Jill Goldson 's Opinion

A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill Goldson: How to deal with a broken heart

I know you get a lot of letters about break ups. My girlfriend and I were together for seven years. We have made big joint decisions about careers, just had a world trip and I was arranging a beautiful ring for her. She has told me it is over. I feel blindsided. Although a professional has told me I should ‘take care of myself’ and ‘take it day by day’, I am at a loss as to what I should do with myself.
Expect to experience the various stages of grief when you have a broken heart. Photo / Thinkstock
Expect to experience the various stages of grief when you have a broken heart. Photo / Thinkstock

I am so sorry to hear this. It doesn't matter how commonplace this grief might be, it is very intense stress, which also has a physical component to it. All in all you will be very vulnerable at the moment so it is therefore vital that you find the best way to deal with your loss.

The advice you have been given about "living a day at a time and taking care" is correct.

But this also means that you should put some really careful steps in place. If you break a bone you need to get rehabilitation of some sort. A broken heart is no different - many would say it is far worse.

The loss of a love triggers some very fundamental and primal emotions around abandonment, and terribly painful feelings of rejection.

Friends and family can be indispensable at such times - and I do hope you have people in your life to help you through. It can also be a smart idea to get help from a therapist either immediately, or if you find yourself still very upset, then after a few weeks.

A therapist can help you to understand a bit more about what is happening to your emotions and why you feel so blindsided - and how you didn't arrive at this situation alone. In other words, an understanding about the dynamics of your recently ended relationship can shed light on what else was going on, regarding communication, self-esteem, and any number of other issues particular to your relationship. Although knowledge and understanding won't alter what has happened, it can lessen the emotional chaos which grief always ushers in. It is the containing of the feeling of being taken hostage emotionally that we need to lessen in order for the necessary healing to take place.

Be prepared for the five stages of grief identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: shock, denial, bargaining, anger, depression and then acceptance. Don't expect these stages to come in any order. They will be present from hour to hour - or even minute to minute - in any sequence or combination. Knowing about these stages can help you feel a lot more in control.

You will hear over and over that "time heals", and quite probably you, yourself, in the past might have said this to friends and acquaintances. But actually it is not particularly helpful advice whilst you are in the eye of the storm of emotional grief. In other words, you know the pain will pass in time, but, as you say, "I am at a loss of what to do with myself".

Here are a few thoughts about what you could do with yourself:

Talk to friends and possibly a therapist.

Be realistic about bouncing back - it is going to take a while, so don't add pressure to yourself about how long it is taking.

Be appreciative about every step you manage - from opening the curtains in the morning, to meeting a friend, to completing a task. Chalk these up as milestones and congratulate yourself on each and every step.

Stay active - even if it is getting those trainers on and walking round the block. Endorphins are on your side, and you need as many stress busting resources as you can muster right now.

Avoid the temptation of unhealthy behaviours - substance abuse, withdrawal, and revenge. All will likely misfire at the very time you most need to take care of yourself.

Listen to music, watch movies, eat nourishing food and read as much as you can about what happens to us when we lose someone we love -You are one of many millions over millennia who have experienced this terrible but very human grief. You might be surprised at how much the activity of researching might help you.

Try and stay in the healthy routines of work and leisure - remember that the boring old everyday schedules and daily life obligations help, even though just waking up can feel painful at such a time.

We can't underestimate the searing pain of the splintered heart - you are experiencing one of the risks of being alive. The pain you are feeling means you are very much part of the human race. Broken attachment hurts a lot, but it is a sign that you are capable of love. "It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all", might sound a bit trite to you right now - but remember that it is our sorrows, as well as our joys, which make us who we are.

There are so many quotes one can summon about a broken heart, but I have always liked the simplicity of the A.A Milne quote in Winnie the Pooh, where Christopher Robin says to Pooh:

"Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think"

Thank you for writing in and take care.

Relationships Aotearoa 0800 735 283
Lifeline 0800 543 354

Jill Goldson

A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill's fascination for what makes us tick stems from sheer bloody-minded curiosity and a genuine desire to see people live healthy, happy lives. Born in Manchester, the award-winning family and relationship counsellor moved to Auckland when she was nine. Being the middle child of an immigrant family she was neither the oldest nor youngest child, neither a Pom nor a Kiwi. This kicked off a lifelong fascination with how people can make sense of transitions and how uncertainty can be turned into a greater understanding of ourselves and of those who push our buttons. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, and seen her working for the Family Court; in hospitals; universities; aboriginal training programmes, inner London social work practices, and now–her own private practice in Auckland. Whether she's counselling everyday Kiwis, highly paid power couples or the children of Bengali immigrant families, Jill has an inherent ability to tease out what's really going on in people's lives, and strategise to improve the situation, whatever that may be.

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