Heartbreak

How To Turn Off Your Emotions When Someone Hurts You (Yes, It's Possible And Healthy!)

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sad woman looking out the window

After nearly a year, in a blink of an eye, I was cut off at the knees, blocked, deleted, and shut out by the man I loved.

It’s been nearly four months since this happened, and while I’ll always love him, as a coach, I know how important it is to shut off my feelings for him so I can move on.

And I’m feeling really good about my future again — without him.

I won’t lie, I thought he was my "one."

My eyes still well up whenever anyone asks me how we are doing and I have to explain to them what happened. But, I no longer wake in the middle of the night in full-blown hot tears, red in the face and bawling into my pillow.

What happened? What could have possibly pushed him to make such a dramatic, relationship-ending choice?

Hint: January 6th. I never thought politics would have a role in my love life, but apparently, politics matter a lot these days. Huh, who’d have thought?

I always thought those in the military supported the office of the President, not the man sitting on the chair.

Bottom line: I was shocked when he shared his thoughts on the insurrection and was so offended by my response that he blocked me at that moment, and I have not heard from him since.

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How to turn off your emotions

1. Channel your hurt into clarity.

It sounds counter-productive to everything we're told about managing our emotions. But, just like touching a hot stove once in your life is a good lesson you never want to repeat, so is channeling your hurt into emotions with some teeth.

I was in denial for days. I could not believe that he would go completely dark in his communication. We had always agreed to both come to the table if a difficult conversation was necessary. I started to channel my hurt and disbelief into anger when I realized he was not going to step up to the plate and was instead running from it.

What kind of man does that? I was furious in an instant. He was behaving like a coward. And the reason for his behavior? Because I was shocked by his opinion. How childish.

Having shifted to anger, I no longer felt victimized and hurt.

I had learned my lesson.

If he was Lucy to my Charlie Brown trying to kick the football, he was not going to pull the ball out from under me ever again.

By channeling your hurt into productive thoughts, actions, and even distractions, you can take a step back from your emotions.

Relationship and Communication Coach Marilyn Sutherland advises, "It’s important for us to have tools that help us recognize when we are negatively triggered, and then have strategies to calm ourselves and our nervous system. To make an intelligent response, we need to get out of our head and use our senses to get present in our body and in the world."

Sutherland advises, "We can do some deep, slow breathing, or look at the sky or flowers, or listen for sounds. Then when we are calm enough and can think clearly, we can clarify why the person said what they said to understand, find out what triggered us and explore how we can respond from our best Self."

By giving yourself more of a wide-angle lens view of the situation, you give yourself a clearer picture and a more informed perspective.

2. Allow yourself to grieve.

When one thinks of grief, it's generally thought of in terms of death. While no one had died here, there's the death of a relationship and it's important to allow yourself to grieve for your loss.

This is a process that takes time. So, allow yourself to transition between the different stages.

While painful, it's an important part of the process to help you heal. And, while one might think this is counterintuitive to the act of turning off your emotions, remember that you can use this as an exercise in regulating and controlling your emotions.

Engage in mindfulness when you feel thoughts that may cause you grief looming ahead. Acknowledge them. Label them, and let them pass.

Of course, there's a time and a place for experiencing the grieving process.

Psychologist and life coach Patricia O'Gorman, Ph.D. explains that you are in control of "determining how best to express them. Sometimes it is better to express your feelings later, in your journal, or by speaking to a friend, or by doing a hard workout, rather than in the moment.

For example, when you're in the office, in class, at a party, or in another situation where you need to be able to put on a brave face and turn off your emotions to stop them from interfering with your behavior amongst peers, remember this: These painful feelings, while they may seem negative, are valid but not factual.

Try your best to stay away from any self-medicating measures, like misusing alcohol or other substances.

Know you will waffle between the stages for a while.

"Once we are not in reaction mode, we can talk to our boss and get feedback from them, asking questions to understand their point of view. We can also speak to one or more peers we trust who might have feedback for us," Sutherland adds.

This leads to the next step in shutting off your feelings for someone who has hurt you.

3. Tap into your empathy.

This means empathy for both you and the other person. It sounds crazy, but empathy is incredibly healing and powerful.

Start with empathy for yourself. You didn’t ask for this hurt, but by having self-compassion, you can stop asking why this happened to you and begin to see the wonderful being you are, all by yourself.

Sometimes, it's hard to find empathy for this person who so hurt you, but there is a way. Imagine them as a young child. Really see them.

Imagine what they were like. See their innocence, their fears, hurt, dreams, and needs. By tapping into who they were as an innocent child, you will be able to empathize — and perhaps even forgive them one day for hurting you.

By doing this, you will be able to get over the most upsetting and negative emotions that you may feel are controlling you, so that you'll begin to feel a shift in balance and power to the point where you can better control your emotions.

While it's not required that you forgive someone to get past the hurt they caused you, being able to forgive yourself in the situation and give yourself grace and self-compassion is such a positive and empowering achievement in and of itself.

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4. Call in your inner circle.

Forget feeling embarrassed or ashamed that "you don't have it all together" right now.

Forget the shame you feel when you run into a friend you haven’t seen for six months who asks you, "How are you and your fella doing?"

