How to be with Heartbreak

An article by our partners humhum

“The deepest act of self-love is to listen to your own heart’s cry. The one beneath the other cries— the one that forces you to make decisions that make you cry because you know something else.”  -Alexandra Ballensweig, Founder of humhum 

We can experience many forms of heartbreak as we vulnerably open our hearts to connect with other humans. It’s one of the most beautiful, raw, and alchemizing experiences we can enter if we choose to remain open. Heartbreak in the arena of romantic connection can have us dancing non-linearly between feelings of disappointment, grief, resistance, shock, self-betrayal and beyond and can be brought about by a host of scenarios. This piece will focus more on how we can meet the internal experience with care rather than what may have sparked it from the outside.

How we relate to our heartbreak can move us into self-compassion and deep trust, or turn discomfort and pain into agony. This guide is meant to support you to navigate an aching or broken heart with curiosity, willingness, and compassion. What is offered here are tools for exploration. As you try any of these ideas on, remember that you are your own best teacher.  Notice in your own experience if in applying these practices and contemplations, your heart begins to open or if it closes. The invitation is for opening and softening. And so if something feels like it is closing you, put that down and let it be. This whole process of tending to the heart asks of us deep inner listening, patience, and friendliness.

BE WITH YOUR EXPERIENCE

Many of us push our uncomfortable feelings away by judging, fixing, or resisting them, and in turn seek out and cling to ways we can experience more of the feelings that are pleasant. This creates reactivity and internal turbulence. When you’re experiencing heartache, it’s important to first come to know your experience intimately. I love Tara Brach’s acronym RAIN as a means to become intimate with what we are feeling and cultivating self-compassion. You can try this either as a meditation or journaling practice as you come to know your heart.

Recognize

I am feeling…

Name the emotions that are present in your experience.

Allow 

I am willing to feel…

Release judgment without changing, fixing, containing, controlling… let your feelings be there. In not demanding that your experience should or shouldn’t be a certain way, your heart begins to speak to you.

Investigate

In the body, this emotion feels like…

I am noticing these thoughts arise when this feeling is present…

Bring curiosity to your experience and come to know it. This creates space around it and supports the natural arising of not identifying with it. You might notice fears you have, stories you are believing, and emotions arising and changing.

Nurture

I see you, I love you, I am here for you…

Offering care and compassion towards yourself builds trust and willingness to meet yourself where you are again and reduces the need to push emotions down or away.

GRIEF IS NON-LINEAR

There are five phases of grief that may crop up as you process change or loss; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Your heart may skip around from some to others non-linearly— you may live them all in a day! You may go backwards and forwards and revisit these feelings many times.  Grief is natural and nuanced. You may feel surprised as you notice what it is you’re grieving— from the loss of what once felt familiar or safe, to aspirations and dreams you were holding that you’re letting go of, to parts of yourself that you’re willingly releasing as you let go of a relationship, to ways of being, or dynamics that presented in a prior relationship that you’re letting go of to make room for something else. Come to know that which you’re letting go, with curiosity, patience and kindness. Letting go can feel hard even if we are choosing to do so consciously.

HONOR YOUR PROCESS

Hold the experience unfolding within your heart as sacred while you are still processing. Oftentimes our ideas about how we should feel or what we expect to feel keep what we actually feel stuck or unexamined. Notice if any ideas arise around how you should be feeling and invite them to quiet down so that you can feel what you are feeling. 

Part of your processing may include sharing and talking it out with people close to you, but choose them discerningly while you’re in a raw and sensitive space. You can let others know that you’re feeling a range of things, you’re processing your experience and you will reach out when you’d like to chat about it. Pay attention to how you hope others respond and how you hope they won’t. These are clues into your fears, desires, and what your heart is needing.

FEEL THE FEELINGS, DROP THE DETAILS

How it feels will tell you more than an analysis of what happened on the outside that sparked the heartbreak. The whys and why-nots, hows and whens of it all have their time and place to be examined if you’re looking to understand your needs and to set boundaries going forward, but while the emotions are still raw, this analysis is a tricky way the mind can distract us from the discomfort of our feelings and could add exhaustion. 

