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How to Make Friends with Heartbreak: 90-Second Clarity Exercise
Rather than fighting off unpleasant feelings, it is always best to soften, open and invite them. Fighting wastes valuable time. Allowing them acknowledges the reality of that particular moment and makes it easier to address your circumstances intelligently. For example, if you’re walking down a dark street trying to pretend you’re not afraid, you might miss the valuable signals fear offers you when you tune in and open to it.
And so it is with a broken heart, or any other problem, really.
Treat your emotions like wounded friends
You may have been taught to attack a problem when you encounter it, either by trying to fix it right away or else eradicating it. I’m not suggesting that this is never a good idea, but there is another option that is not often thought of, which is to extend the hand of friendship to your situation. This is an extraordinary thing to do. Making friends with your broken heart — instead of trying to mend it or banish it — begins by simply making room for it to exist.
You could even invite it to sit down with you since you’ve probably been hating it or trying to ignore it. When grief and disappointment threaten to overwhelm you, instead of bemoaning them, turning away, or shrinking in fear of them, you could feel them. Instead of trying to shout them down either by talking yourself out of what you’re feeling (It’s all his fault anyway), making up a story about what it all means (I always attract the wrong guys), or collapsing on the couch with a bottle of gin (to deaden the pain), invite in your feelings and get to know them.
Most likely, there will be only a few times in your life when you’ll reach the limit of what you can bear. It may be from falling ill, the death of a parent, or even the loss of a most precious possession, such as your home, and of course it can also be because of a broken heart. To face these extraordinary times, you need to take extraordinary measures. Most of the tactics touted as “extraordinary measures,” however, are really ways of escaping the reality of what we must face: our emotions. Certainly drinking, drugging, random sex and sleeping all the time are ways to avoid emotional pain, but even healthier means, such as positive thought, physical exercise, therapy or simply forcing yourself to move on, are also methods of stepping away from what ails you, rather than toward it. Stepping toward it and going into it do not just mean lying around crying all the time. It means meeting your emotions and relating to them, not as enemies to be conquered, but as wounded friends from the front, needing your loving attention.
Try this 90-second clarity exercise
The first step in not letting difficult emotions freak you out is to relax with them. This does not mean that you stop feeling agitated. I recognize this sounds contradictory! How can you relax and feel agitated at the same time? Well, you can! You’ll need two things: a journal and about 90 seconds.
The next time you feel an emotion that you just want to run from, grab your journal, turn to an empty page and make two columns. In fact, you may want to draw the columns and questions in your journal now so you don’t have to look for this section when you’re also trying to run from that emotion. In the left-hand column, quickly write down the one to three thoughts that are bothering you the most. For example, you might include things such as, “I’ll never, ever find love again,” or “It’s all my fault,” or “There is something so wrong with me that I always choose the wrong guy.” In the second column, list as quickly as you can where these emotions live in your body. If you pay attention, you see that every feeling has an accompanying bodily sensation. It may be as simple as “Adrenaline flooding my stomach” or as particular as “My right shoulder blade suddenly feels pinned to my spine.” Be specific. Be creative. The moment you arrive at the correct physical analogy for your difficult emotion, turn all your attention to the sensation, not the thought that provoked it. Don’t try to dispel it but, instead, relax with it by turning your attention to it.
Paying attention is synonymous with offering loving-kindness. As Zen teacher and poet John Tarrant says, “Attention is the most basic form of love. Through it we bless and are blessed.”
Gradually your physical sensation will begin to shift, lessen and, perhaps, fade away. In this way, you allow the sensation to be what it is and play itself out by relaxing with it.
Excerpted from The Wisdom of a Broken Heart: An Uncommon Guide to Healing, Insight, and Love by Susan Piver. Copyright © 2010 by Susan Piver. Reprinted by permission of Free Press, a Division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.