That's not to say the process is easy. In the wake of my ended relationships, I would hang out in the finger-pointing zone, retracing every step of the downfall, looking for the source. I'd try to identify my own culpability, but I'd try harder to identify my ex's.
But to unearth the jewels hidden in your breakup pain, it's not necessary at all to retrace the transcript of your whole story. Rather, take a look at how your life looked both before the relationship even began and right now, in the present. Ask yourself the following four questions, and emerge more powerful and empowered than ever before
Manifest your breakup into power by asking yourself the following four questions.
1. How would you describe your current feeling about the relationship?
Write it down in one or two words, then record a list of other feelings in order to flush away the near-inescapable one that's most loudly ringing between your ears. You can do this exercise for any number of emotions, repeatedly, but start with the most powerful one that feels like it’s running the show.
The loudest feeling following my last breakup was betrayal, because the cause of downfall in that case was an avalanche of lies that came tumbling down, burying the relationship.
2. When was the first time in your life that you felt this one emotion?
My first instance of feeling betrayal happened at a young age. In fact, I've found many first experiences with the emotion identified in the answer to the first question take place during childhood.
In my case, it was when I was 11 and my dad moved to Alaska. It was a long way from Los Angeles, where I lived. With great love and tenderness, he asked me to move with him, but I felt I couldn’t leave my mother alone. And while I acted like I was doing just fine with the arrangement, part of me felt he was either lying about loving me or didn’t love me enough to stay in the same city as me. Either way, in retrospect, it's clear I felt betrayed.
3. What can you do now for the younger version of you who experienced this feeling?
Imagine yourself back at that age, then sit down with this younger version of you. Ask her how she felt at that time, what she wishes someone had said to her, what she needed but was not given, and what she needs to say to you now in order to feel heard.
Let her talk until she has nothing left to say, then ask, “anything else?” My younger version had a lot to say. She was livid. She let me hear about her pain, anger, and sadness. Her little-girl perspective was that it was all her fault, that she wasn’t lovable enough to keep her dad near. She was upset no one helped her convince him to stay.
You'll know you're on the right track with this exercise if when you tap into your younger self's feelings, the perspective is childlike, powerless, and unable to see the whole picture.
4. What can you promise younger you?
Our inner child, whose needs were never met, didn’t shrivel away due to the lack of attention and nourishment. Rather, they retreated into the shadows of our hearts and have been poking and prodding us ever since in the hopes of grabbing our attention. We just haven’t been aware that they're a source of adult overreactions. Ask your little one inside what she would like you to promise her so she no longer has to trigger you?
For instance, when my inner child suspects someone is lying, she wants to act out and push away rather than talk with the other person. I made a pact with her to slow down and address her fears when she doesn’t feel safe. With all the shadow selves I uncover, I let them know that I’m a grown-up now and can take care of them; that when I was a kid, there just wasn’t anyone around helping me manage the powerful pain that made her retreat. But I can do that now.
So, go ahead and examine the feelings you have about your unsuccessful relationship. Because by identifying them and going through this process, you'll be far more powerful moving forward in all your relationships—romantic or otherwise—when one of these shadows is poked. Sounds like a recipe for future relationship success to me, not to mention a great fringe benefit to enduring an otherwise painful breakup.
Bridget Fonger is a longtime health, lifestyle, and relationship writer, whose work has appeared on Huffington Post, Thrive Global, and Quora. She hosts the Superhero of Love Podcast. She is author of Superhero of Love: Heal Your Broken Heart & Then Go Save the World. Learn more about Fonger at www.superherooflove.com.
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