You don’t need to be a psychologist to note the very harsh effects of a breakup on a person’s mental health. When a relationship ends, humiliation, rage, loneliness, anguish and grief all seem to simultaneously show up at the door, marching in arm-in-arm to parade noisily around our psyche. Evicting these emotions is a matter of healing, reconciling, finding peace within ourselves and somehow moving on. The road to recovery is rough, not just because we are struggling with the real loss of a person or a way of life we really loved, but because every painful rejection is fueled by two forces: the actuality of the loss itself and the army of negative, self-loathing thoughts reawakens within us.
Every hurt we experience echoes a barrage of rejections and painful events from our pasts. Throughout our lives, we are psychologically formed by our experience. We sweep along collecting the dust from the many lies, miscommunications, betrayals, criticisms and rejections we have experienced from the moment we were born: the frightening time a parent lost control, the angry look of a caretaker, the disapproval from someone we admired or abandonment of a loved one. All of these old and familiar experiences have shaped the way we see ourselves and the world around us.
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As adults, we tend to use painful events from our present to confirm negative attitudes from our past. The horrible things we believe about ourselves on a deep, fundamental level resurface the minute a situation like a break-up can be used to prove and support them. How often do we hear people fresh out of a relationship say things like, “He never really loved me. I will never find someone. I’m destined to be alone. Who would choose me?” How can the dismissal of one person cause such a spiral of universal self-shame? Why can’t we shake that sinking feeling of humiliation and unworthiness the moment someone decides they don’t want to be with us romantically?
My father, psychologist and author Robert Firestone, recently commented, “It’s amazing how people will suck the marrow out of rejection.” While most of us like to think that all we want is true love, the reality is, many of us are addicted to rejection. Rejection validates the negative point of view of what my father calls a “critical inner voice.” This “voice” represents an internal enemy shaped out of negative events that took place early in life. While the commentary of this critical inner voice might not be pleasant, it is familiar, and unless we challenge it, we carry it stubbornly with us into adulthood.