Many people underestimate how profound the effects of break-up can be. It is perfectly normal to feel confused, angry, guilty or depressed for months, perhaps years, after break-up. Your reaction will depend a great deal on your own personality, the nature of the relationship and the way in which the split was handled. It can affect your moods and how you get along with others. It can also mean a substantial drop in self-esteem, sudden bouts of tearfulness, anger or a deep sense of aloneness. The impact can be prolonged by long-term legal disputes and loss of financial security. For some, it may seem impossible to believe that the break-up is really happening.
Many counsellors will attest to the fact that grieving for an ex-partner can be worse than bereavement. With a bereavement - awful though the experience can be - there is a total loss of the loved one which enables us to let go - we know that our partner did not want to leave us and retained a commitment to the relationship. With break-up, the source of the pain survives and each time we see our ex-partner, the pain is ignited anew. Some experts suggest that there is a greater "respectability" associated with bereavement, for break-up implies personal failure - the haunting notion that the whole situation was our own fault and could have been prevented.
When you take all this into account, it is no surprise that many splitting partners turn to the bottle for solace, often drinking alone - or suffering from clinical depression where they are prescribed anti-depressants.
The important thing to remember is that you are not alone - there are thousands going through similar experiences and there are many ways in which you can deal with break-up positively. What’s more, social attitudes are changing. There is a growing realisation that too many are suffering in silence, feeling constrained to keep a stiff upper lip!
Common emotional reactions to break-up
There are a wide range of potential emotional reactions caused by break-up. You may experience one or more - and they are all perfectly normal.
- Shock - experienced as confused thinking, difficulty in concentrating and/or focusing enough to do routine daily tasks.
- Anger - felt towards the partner: waves of blame or resentment, fuelled by a sense of powerlessness. Or, anger turned inward in the form of self-reproach and guilt.
- Anxiety - constant worrying; fear for the future; feeling out of control.
- Depression - symptoms of lethargy or fatigue; great sadness inside; sense of pointlessness.
- Isolation - all of the above are closely linked with the grieving process and can also contribute to a sense of isolation and despair. This can lead to tiredness and a tendency to withdraw socially.
- Loss of confidence - beliefs about one’s own worth and value become negative, leading to low self-esteem and a sense of inadequacy in many areas of life.
- Increased activity - some people can rush into great activity to stop themselves from feeling; linked to anxiety.
- Insomnia - a common symptom immediately after the shock of break-up.
What can I do about it?
If you are experiencing any of these feelings, it is important to remember that there is a way out of the emotional darkness and confusion. What you probably need most is the practical and emotional support of friends and family. Managing alone, especially if you have children, can be too much - you should accept any help that is offered.
If you are in emotional crisis and do not have anyone you can speak to, do not hesitate to pick up the telephone for immediate help - you can try The Samaritans who will offers a sympathetic ‘listening ear’, helping to ease some of the pain and confusion and deal with your situation.
Whether or not you have a network of support, you may find that professional help can tide you over. There are many counsellors and support groups around the country which specialise in helping people deal with break-up - however, you do need to shop around to find what is right for you.
It is now possible to get divorce recovery therapy in many parts of the country. This is usually a programme of about ten sessions, working with trained counsellors - they put you in contact with other people in the same position and help you come to terms with what you are experiencing. There are also many independent therapists who can work with you and your children. The most important thought to bear in mind is that you can deal with break-up effectively - for many it is a profound opportunity to generate a new and very positive way of life!