3 Invaluable Lessons I Learned From Failing At A Mindful Breakup
Al* and I had been dating for about five months when I began to seriously question our relationship. Not for lack of love—actually, I was head-over-heels, blind-as-a-bat, hopelessly in love with him in the most soul-consuming, unsustainable way.
There were several reasons why I knew deep down that there was no future for us: We differed irrevocably in our personal visions for our lives, our respective religions were completely at odds with each other, and he told me he wasn't at all interested in having kids. When we inevitably parted ways, I thought the fact that I knew I was making a mature, mindful decision would be enough to carry me gracefully through the pain of detaching myself from someone I still deeply loved.
And yet as the days, weeks, and months went by and the initial shriek of heartbreak dampened, I still found myself caught up in it, obsessing over the connection we’d shared, angry at him for not reaching out to me in remorse and regret over losing me, and furious with myself for leaving so much unsaid and for not just being over it already.
As a yogi and overall self-aware person, I pride myself on doing most things with some degree of mindfulness. But what I quickly learned is that truly detangling ourselves from someone is a complex process that requires real work—and there are key steps I didn’t take right away. Five months later, I can see with some perspective the ways I didn’t quite succeed at executing a mindful breakup. Here's exactly what I did wrong.
I didn't unfollow him on social media.
How are we supposed to get over a person who's still popping up in our newsfeed daily? I let myself be dragged through the mud, torturing myself via Instagram story for fear of simply cutting the cord. Why? Because I knew that if I completely disengaged, I might really have to accept that this was completely over, and I wasn’t ready to do that.
So I spent months waiting to see if he "liked" a photo that I’d posted for his benefit, watched an Instagram story that I’d put up hoping he’d notice, posted anything himself, the list goes on. This kept me linked to him, which I still wanted on some level. The bottom line? Staying attached via social media kept me attached in real life as well. As hard as it is, this needs to be one of the first moves we make post-breakup to give ourselves space to heal.
I got angry, and I didn't deal with it.
I was angry, but I stayed fixated on all of the reasons I was upset with him, rehashing disappointments over and over again in my head with friends, in my journal, the list goes on—relentlessly beating a dead horse with no plan to move past it. Anger is a healthy, human emotion that we're all entitled to feel. But we have to identify a healthy way to work through it so that it doesn’t keep us stuck and stagnant. My animosity was trapping me, holding me hostage by linking me to him with no end in sight, no plan for release.
Ultimately, my therapist suggested writing a series of letters to him, starting with pure, raw rage and emotion and evolving them each time until the negative emotion had been worked through, and then destroying them, and that helped. My resentment toward him and the situation has changed nothing about the course of our breakup. In fact, has only hurt me and kept me in a state of pain.
I chose to lean into negativity.
Mindfulness is about understanding that we always have the power to choose our thoughts, feelings, and actions. If I had really been putting my mindful practices to work in this situation, I could have chosen to lean into the knowledge that in breaking up, I made a decision that was good for myself long-term. I could have patted myself on the back for taking the harder route in the moment, knowing that in doing so, I was ultimately creating space for the right person and relationship in my life.
Instead, I chose to be upset. I chose to get angry. I chose to dwell, ruminate, and stay stuck. Why? Because it was working for me. I got to play the victim. I got to blame someone else and make them wrong. I got to be the right one, the better one. I could have saved myself quite a bit of the suffering if I had just allowed what was to simply be, if I had just mindfully asked myself to lean into what was good about the split. I could have journaled through a mindfully optimistic lens, even if I didn’t fully believe what I was saying to myself, because over time, I would have started to embody that positivity.
We’re all human, and that part we just can’t help. We get our feelings hurt and we react. People let us down and we feel bad. We can try our hardest to get it all right, but we’re bound to fall short somewhere—and that’s OK, so long as we learn and try to do better with what we know now. Chances are, we’ll probably get another chance to try again sooner or later. The best we can do is take our missteps as lessons and growth opportunities and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
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