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According to Anne-France Huret, a psychologist specialising in couple and family therapy, the process of building yourself up again after a break-up has several stages.
Here’s the advice of our psychologist about coping successfully with everything from the emotional shock to putting yourself back together.
The emotional shock
We experience every separation, however foreseeable it may have been, as a shock because it turns our daily lives upside down. This emotional state is characterised by anxiety and stress, and often accompanied by physiological problems (loss of appetite, insomnia, nightmares, etc). In extreme cases, the consequences can be even more severe – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), lack of emotion, etc.
Then comes denial of reality, which may take the form of pursuing the other person or avoiding them.
Pursuing the other person. Despite the physical separation, you are still strongly attached to the other person. Everything seems to remind you of your ex, and you think about him / her all the time.
Avoiding the other person. The opposite of the previous behaviour, this involves fleeing from everything connected with the other person (moving house, finding a replacement, etc). However a psychologist would advise against rushing into a replacement relationship, as this will prevent you fully experiencing this new relationship, which may itself come to an abrupt end.
This stage is dominated by the emotions. You’re angry with yourself and with everyone who, as you see it, did nothing to prevent the break-up. When it’s yourself you feel angry with, you feel guilty – “if the other person left me, it must have been my fault!”
As soon as you take on board the reality of the break-up, anger is followed by sorrow. However this feeling brings a whole cargo of ills along with it – depression, withdrawal, apathy, isolation, loss of confidence, and loss of self-esteem. If your energy has been drained because you’ve been through a difficult patch in your life, it’s no good taking things too far. It’s from our family and friends that we get the strength to put ourselves back together.
Re-building your Self
Every experience, good or bad, gives us something. Maybe it teaches you about yourself; maybe it’s an opportunity to make changes. This is the stage at which you get your mental equilibrium back. The other person is no longer “centre stage” in your life, he/she has now become an integral part of your past experience of life.
To free yourself from emotional dependence and deal with “relationship bereavement”, we need to start by understanding this dependence. For that, it’s important to go back to the source of what caused it. Think about your relationships in the past, with your parents as much as with anybody else. With a little work on your Self, you can learn to understand yourself better and to accept yourself as part of the bigger picture – as an individual interacting with your environment. Learn to understand your needs and expectations. It’s also an opportunity to establish what you expect in the emotional sense before launching yourself into another relationship.
True change is a change to your Self. Paradoxically, it’s only by taking a step back, by taking a look at your Self as if from outside, that lets you find yourself.
Psychologist in France