Break-up Grief Myth 1 - "I know how you feel."

Love, Heartbreak

My heart was broken.

It felt like my heart was broken, shattered like a figurine suddenly knocked off the shelf. I should have, but I didn’t see it coming. I felt lost and alone. Hopeless and grieving. I felt sad and guilty that my children were hurting so badly and nothing I could do could make it better. I couldn't figure out what to do next. I didn’t know who I was anymore.  Sometimes I'd wake up in a panic in the night, afraid of ... I don't even know what I was afraid of.

So when my neighbor said "I know how you feel Terri ..." I almost came apart. HOW on earth could she possibly know how I felt? I didn't even know! And if she did know, how did she survive?

I heard the same thing, over and over and over again.... for years!

When you are suffering grief and pain from your divorce, people often say to you, "I know how you feel."  It is just one of those myth about break-up grief, but they really seem to believe it!

Often those words are followed by, "....I'm in the middle of a divore too." or "....My husband died last year." or " daughter's husband left her."  I even heard " pet dog disappeared" Seriously?

I knew even then that they have the best of intentions. And you know that they are trying to help you not feel so alone when they say it to you. But it is NOT true under any circumstances that they know how you feel! They just don't realize how those words hurt even at a subconcious level, 

Those words often stir up feelings of guilt and shame.  You may start thinking and believing that their pain was probably worse than yours.  That you don't have the "right" to hurt or cry.

But, when you are in the midst of break-up grief it hurts with 100% intensity. If you start comparing your pain to another persons,you begin to wonder if theirs was more painful.

"What right do I have to hurt so badly? At least my husband didn't die" or "At least he didn't abuse me." or "At least he is paying child support." You begin to trivialize your OWN pain when you buy into this myth about the grief of break up and divorce. And you begin to suspect that they are stronger and braver and smarter than you because they seem to be doing okay now.   Guilt and shame start showing up.

This "I know how you feel" cliche may just be the most common myth about grief in divorce recovery and if you let yourself accept it as true, you are buying into a horribly limiting belief that really slows down your divorce recovery and grieving process. 

You can hold on to the reality that you are unique, your experiences are unique, and you are the only one who feels what you feel.

Others may have had a similar experience, but the similarity is only in the facts. When you are broken hearted because of a break-up, the facts are not what need healing, your heart is what needs healing

Sometimes it is even tempting for you to use those words with others Your children, your parents and siblings who also suffer from the grief of your break-up. It is theirs too.  Their pain is also great and it is good to remember that you can't Know how THEY feel. So be careful not to say "i know how you feel"

So what do you do about it when someone says "I know how you feel?"  I learned that you can gently remind yourself of 3 things:

  1.      It isn't true that they know how you feel. Just as all relationships are unique, your grief is unique.
  2.      They mean well. Practice not taking it personally.
  3.      If you catch yourself comparing your feelings of pain and grief to theirs, simply notice and do a short, gentle thought-stopping when feelings of guilt or shame creep in.

All this said, it is important to not grieve alone, to not isolate yourself. Successful healing from the grief of heart-break involves connections with people; especially who care about you, who want to support and nurture you.  

But remember that most people have not learned to recover from their grief successfully. Many of not most simply ACT as though they are recovered!  And that act unintentionally encourages you to act recovered too!  You don't want to do that if you want your broken heart to heal!