Pathways to Healing from Loss
Is your heart hurting?
You just can't get through life without heartbreak. And it's not just romantic breakups that break hearts. And we're not talking about bereavement here necessarily, that's a whole other subject. But there are all manner of life experiences that can cut deeply: job losses, financial setbacks, divorce, moves, illness...They have the power to profoundly shape us. How do we heal without closing down, without getting bitter, without giving up on joy?
I don't want to be glib here, but below are some tried and true suggestions that may help a bit.
I offer these ideas with the most sincerest of intentions. They are somewhat focused on breakups, but can be generalized into losses of all kinds. If you or a loved one are suffering these days, I hope you will find something helpful to you here.
1. Express Yourself
Particularly in the early stages of a a loss, try to give yourself full permission to feel what you feel without judgment. Free write in a journal everyday, draw, paint, dance it out, let yourself cry. Talking to a friend or therapist can help you process and gain some distance and clarity. Know that your pain can be a muse that carves out deeper places in you. This can be a very creative time...new selves can get birthed in the process. Whatever you do, don't let yourself get shut down or paralyzed.
2. Take Care Of Yourself as Though you Were Physicially Injured
Double up, triple up on self-care. Dealing with loss takes a lot of energy. Slow down. Don't overtax yourself, make life changing decisions, or expect too much from yourself, especially early on. Watch your food choices, get extra rest, and consciously create a self-care plan. Build in pleasurable distractions into your plan, such as massages, funny movies, or scented hot baths. Create little signs for yourself with encouraging messages and post them on your mirror. Create a totally cheerleading-my-life-is fabulous encouraging playlist (this really is so very helpful).
3. Manage Your Thoughts with the Magic Incantation
When you aren’t doing your self-care activities, you don’t want your thoughts to be running rampant about the ex, the relationship, or the loss, or the what if’s or hows. When such a thought arises, simply say out loud or to yourself: “I bless and release you.” You can accompany this with a subtle gesture of separation- palm facing you and moving your hand down from your chin to your belly. This, combined with the truly magic five words, can cut the cords of attachment and start to release the energy that binds you. Initially you might feel the need to chant the magic incantation 24/7. Do it if so! But, sooner than you think, you’ll need it far less often.
4. Use Guided Imagery
Belleruth Naparstek's brilliant CD "Heartbreak, Abandonment, and Betrayal" includes a clear introduction into how to use her guided imagery and affirmations for maximum benefit. Her voice conveys compassion, reassurance, understanding, and love. Her work is thoroughly researched, and is highly effective for healing heartbreak of all kinds.
5. Get Active
Getting your endorphins pumping through cardiovascular exercise is often prescribed as a way to get over a breakup. It offers a healthy distraction from your worries, relieves tension, and makes you stronger and more beautiful! Even if exercising is the last thing you want to do, the act of simply getting out of your hamster wheel head and forcing your awareness on moving your body can be helpful.
6. Set Up Timed "Obsession Sessions"
Obsessing is a natural reaction to loss -- but indulge in it only for so long. To push yourself past the "constant agonizing" stage, manage the time you spend in the thick of it. Set a timer for five minutes per hour to allow yourself to obsess, write and indulge in the pain of it all you want. But when the timer goes off, that's it...deliberately channel your energy somewhere else. Tell yourself you have to wait for the next hour to dive back in. Gradually reduce the time to four minutes, then three minutes, and so on.
7. Try or Learn Something Very New and Out of Your Comfort Zone
After a bad breakup or big loss, it's sometimes hard to get excited about the things you used to love. So find a new passion! The brain LOVES novelty and pours out the feel-good chemical dopamine in response. Try learning something radically different that you could immerse yourself in, maybe even something your ex would not have liked!
8. Give Back
Performing generous acts of kindness for others has been shown to improve well-being and help relieve depression. Giving back can be a powerful way to "rechannel the love," that was previously funneled into the relationship or situation that was lost.
Clearly, this isn’t an overnight process. If you really allow yourself to feel the truth, it will take less time than if you’re trying to skip over it. But, no matter how you do it, it will take time. Trust that you will eventually gain strength, wisdom and courage from your loss. There is no such thing as meaningless suffering.
The doves that remained at home, never exposed to loss,
innocent and secure, cannot know tenderness;
only the won-back heart can ever be satisfied: free,
through all it has given up, to rejoice in its mastery.
--Rainer Maria Rilke