Calling a breakup valuable is often something that makes people’s eyes roll, especially when dealing with emotional fallout in the present. It really does sound like the kind of well-meaning, but ultimately hollow phrase friends and family regurgitate in order to make you feel better. Pack up your troubles, chalk up lessons learned and career off into a rosy new dawn without a backwards glance. That’s the ticket!
Objectively speaking this is all well and good, but subjectively speaking it is as far-fetched and unattainable an idea as they come because it is all but impossible to dissociate our expectations from our feelings. Feelings can, and often are, the antithesis of logic.
Ironically then, given the title of this article, attempting to let go of the past sounds self-defeating. If we can’t override trauma objectively, then what’s the point? The thing is, what I’d like to argue is that the real value of letting go isn’t feeling better, or controlling our emotions. If anything, the value and lessons lie in doing it anyway, despite deep-seated distress. Here’s why…
You Protect What You Have Left
Many traumatic breakups leave gaping holes that swallow whatever it is of value we have left.
- You might want to avoid painful triggers from the “outside” and find yourself spending weeks and months secluded at home (damaging social circles).
- You might be easily distracted and have difficulty concentrating (potentially impacting your job, hobbies and social circles).
- You might pick up some damaging habits in order to dilute the pain (damaging your health).
There is no right way to navigate a breakup because every behavioral rivulet eventually leads to the same source. And once that happens you’ll want these aspects of your life back in order.
While trauma is entirely natural, so is the accompanying suspension of normality. The value in letting go, if not emotionally then physically, is that the ensuing exercise in discipline will protect these important aspects of your happiness while you deal with trauma.
This doesn’t mean you should go out and socialize if you don’t want to. Nor does it mean staying home and wallowing in misery if you want to go out. What it does mean is simply, objectively, assessing how the breakup is influencing these aspects of your life. In the present you might not care about these things because raw emotional trauma has a tendency to eclipse everything else, but it isn’t permanent. And again, there will come a time when the scales will shift and these aspects of your life will become vastly more important than your past.
You Can Redefine Who You Are
While letting go usually involves a cold-turkey approach when it comes to communication, it will — ironically — usually lead to an increase in desire to talk to an ex, rather than hasten healing. This is simply a case of emotional supply and demand. However, this is usually only a short-term hiccup.
Another important value of letting go is that despite the increase in longing, you start to forcibly dissociate yourself from the past. This isn’t a consequence of logic, it is an inescapable part of passively programming your brain to accept a new reality.
If you are surrounded by relics from the past such as photos, messages, locations and other physical triggers (we can’t objectively do much to control the intangible ones), it goes without saying that breakup pain becomes more intense, but it also continues to influence how we define ourselves today.
Physically dissociating yourself from the past isn’t just a great thing with healing in mind, it is also a fantastic way to refuse to let the present, and all the fresh new opportunities it may carry, slip by unnoticed.
While I previously discussed protecting the present, this is about protecting the future.
But how does this all translate into something you can actually apply?
- It might mean exploring new hobbies.
- It might mean making new friends.
- It might mean starting a blog (well hello there).
- It might even mean jumping ship entirely and living abroad.
- The possibilities are endless.
Whatever it is you do, and really it is the doing that is important, regardless of what it actually is, it is all fresh experience. It will coat the past with a new reality, a new you, and slowly begin to piece together a new life that you can redefine in any way you want. No matter where you land, it won’t be here, and that in of itself is one of the greatest experiences trauma can offer. A chance to start from scratch like a snake shedding its old skin. A chance to live a little more fully.
It Is A Win-Win Scenario In Any Case
No matter the expectation or desire for the future is, whether it be peace or reconciliation, letting go is your best bet. Not only is distancing yourself from the past a way to force change, it is also a way to become objective about the past. If reconciliation does occur, it will only ever work if the focal point (of what brings you together again) is not grief.
If you do end up reconciling in such a scenario, what happens once the pain evaporates and you begin to take the relationship for granted once more? That’s right, it will all be a case of history repeating.
The distance, therefore, benefits not only you, but also your ex. If they truly want to move on, they will respect your decision to honor their wish without much fanfare. If they begin to have second thoughts your act of letting go will only ever work in your favor, and in favor of a better future relationship, borne out of the steel of objectivity, not the fires of insecurity.