Honor the natural tendency to want to “prevent it from happening again” by making sense of it from the outside in. Be patient with the discomfort and questions coming up. Stick with the physical and emotional experience rather than the thoughts as a means to more clarity. Journal, draw, leave yourself voice memos, lay on the floor, whatever you have to do to tap into your own heart space.

NOTICE NARRATIVES

Watch the narratives you’re telling yourself. These may temporarily allow us to feel in control, as if we have some grip on ourselves to prevent this pain again but end up blocking us off from deeper truths within. Noticing the narratives forming can help us connect with the root emotion we want to avoid experiencing; guilt, shame, inadequacy, a sense of failure, unworthiness etc. Some narratives could be self-condemning e.g. “I always…,” “My pattern is…,” “I should have known when…” And others critical, or judgmental—generalizations about the other person e.g. “they aren’t ready for me,” “there is something wrong with them,” “they are inexperienced, cold, not seeing clearly…” these can go on and on. These are dead-ends and feel bad as they close the heart to the present moment.

USE INTENTIONAL LANGUAGE, INTERNALLY AND EXTERNALLY

The way we talk to ourselves or about ourselves has power. It can reinforce old patterning and keep us stuck, or serve as a doorway into new experiences, new potential. When talking about emotions, instead of using “I am” statements, you can say “I feel…,” or “I am experiencing…” or X emotion is present. When sharing your story, notice elements of self-judgment, blame, criticism, or negativity. Notice generalizing statements that may bind you e.g. “I always…,” “I am the kind of person that…,” and instead observe tendencies arising.

SHAKE IT UP AND OUT

Sometimes contemplation, meditation or journaling feels helpful, and other times we need to just move the body. You can learn to tune in to what your system is needing and step up to serve yourself. Go for a long walk, run, dance, practice yoga, exercise! Any of these help move energy in the body. Make sound!  As appropriate, drum, stomp, sing, shout!  Contemplation is then helpful again after to tune in to what’s moved and changed. 

TURN TO NATURE

As it’s possible, spend time in nature. Countless studies talk to the benefits. 

“Studies have shown that time in nature — as long as people feel safe — is an antidote for stress: It can lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, reduce nervous system arousal, enhance immune system function, increase self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and improve mood.” -Jim Robbins, Yale School of the Environment

CHANGE IS TRUTH

When dealing with painful emotions, the fundamental truth of  “change” can bring relief and hope. The old adage “this too shall pass” holds wisdom. This is not meant to bypass your experience now, but as a way to recognize that no matter how much pain you’re experiencing in this moment, in another moment it will feel differently. 

PAY ATTENTION TO SUBTLE VICTORIES

In tuning in to the subtleties of experience, you can come to notice the presence of multi-faceted, seemingly paradoxical emotions existing at once— you may have a fleeting memory cross your heart that evokes nostalgic sadness while simultaneously enjoying a present experience. Noticing your experience and the nuance of it creates space for you to soak up any spontaneous joy you feel. Pay attention to the subtle joys or feelings of satisfaction that well up from the inside out— as you see your own progress, your own growth, healing and beauty. For example, you might notice how much less a fleeting memory pains you in a given moment, or how you paused before reacting to an insensitive comment. Allowing these moments of personal victory to fill you forges new patterns traced by forms of joy and love that arise independent of an external circumstance.

TO DATE OR NOT TO DATE

There is no right answer here. Listen to your heart. If you are feeling called to connect with people romantically, go for it. You can start and stop and start again. Be upfront with where you are. You can invite others into your process if that feels appropriate. Pay attention to where the motivation to date is coming from and keep an eye out to see if it’s a tender, healing space within you calling out for love. Can you give that to yourself first? If the notion of dating feels conflictual, sad, or unsettling, hold off. Dating is a practice, and the more we are real with ourselves about our needs and capacities, and the more openly and transparently we can communicate what’s true for us to others, the more healing and enjoyable any relationship can be. Be mindful not to color a situation to keep someone around; vulnerability is your friend and will lead to more satisfying and rich connection.

Events to soothe your heart: