediately process the deeper feelings behind this statement- the pain, hurt, and grief. “These feelings must seem unbearable,” I reflected.
The truth is the more we try to stop thinking about things, the more we think about them. Kristina Zufall, M.Ed., a counselor at Heights Family Counseling, once told me “I want us to play a game. I want to see how long you can go without thinking about a big, pink elephant. Try your hardest to not think about it.” I failed. I couldn’t stop thinking about. The harder I tried, the more I thought about that darn pink elephant. She then said, “Imagine a purple dog. It can be any size. Describe the dog to me.” 5 minutes later, I realized I had forgotten about the pink elephant. I thought this was brilliant and could be incorporated into so many places in our lives. We can’t will ourselves to un-think things or “terminate” these memories. Instead, we can use our thoughts to focus on something else. For instance, a break up often leads to healthy new routines, such as eating healthy, working-out, and taking care of oneself more. These healthy routines can be the “purple dog” of our thoughts.
As a counselor, when someone tells me they don’t want to “go there” when referring to an event or emotion, I know that healing must happen by processing these emotions. Naming an emotion is incredibly healing. Just saying “I feel complete and utter devastation that hurts like Hell” can begin to heal that open wound that the person feels. By minimizing or hiding from that feeling, means that the open wound will likely stay open. Unhealthy behaviors tend to happen like over indulging in food, alcohol, lack of sleep, chronic stress, or other unhealthy practices when we try to “not go there.” The truth is that the feelings are going to be expressed in some way- either by processing them, or by unhealthy practices. Giving the feelings a name, allows you to take control of your emotions.
Don’t try to forget the good memories. I imagine the ending of a relationship like going through the process of grief. We often talk about the good memories of the person we lost at their funeral to honor the person. It is okay to honor the place this significant other held in your life. The love was real and can be processed. Eventually, you will find yourself wanting to think about these memories less and less, as you have more “purple dog” experiences. Give yourself balance of doing more things for a healthy distraction and to cope, while also honoring the experiences you had.
Written by Amy Rollo, M.A., LSSP, LPC-S
Amy Rollo is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and owner of Heights Family Counseling. Amy has been practicing counseling and diagnostic evaluations for fifteen years. She has doctoral level training in the areas of child and adolescent counseling, evaluations, marriage and family therapy, and adult counseling. Amy Rollo provides counseling and evaluation services in the Houston Heights and surrounding areas. Amy’s goal in counseling is to journey with her clients in order to foster positive changes and growth in their lives. Read more about Amy's counseling style by visiting www.heightsfamilycounseling.com and read more about her services http://heightsfamilycounseling.com/services-1/