How to deal with a breakup at Christmas
Breaking up can be one of the most distressing times in your life – not least when it’s in and among ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. CBT and hypnotherapist Sian Barnard tells us how to cope.
A breakup can be one of the most dramatic, traumatic and distressing times in someone’s life. It can leave them with feelings of hurt, anger, inadequacy, low self-esteem, guilt, depression and anxiety, and all that can only be made worse when placed in and among ‘the most wonderful time of the year’.
What kind of breakup have you experienced?
In order to best understand how to deal with a breakup, it’s important to realise what kind of pain has been caused by the type of breakup. For example, whether:
- You’ve initiated it
- They’ve initiated it
- It was mutual
The pain can vary depending on what is making it up, but with each type there will be the pain of loss, change and uncertainty. This can then also be lessened or heightened, depending on a number of different scenarios:
- You have met someone else
- You’ve been forced to walk away because of their intolerable behaviour, or because they have met someone else
- You have simply fallen out of love with each other
- It wasn’t right in the first place, so it was never going to work out
An extra problem to throw into the mix. Well, two extra problems, actually – lockdown romance and the forced, close-quarters living during lockdown we all experienced. Many couples got together at an unnaturally fast rate, were moving in together far too soon and got on each other’s nerves much more intensely than ever before.
What do you feel like when you have just broken up with someone and it was initiated by them? Or they have done something that has finally crossed a boundary? Well, let’s be honest – like s**t, really.
Having had it done to me in my 20s and 30s (on four major occasions), I remember that feeling like they have walked up to me with a huge ice cream scoop and gouged the ‘me’ out of me. That hollow, empty, sick feeling, complete with the constant sore throat as you’re constantly close to tears. The running-out-of-good-friends to go over the same old conversations with, because we need to constantly discuss it, (this is actually part of the processing, but there are limits). Or discussing it with colleagues at work, who you would never normally confide in.
The problem is, we are looking for a magic pill to take away the pain, but there isn’t one. So, instead, you look for explanations. Often, there aren’t any of those, either. Ruminating (also known as ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda), is very destructive, so I’d encourage you to stop it right now. ‘If only’s are irrational – and, when you finally disengage with this day-dreaming and come back to the present with a bump, you realise you are just where you left off anyway: not in the past, but in the ‘now’ –without your partner. And that hurts.
Be honest with yourself
If you’ve felt like your partner has never quite been 100% committed to you, or that they always had the control in the relationship and, while they said the right things, rarely backed them up with any tangible action, then be honest with yourself. Don’t hang onto what you hoped for – look at what you got.
And don’t expect them to change. Why would they? Personality transplants are hard to come by on the NHS. A bang on the head or a near-death experience can sometimes stop someone from being an arse, but in my experience, a promise is rarely enough.
When it’s someone else’s decision to end your relationship, it’s often the most painful and may or may not mean they have someone else waiting on the side-lines. My advice? Don’t jump to conclusions without good cause. It rarely ends well for anybody.
Another thing to deal with when you break up is the isolation in the early days; refusing to leave the house, or that massive protection dome called ‘my duvet’ – made trickier when Christmas parties and annual family gatherings loom. Or maybe for you it comes in the form of enjoying a bottle of wine or two, a few beers or spirits, until it all goes fuzzy and the pain seems far away – again, made a little more pressurised and dangerous by Christmas parties and annual family gatherings. Your head can become like a washing machine on spin and your body the laundry knocking and rocking all over the place. The thoughts in your head feel uncontrollable and never-ending.
These first few days and weeks are the worst. Trust me, the feelings lessen in intensity. You will start to find that you are spending longer periods of time being occupied with something other than the person you’ve broken up with, before your head and body drag you back into the grieving process again.
Case study – Love, lies and lockdown living
A client of mine had been seeing her boyfriend for two months before lockdown and moved in when restrictions were announced. Within this time, his constant love bombing, flowers, messages of undying love began to dwindle. He would comment on her weight, saying she was twice the size now than when she met him, and that only he could love her, no-one else would want to be with her.
She wasn’t allowed to follow any attractive men on Instagram, even though they were old friends or colleagues. He would constantly sulk for days and she would have no idea what she had done. The warning signs were there but, because of lockdown, she had been too hasty moving in with him. It was when she caught him secretly texting and taking his phone everywhere with him that she realised things were wrong and, for her own sanity, tried to leave. He threatened suicide and she would cry and cling onto him not to leave the house.
He promised to change, but never did. The last time she said she’d had enough, he flounced out of the house and drove off, declaring he was going to ‘commit suicide’. Instead of running after him, she called his dad, brother, the crisis team and the police, giving them his car reg number and phone details. He was incredibly embarrassed when he was cornered in KFC car park munching on a bucket of wings by a huge rescue party!
The point is, love is action – not words. If someone continues to behave badly every time they do something wrong, even if they promise not to do it again, they’re lying, sometimes even to themselves.
Identifying your pain
Finding out what themes, thoughts, behaviours and emotions you feel can be the most helpful way to understand your pain and move through it. It will also mean you can put an actual ‘name’ to the types of emotions you’re experiencing and can learn how best to combat that pain in the most effective, sensitive way.
Not sure what you’re feeling? See how you would characterise your own moods and behaviours based on the three main ‘emotions’ associated with a breakup below:
Theme: Being treated badly by someone close
Thoughts: Thinking of past hurts; how unfair it is; could it be your fault; not feeling good enough.
Behaviours: Isolation; pestering your ex; seeking forgiveness when you’ve done nothing wrong; sulking.
Theme: Threat or danger, whether real or projected
Thoughts: Thinking the future will bring something terrible; you will never meet anyone again; you’re not good enough
Behaviours: Asking for reassurance; avoiding people or gatherings; drinking heavily (or other numbing behaviours); eating more; eating less; worrying.
Theme: Loss and failure
Thoughts: Thinking of all the terrible things you’ve ever done; all the terrible things that have been done to you; feeling hopeless and helpless; feeling like you’ll never be happy again.
Behaviours: Isolating; destructive coping mechanisms (ie. heavy drinking, drugs, etc.); too little/much sleep; eating too little/much.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sian Barnard is a qualified clinical hypnotherapist and a CBT therapist. She’s a member of The British Society of Clinical Hypnotherapy and trained at the London School of Clinical Hypnosis and the College of Cognitive Behaviour Hypnotherapy.
She set up Peaceful Minds in 2008 from her clinic in Earls Court and Harley street in London, but now lives here in the North East and has offices in both Jesmond and Gateshead.
Therapy isn’t always the answer, but if you think you could benefit from CBT or hypnotherapy, Sian can provide you with more information via the Peaceful Minds website.