When Was the Last Time You Were Truly Heartbroken?
I’m going to ask you a vulnerable and potentially scary favor: take a minute to think back to a time you truly felt heartbroken… whether this heartbreak was brought on by a breakup, a death of a dear friend or family member, or even the loss of a pet. Pick one.
Maybe close your eyes and try to visualize your past-self experiencing the heartbreak- do you remember what you were wearing or who you were with?
Do you remember what flavor ice cream you might have devoured that night (or morning…no judgment here)? Sit in this moment for only a minute.
As sadness and longing might flood your emotions, I am curious if joy very quickly follows when you try to recall a favorite memory you shared with this individual- a laugh or an intimate exchange of love.
Take a moment to see if you can remember the sound of their laughter or the smell of their skin. Maybe there was a time when they made you laugh so hard you got a good ab workout in for the day.
I’m going to bet that whoever came to your mind when you initially thought of the word “heartbreak” is also someone who comes to mind when you think of the word “love.”
When a heart feels true grief, it shatters- but not all at once like when a glass hits the floor. It can feel like a slow, painful process that continues to scab over as life continues to move through the motions.
Sometimes our bodies can feel the physical pain of grief in attempts to tell us something is very wrong. An indescribable pain that can only be understood once experienced.
One of my graduate professors opened a Grief & Loss class with a poem by Kahlil Gibran called “On Joy and Sorrow.” She gave us a few minutes to read the poem and then asked us to underline any lines that stood out to us the most. I underlined the following…
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain… Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’ But I say unto you, they are inseparable.”
Isn’t this why becoming close, vulnerable, and attached in a relationship is so terrifying?
The more we let someone into our lives, giving them the ability to bring us more joy, the greater risk we have for inevitable heartbreak. And after we experience this shattering experience once, it becomes scary to think about going through it again.
Can Heartbreak Be Prevented?
If you are someone who has experienced a loss, the following thoughts might have been very tempting to act upon- “Walls. Quick! Build walls. Thick, tall dividers that can never be penetrated by another. I’m FINE. Why do people keep asking me if I’m OK?! I don’t need help. They wouldn’t understand anyway. I will never let anyone know the real me again, the vulnerable me, the one who proved to be so fragile and weak. I promise though… I’m fine.”
While these thoughts might sound deceiving, I would argue that they are protecting. When we lose someone we love, we lose a sense of security, too. Such a loss can feel too vulnerable- even uncomfortable.
It can be very difficult to think about the pain so of course, trying to tell ourselves we are okay, telling other people we are okay, makes complete sense.
To answer the question though, heartbreak can never be prevented. Even if someone chooses to isolate themselves from creating loving relationships, I would argue they would live a life controlled by their heartbreak, not empowered by it.
Empowered by Grief
In my personal and professional opinion, I think we would all do ourselves a favor by seeing grief as a tornado instead of stages. Grief is messy. Grief is disorienting. Grief is a force of nature.
Imagine the very bottom of a tornado where there is no space in between the cyclone. When a loss initially hits us, it can feel all-encompassing.
We can never imagine living without pain or a day without tears (unless the halt was brought on by dehydration). We have zero space from our grief at the bottom of the tornado.
Yet, over time, we move up towards the top of the tornado and have more room to move (physically and emotionally). At the top of the funnel, we can look around and see the grief is still around us, but learn that we are in control of our emotions a little more.
With the help of friends, family, and maybe a counselor we learn that noticing the tornado does not mean we will be sucked straight back to the bottom. We can notice our sadness without it controlling us.
We can use our grief to connect with others and even give back. Yes, grief is a force of nature but so are you! And just as Kahlil Gibran said, grief and love are inseparable. If you are in the pit of the tornado… love brought you there and love will bring you through it.
3 Steps for Coping with Grief and Loss
1. Find a Supportive Counselor:
Having someone who is fully dedicated to your healing will be tremendously helpful throughout your grief journey. Doing a quick search on Google will pull up some grief counselors near you.
Click around on their websites and see which one feels like the best fit. Some counselors provide a free phone consultation, too.
2. Don’t Force Yourself into a Timeline:
I’ve heard some clients say, “I should be over this by now.” Grief, again like a tornado, can be unpredictable. Months and years can pass by where you feel okay and then it can hit you when a random song comes on the radio.
Also, every person is unique! Just because you know your neighbor’s friend went through a loss, too and you saw them at the grocery store laughing on the phone, doesn’t mean you need to be in the mood for laughter that day or week (or month).
Comparison is not a friend during your grief journey. Having self-compassion for yourself and calling a supportive friend when the sadness feels overwhelming will be more helpful than pushing the emotion down in attempts to “get over it.”
3. Know That Emotions Come and Go:
When you feel angry, sad, or any other emotion knocking at the door- invite them in for a little bit. Investigate the emotion with kindness. Ask yourself, “where did this come from?”
Understanding the reason or thought behind the emotion, and even embracing the feeling for a few minutes, can help diminish its power.
Bottling up the emotion is a guaranteed way to magnify the feeling to the point where it feels uncontrollable. Just because sadness is present right now take comfort in knowing it will not always be with you.