Forget the need to rehash the entire story — again. It’s like re-opening a wound and rubbing salt in it, over and over again, and it forces you to go through all of those painful emotions — sometimes even retraumatize yourself — in the process.

This is when it’s time to call in the cavalry — your inner circle of closest friends, perhaps family too. They are the ones you need right now more than ever, especially because you can be yourself, messy emotions and all, with them and they will continue to stand by your side at the end of the day.

When life gets you down, it can kick you where it hurts on top of everything by showing you who your true friends are. Sometimes, that means someone in your circle will reveal they're only a fairweather friend. On the bright side, you can come out of this knowing who your real ride-or-die friends are.

Sutherland asserts, "It’s important we have people we can trust to check in with." Further, when considering all of the coping tools you know now, keep in mind that "These strategies are also valuable with friend and family reactions."

By taking stock of who's in your inner circle and leaning on them when you need them most, you're alleviating some of the painful, negative feelings that are too overwhelming to handle on your own and lightening your emotional load.

In turn, this will help you manage your emotions more effectively and make it easier to turn them off when you need to.

5. Remove the evidence.

Take a trip around your home — with someone from your inner circle in tow if needed — and remove all signs of the person who hurt you.

If we're talking about a boyfriend or husband, that means: that toothbrush by the sink and his favorite shampoo in the shower? In the trash. His favorite baseball cap? Goodwill.

Former friend, a friend-turned-frenemy? Lift that framed photo of you two from senior year when you were at beach week together off the wall and get rid of it. That pink satin robe with 'Bridesmaid' embroidered on the back and your initials monogrammed on the front? There are plenty of very affordable satin robes you can buy online and have delivered to your home to replace it in no time — and they're cute.

While I’ve never participated in a ritualistic burning of an ex's stuff, I do hear from others that having a ceremonial burning of all his "stuff" can be very cathartic.

The thing is, if you have constant reminders around to trigger thoughts of the person who hurt you, it's like having an emotional minefield in your own space where you need to feel most comfortable and at peace.

Even if the person who hurt you isn't someone you plan on banning from your life forever, pack up their things and put them in a place where you won't see them, like the attic, a storage closet, or you could even ask your friend or sister if they didn't mind stashing them in a drawer somewhere for a while — or disposing of them once and for all if you can't bring yourself to do it on your own.

Shutting out reminders of them is another step toward shutting off your feelings about them (and the situation), which is another step to keep you moving forward. Soon enough, you'll find that they're literally out of sight, out of mind.

6. Get back out there.

This is a tough one, but probably one of the most important steps to take, especially if you're healing from a breakup.

Be it going out with friends to a favorite hangout or dipping your toe into the online dating world, getting back out there will help you heal.

Be honest about your experience when you do meet someone new.

I did all of the above to heal. Like I said in the beginning, I still get choked up but love isn’t enough and I deserve to be treated better than I was, which keeps me strong. I’m also extremely clear on my values and what is important for me to have in my life now.

I’ve been speaking to a really terrific guy for about six weeks now. As with any new relationship, we both asked how long we’d each been single. In that very first conversation, I told him exactly what happened. I didn’t hold back. It was hard but the need to have transparency in both my conversations and my relationships is a high value for me.

By being honest, I laid a foundation of honesty for us to build on. And this new guy really appreciated that I was so honest about it.

Not going through a breakup situation? This step still applies. Eventually, you will need to be able to make yourself emotionally vulnerable again. It's about being the you this experience has transformed you into becoming, because we are always evolving and growing.

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When is it not healthy to turn off your emotions?

You cannot go through life forever with your emotions turned off. That is a fact of life because it's simply not healthy.

Being emotionally numb on a constant basis causes you to lose out on the best and happiest experiences life has to offer, so you need to choose carefully when considering your options about how to respond to emotionally overwhelming situations.

Remember that turning off negative emotions makes it more difficult to enjoy positive ones.

But it makes sense to try to put your emotions on mute, or at least put them aside, when facing a big decision, a situation that's out of your control (especially one that evokes anxiety), or in situations where you need to be "on" for the people you're around (e.g., you're about to give a speech at a work function or your best friend's wedding).

Over time, your wisdom, emotional maturity, and resilience will grow — not despite negative circumstances, but because of them. Gorman assures us that "Thinking about how you want to react is using more of your brain to determine the best response for you for this situation. Doing this is not 'turning off your feelings' but considering what is the best way for you to express your feelings. Remember reasoning is also part of our survival mechanisms."

The beauty of getting through experiences such as these is that they reinforce just how emotionally resilient you are.

Gorman adds, "This doesn’t mean you never address the situation and how you feel about it, rather it is about choosing how you want to handle it, instead of feeling ruled by your feelings in the moment. Remember how you feel is only part of who you are, your reasoning is another part of who you are. When used together you are empowered."

So — yes. In the end, shutting off your feelings for someone you love that has hurt you is possible — and healthy.

Sutherland brings everything back full circle when she reminds us, "Then we can see that what happened is a gift, even if was hurtful in the moment, and reframe the experience so it supports us it’s a gift."

Just remember, it's not time that heals all wounds when someone you love hurts you — it's you.

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Rachelle Stone is a burnout prevention coach, certified life coach, and the founder of R Stone Consulting.

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