When Breakups or Divorce Unlock Hidden Trauma: How to Recover
Wednesday, May 18th, 2016
If you’re going through a serious breakup or a divorce, you may be in more pain than you think you can handle. Maybe you’re not eating or sleeping, or maybe those are the only two things you’re doing. Either way, going out of balance is way too easy when grief sets in.
Losing someone we love even if the relationship wasn’t what we truly wanted or needed is plain hard. Human attachment is real, it isn’t in your head. Some experts have even gone as far as to relate the break of a human attachment bond to drug addiction, but worse. We are primally wired to bond and rely on each other, and when that ends we are often surprised with how much from the past comes up as a result. See the book “Attached” to learn more about attachment styles in relationships.
A Breakup Can Unlock Old Wounds
I speak from experience. About a year and a half ago, my husband fell in love with a family friend. He didn’t sit down and say goodbye, he didn’t give me closure, he simply packed up in the middle of a sunny summer afternoon while she waited outside our house in her red SUV and then disappeared. I followed him out to the car in a panic and yelled for them to never come back. (Well if that isn’t self-deception I don’t know what is!)
My nights were filled with darkness. Grief thicker than I had ever encountered before, pain I wasn’t sure I could bare. He wouldn’t answer my calls for weeks on end, I was going through literal human withdrawal. Once or twice, I remember fearing I may die in my sleep from the amount of pain I was in. When I would awake in a panic the next morning, shock would set in that I was alone and then that I had lived another night through what felt like the worst emotional storm I had ever been forced to weather.
But the strange part is at my core, I didn’t even want that relationship anymore. Countless days and nights had been spent pondering how and when I would find the courage to exit this relationship that while consisted of a deep intellectual bond and co-dependent friendship, wasn’t nourishing me on a heart level or helping me to grow as a woman. I wanted more than friendship, I wanted passion, someone I could open myself with.
So why now that it was finally over, was I suffering so much? Why all of a sudden did I think I was damaged goods and would never find another partner to share my life with? I had gained weight from the shock of it all, my body wasn’t what I was used to, my cat ran away, and my partner of 5 years was now a ghost. My ego had been badly bruised. My confidence had plundered.
Before it ended, I believed he couldn’t make it without me. I stayed in the relationship because I thought he needed me to take care of him. I didn’t believe he could take care of himself on his own. But that was my own self-importance and arrogance, it was a reflection of the dynamic we were in. Place holders for figures of our past, not two adults in a loving romantic relationship. I played mother for him, he played mother for me. We were projecting onto each other, enabling old patterns to re-emerge.
You may be reading this and thinking to yourself, I can totally relate. Or you may think to yourself, I was still in love with this person, we had a strong connection, our sex was great, the emotional connection was something I’ll never find again. I myself wondered if had those things been true for me, would my divorce would have been even harder? Probably not. The reality is, breakups trigger deep wounds within us that generally have nothing to do with the other person. And that’s what makes this whole thing so challenging and at times complex.
A Shadow Figure is Someone Who Represents A Figure from Our Past
In my case, I didn’t lose someone I shared an optimal romantic bond with, I lost a “shadow figure” which is true for a majority of the people making their way through tough breakups or divorce. Losing a shadow figure can at times amplify the painful emotions and cause quite an intense reaction because we’re dealing with very old wounds much deeper than the loss of a current partner.
On the surface it seems we’re really sad about the person we just ended a relationship with, but underneath it all and with the willingness to be self-aware we can begin to make connections that lead all the way back to someone in our early childhood. Usually, a mother or a father, but sometimes a sibling or other authority figure like a grandparent or foster parent, aunt or uncle who raised us.
How We Form Childhood Wounds
When I was 3 years old I was dropped off in the middle of the night to a foster home. I remember kicking and screaming as I was placed in foreign arms and watched my mom drive away. I didn’t know she was doing this for my own good so she could quit drinking and get her life together, all I knew was she was leaving me alone – and there I developed a deep abandonment wound. Now this is an extreme example, and all of us (repeat: all of us) are going to have some wounding from our early lives, regardless of our story. This is an inevitable fact of life, but some of us are going to have more shit to work through than others. That’s ok.
Fast forward 25 years later and my husband is driving away from our shared home in the passenger seat of some other woman’s car, and that was enough to activate my deepest wound in a way it had never been activated before. I can recall the feeling washing over me; dread, terror even. I wasn’t even a grown woman in that moment, I was 3. I realized this had less to do with my ex-husband and more to do with my own trauma. In a sense, from that moment on I was free. My realization meant I didn’t need him to overcome this grief. He didn’t need to come back for me to be ok, I had everything I needed to be ok all on my own. Relief flooded my body when I recognized this was an inside job.
In the Conscious Relationship training I have undergone and continue to engage with facilitated by my mentor, and spiritual teacher Phil. T Mistlberger we explore our projections, shadow figures and childhood wounds extensively in a group therapy setting. It’s intense, passionate, and transformative work. His Author name is P.T. Mistlberger and you’ll find many of his books on Amazon and in print at your local bookstore.
