The Surprising Way a Breakup Can Help Heal Your Heart

Relaxation

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart … Who looks outside dreams; who looks inside awakens.” ~Carl Jung

There is nothing quite like an unwanted breakup to rip your heart open and bring you face to face with your deepest shadows.

At least, that’s how it was for me.

Nearly six years ago, on a typically warm and sunny Saturday October afternoon in Los Angeles, I was lying on the floor of my apartment, wallowing to my then-boyfriend on the phone about how everything in my life seemed to just be hitting walls: My career was hitting a ceiling, our relationship felt stagnant, the direction of my life itself was hazy and vague.

It wasn’t the first time we’d had a conversation like this, but this time was different. On this day, for reasons I can only ascribe to the greatest mysteries of life, the center bearing the weight of it all began to unravel at the seams—with a long, deep sigh after at least an hour of getting nowhere, he spoke, “I think we should break up.

My mind couldn’t have fathomed hearing these words. Our relationship, no matter how bad it was, did not have an end in my mind. We were connected, we had found something within one another—something special and unique—and he had rekindled a feeling of aliveness in me that I did not want to let go of. It was simply unthinkable to me that what I had found with him would ever come to an end.

But—as will eventually happen to us all at one point in life or another, whether it be a breakup, loss of a loved one, or something else—the unthinkable happened.

I wish I could say that part of me found relief in the moment; that the part of me that knew things weren’t totally right came to surface to tell me, yes, this is a good thing.

Instead, I entered complete denial.

I listened to his words, and after grappling my way through the remainder of that conversation, I hung up, went to bed, and cried myself to sleep.

In my head, because I was still so enraptured by a fantasy of “this can’t possibly ever end,” this was just a hurdle. It was a part of our path that would see us separating for a moment, but ultimately coming back together again.

My mind simply didn’t want to let go.

In fact, it couldn’t, because that is what happens when the unthinkable occurs. A mind attached to a specific outcome cannot comprehend any other outcome, as anything other than what it has imagined feels like a threat to your survival.

That relationship, no matter how many red flags persisted throughout our two and a half years together—never having said “I love you” to one another, always feeling like I was just trying to prove myself, consistently being told “can’t you just be more of this or less of that,” to name just a few—was a matter of survival for me. Without it, my mind thought I would literally die.

In retrospect, I can clearly see I was a woman attached.

The relationship had been a lifeline for me when we first met. Fresh on the heels of losing my dad, that man came into my life and made me feel something when life had all but lost feeling. Without him, I thought I would lose it all (the irony being, of course, that a relationship born in attachment will lose it all anyway).

Our relationship had been built on a shaky foundation of codependency and fleeting physical chemistry, and having never experienced a truly healthy relationship before, I couldn’t make sense of how a connection that had once felt so alive couldn’t be somehow fixed or saved. Breaking up was simply not a scenario that existed in my worldview.

Beyond the Unthinkable

I would like to say that you do not, in fact, die when the unthinkable happens. But the truth is, you kind of do.

That is, at least a part of you does.

Perhaps more accurately stated, a version of who you’ve known yourself to be up until that point starts to wither and asks to be let go.

It’s the part of you that thinks you need to stay in a relationship that isn’t empowering you, or the part of you that thinks you need to stay in a dead-end job that’s out of alignment with your heart’s desires, or it may even be the part of you that thinks you cannot say no to friends who ultimately don’t bring out your best.

Whatever scenario is most relevant to your current situation, the attachment to staying somewhere that is not empowering for your heart and soul is ultimately a reflection of how you once learned things needed to be in order for you to survive.

It is no coincidence or surprise, then, that when the thing you are attached to is ripped away, what’s left is a gaping hole into the depth of your shadow. If you’ve never faced your shadow before, it can feel terrifying to do so. That is why, as was my experience, we often find ourselves in a state of denial about what has happened.

Denial allows us to hang on to what was instead of facing what is. And what is, is this—a doorway into your very own path of soul initiation; a moment in which you are given a choice to either stay how you’ve been or face what has been swept into darkness so that you can begin to be free.

The Threshold of a Soul Encounter

For me, that doorway came one week later when I woke up the following Saturday morning and found myself facing a hard truth I had not yet seen or known: On my own for the first time, I actually had no idea what to do with myself or how to spend my time.

It hit me like a ton of bricks. There, standing in the bathroom that morning and staring at myself in the mirror, I reached the threshold of all great soul encounters: I realized I simply could not keep living this way any longer.

I could no longer bear the weight; the center had officially broken.

Not knowing what else to do, I grabbed my journal, sat on my couch, and began to write about the experience of the breakup and all the thoughts and feelings I had encountered over the past week.

And that’s when it happened.

It came like a flash of lightning. As I was recounting a scene from a few days prior when I’d run into my newly ex-boyfriend and felt my mood drop from feeling somewhat okay to feeling excruciating pain and despair, I noticed that my response to seeing him was to retreat inward. I realized in that moment something that I had never been able to see before: When you retreat, you can’t feel the pain anymore.

The sensation of retreating to ultimately being withdrawn was something I’d felt many times in my life before, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized the withdrawal was a form of self-protection: In order to stop feeling any pain that a part of me thought I wouldn’t be able to survive, I simply removed myself from it.

As I continued to journal, I began to see how for much of my adult life, I had made choices to avoid feeling pain. Like staying in a relationship that wasn’t good for my heart for far too long, I often opted for the perceived safety of what was familiar instead of being true to myself by making choices that honored my heart.

When I really got to the bottom of it, I realized that the pain I had experienced that I had so diligently been avoiding over the years stemmed from believing that there was something outside of myself that could deem me worthy of love and acceptance.

I had long been living as a woman terrified of being rejected and unloved to the point where I might literally die, and it showed.

Ultimately, it was in those pages that I began connecting the dots of my life and how I’d come to be someone who stayed in a relationship out of fear rather than real love.

Perhaps more directly put, I was meeting my shadow.

The Encounter is Just the Beginning

The insights I gained that day did not, unfortunately, make everything in my life immediately fall into place and feel better again. What they did do, however, was jump start my journey into real healing and inner growth on a level I had never been able to access before. That day, on my living room sofa, standing in front of life’s metaphorical wide open plain, I was given the gift of meeting my soul.

The path hasn’t been easy, but facing your shadows and getting acquainted with your soul isn’t meant to be. It is meant to shake you to your core, to make you face the parts of yourself you’ve been too afraid to look at and learn to befriend them so that you can uncover the strength, wisdom, and heart you didn’t even know you had.

Following the call of my soul to honor my heart took time, patience, gentleness, support, curiosity, and a whole lot of practice and faith to see myself through the darkness, but the rewards have been sweet: No longer automatically shutting down at the first sign of pain, I now know that the love I had been so afraid of not getting was within me the whole time, just waiting to be known.

It’s been just over six years since the breakup, and I can say with the utmost confidence, it’s been worth every word journaled, every tear shed, and every painful moment encountered on the way down and back.

In the end, you may not willingly choose the hard things that happen in your life (I certainly would not have chosen to be broken up with at the time), but when you find the fabric of your reality starting to rip at the seams, and you are standing on the precipice of the very depths of your soul, you are being given one of life’s greatest gifts: to meet yourself as you are and, ultimately, to know yourself as you came here to be.


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