In her ground-breaking book On Death and Dying, the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross claims that “people in mourning have to come to grips with death before they can live again”, and dealing with a break-up is no different.
The feelings we have after a break-up, and the emotional rollercoaster we find ourselves on, feels a lot like grief. We are forced into saying goodbye to someone and something we came to expect and depend on, and must deal with the fact that life will never quite be the same again. We are left with something missing and we might choose to avoid it, deny it, cling to it or try to replace it, but in the end we must realise and accept that they are gone.
At funerals people have the chance to say goodbye. They have the time to plan out their farewell, rehearse what they want to say and choose what music they want playing as the curtain falls on their relationship. But we don’t get that with a break-up. The moment of departure is over so sporadically that there’s very little time to absorb what just happened. You might not even get the chance to say it face-to-face; it might have all taken place over a phone call, or even worse a text message, and there is certainly no emoji capable of ever providing closure.
Blind-sided and with little to go on after the initial break-up, we fall back into the usual patterns of responding to change. We see it, but we deny it exists. We dodge, deflect and circle around the gaping hole it has left, instead of staring it right in the face and accepting it for what it is. We rail against the emotions, try to pummel them into submission, waste all our energy fighting a losing battle because we’re too afraid to raise the white flag and surrender. Put simply, we refuse to let them go because in our mind we were never able to say goodbye; we think they will still exist if we let the pain persist.
But so much of us wanting to say “goodbye” is actually wanting to have the final word on the relationship because we feel that that opportunity was ripped out from beneath us. We were so busy trying to process what our partner was saying that we weren’t able to be “in the moment”, denied the chance of feeling and saying everything we wanted and needed to.
There is so much research out there pointing to the value and healing power of writing our thoughts and feelings down, so one way to deal with all those bottled-up emotions is to let them out, on paper. By writing a Letter to Your Ex, you finally get the chance to have the final word (and there is no one there to stop you!). You can voice that hurt and anger, and actually sit with the frustration that you wouldn’t (or couldn’t) let yourself feel at the time.
Whether you think of it as a structured vent, a bitch-sesh written down, or a eulogy that only you will ever listen to, the most important thing is that you can say exactly what you want, how you want it, and not worry about offending anyone.
To get some inspiration or some guidance, check out www.lettertomyex.com
If you want more guidance on letting go of past hurt, check out our 4-week Get Your Shit Together course starting 22nd August.