Other authors like Harville Hendrix have written extensively about childhood wounding and relationships, projections and how to heal through a therapy he calls “Imago therapy”. Essentially, the philosophy is that we attract partners who represent qualities of the figures from our past so we can make a second (or third, fourth or tenth) attempt to heal.
We Are In Relationship with a Pattern
This is why we may go from relationship to relationship without ever really changing the pattern. At this point we are repeating patterns and it won’t matter so much who the other person is. We’re constantly swapping out one body for the next in hopes that it was the other person who was broken, and if we simply find someone new things will be different. But what happens when you really dig in and take a look at your relationship history? Notice the patterns, where are the similarities?
I’m not simply referencing traits like “they were all tall and had blue eyes”, the deeper stuff is where you may connect the dots. In what ways were your expectations not met, in what ways did you feel let down? What were the common emotional experiences?
Maybe all of your partners have committed some form of infidelity, maybe they all go MIA, maybe you go MIA or maybe you can only make it to a certain month mark before everything falls apart – and you wonder, what the hell is wrong with me? Or what the hell is wrong with that other person?
Did you commonly feel betrayal, anger, sadness, lack of trust, fear of not being supported, fear of being left? Dig into those, when is the first time you remember feeling that way? This is the essence of self-reflection and shadow work. Linking our present dilemma to an unresolved experience in the past. And through this, we begin to enter a new space of growth that allows for huge shifts to occur within.
Understanding Our Patterns Means We Can Break Them
Self-awareness and this level of depth which is also known as “shadow work” is a tough pill to swallow. This work is not for the faint of heart, because it requires a level of responsibility that means we can no longer blame anyone else for what goes wrong in our relationships. We begin to see without the rose colored glasses or the shields of denial so we can truly move through old patterns and hopefully, get something new out of our next relationship. Most importantly though, our relationship with ourself becomes stronger because we are truly developing ourselves, clearing old wounds, and owning all parts of ourselves including the dark parts we wish didn’t exist.
So how did this help me when I was in the thick of my grief? Here I was, a newly separated young woman who just had her entire life uprooted overnight. Taking responsibility for how I got there meant I could do my healing work and prevent the same lesson from rearing its ugly head twice. I knew that until I worked out my own inner-childhood wounding that stemmed from abandonment and my relationship with my mother, I would continue to call in men who reflected my wounds back to me. This lesson was hard, I didn’t want to have to go through this again. So I dove in, I accepted the lesson, I owned my part, and I kept moving forward.
Owning Our Shadow Means We Have the Power to Change
Through many months of transpersonal therapy with Phil or as those of us in the Conscious Relationship community call him “Teertha”, I began to transform. My steps got lighter, my heart began to break open, I began to feel human again. In the thick of grief, it’s normal to question whether or not you’re even still alive. We can lose parts of ourselves, our passion or inspiration for life just disappears, and sometimes there is fear that we will never be the same again or that we’ll be alone forever. And it’s true, we won’t be the same, but that’s a good thing. Our most painful experiences are passageways to massive growth that can lead us in a positive direction. Once you see the light, it’s hard to ever go back to living in the dark.
In less than a year of diving into my shadow and doing the inner-child work as well as rebirthing – a breath work technique that can liberate you from the need to control everything, rewire your body for positive emotions and ignite a state of inner peace, I attracted a life partner I intend to go all the way with.
We dove into “the Work” together in a conscious community within the first 2 months and committed to be in a Conscious Relationship with one another. We have embarked on training as rebirthing facilitators together, and practice tantra regularly. He teaches me how to be more feminine, and I adore his masculine essence. Sounds perfect, it’s not. We have fights, we’re both stubborn high energy individuals (which is what makes it so fun, but also poses its own challenges). I don’t open up very easily and that drives him a little nuts. But we are constantly laughing, we have great chemistry and we’ve brought new lessons into each others lives that look different than our previous relationships. There are challenges yes, but they are new challenges. This is a step in the right direction.
Our First Priority is Our Relationship with Self
Relationships are never easy. We can never expect that doing the Work will free us entirely from having a human experience. The fantasy that one day, we can enter into divine union that never has a glitch is unrealistic. Conflict will happen, egos will be triggered, the inner-child never goes away. It’s building the relationship with our shadow, protecting and communicating with our inner child and integrating ourselves as whole people that makes all the difference.
Whether or not you end up in a new relationship or not, this work to overcome the grief and loss of your relationship will serve your highest good. You do not need anyone else to overcome this or heal. I can 99% guarantee you won’t end up single forever unless that is what you choose for yourself. There are billions of people in the world and you’re a lovable human. Don’t race to fill the void with someone else’s energy and instead get to know yourself. Cultivating a healthy relationship with yourself is one of the most important commitments you will ever make. Letting go and trusting this path is meant to teach you something about yourself will only bring you closer to living a truly fulfilled and on purpose life.
If you need additional support (which most of us do in times of crisis), I offer coaching and mentorship with an element of transpersonal psychology, shadow work and inner child work assist in guiding you through this process so you can re-commit to the relationship you have with yourself first.
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