How many times have you opened yourself up to someone, only for them to reply with just love yourself or just be positive? Yet, despite this advice, they never actually suggest how to love yourself or how to be positive as though doing so is obvious and straightforward. After break ups, friends seemingly offer these “one liners” – phrases that have the best intentions, but absolutely poor execution. This following Buzzfeed article summarises the things not to say after a break up http://www.buzzfeed.com/shannonrosenberg/we-get-it-theres-a-lot-of-damn-fish-in-the-damn-sea#.ofWl94vja8
I could go through each individual phrase, but I think Buzzfeed does a pretty splendid job of explaining why they really aren’t overly helpful. One of the biggest reasons those phrases aren’t constructive is because they fail to validate the individual’s feelings. Yes, break ups do happen, and yes, almost everyone goes through them, but that doesn’t detract from the pain the individual is experiencing. Stating things like, “everything happens for a reason” or “you’re going to be okay” invalidates the heartache the individual is feeling now. And chances are, the individual already knows that they’re going to be okay, but right now, they’re not. And simply knowing that doesn’t prevent or minimise the feelings in the now, which is the only moment we ever really have. So instead of offering these one liners, validate your friend’s feelings. Empathise with them. Spend time with them. Sit with them, talk with them, and most importantly, be patient with them. Grieving doesn’t have an expiration date. And it ought not to either. We feel what we feel for however long we feel it, and often, there’s not a lot we can do to stop it. We have a lot of control in this life, but we can’t really control our heart or our feelings.
Speaking of validation, when someone says that you need to love yourself, what does that mean? Or better yet, what does that look like? I think loving yourself starts with validation. Validate the way you’re feeling. And don’t make yourself feel bad for feeling it either. Two superfluous phrases that need to be eradicated from the English language are “should” and “should not”. Should insinuates guilt. It insinuates remorse. And it insinuates suffering. Either you have or you haven’t, you will or you won’t; accept it and move on. When you already feel like shit, you don’t need to feel bad about feeling like shit. One of the things that really stuck with me in Ridgeview when I was institutionalised was, “Don’t should all over your life” – a play on words for “Don’t shit all over your life.” When I was in group therapy last year for DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy), one of the things my therapist said is that if you want to be liked by anyone, all you need to do is validate them. Validate what they’re saying and chances are, they’ll like you because they’ll feel like they are being heard and seen, both of which are important for establishing a connection. The last girl I was seeing was excellent at this. And to no surprise, she was very well liked. People loved her company because of how she made them feel. Given that this is the secret to being liked by others, it seems like a logical place to start in liking and ultimately, loving ourselves.
Secondly, embrace your flaws. Your flaws are what make you uniquely you so there isn’t any need to change them, instead, work on your strengths. A lesson I learnt playing in college is that as a player, it’s more important to work on your strengths, the things that set you apart from everyone else, than it is to work on your weaknesses. At the end of the day, a coach is going to play you for what you can do rather than what you can’t do. Also, if you only work on your weaknesses and neglect your strengths, you’ll merely become average in all domains and nothing will make you unique. Life is no different. We all have flaws. We all have things we don’t like. I have a big nose. But I embrace it. I didn’t always, particularly when I was bullied for it, but now I realise it’s a part of who I am and a part of my Dutch heritage and, it is my Opa’s nose. So it’s a way for me to remain close to him despite him no longer being here. One of the reasons that embracing your flaws is so important is because often times, we can’t change them. So, accepting them then becomes the first step. Once you can accept them, then you can start loving them.
We’ve all probably heard someone in our lives tell us to think positively or to be positive because positivity is a requisite for being happy, but rarely have people offered suggestions on how to do that. I liken “thinking positively” to my experience after surgery when I was trying to contract my quad; my brain knew it was going to be painful so refused to do it. So I would lie there, motionless. Willing my quad to contract, but nothing would happen. Telling yourself to think positively, then, is no different. Just willing yourself to do so isn’t practical. It requires work. It requires conscious effort and discipline. I suspect that one of the reasons thinking positively is so difficult is because it has to override the ego; the ego feeds off of negative energy and survives through unconscious awareness. Having said that, one of the keys to thinking positively is awareness. Catching your thoughts is essential. What do I mean by this? Using the principles of meditation, becoming an observer of your thoughts allows you to catch them and ultimately stop them before they propagate and contaminate all of your thoughts. When a thought enters your mind, acknowledge it and state, I am thinking about <insert thought here> right now. This awareness becomes crucial in eradicating the feelings associated with the thought because you are no longer thinking about the thought but the awareness of the thought. So the thought loses its power. It loses its momentum. And it disappears. As I said, thinking positively takes effort; you have to retrain the dominant neural pathways in your brain by first creating new ones and then by strengthening those new ones through practice and discipline. Essentially, you’re creating a new habit.
So as a friend of someone who is going through a challenging time with a significant other, what can you do? Challenge your friend. Merely agreeing with your friend and taking their side doesn’t offer any opportunity for growth, rather, it encourages this individual to continue festering in the negativity they’ve already created, in the reality they’ve already construed. In order to grow, individuals need to be challenged on how they think. Helping the individual consider things from their significant other’s perspective can help diffuse the situation and create compassion rather than frustration. Do this however, after first validating your friend’s feelings because what they are feeling is valid given the reality they perceive. You can help alter their reality, though, by challenging them to consider another perspective.
One of the difficult situations friends find themselves in is the negative portrayal of an individual’s significant other. Often times when things are good between a partner, we rarely feel the desire to share that with a friend. Either because we don’t want to boast about how great things are, or more commonly, because we don’t want to share this happiness – we want to maximise and savour this joy by keeping it contained within ourselves and our partner. This becomes a problem though, when an individual and their partner develops problems. When the individual confides in their friend, their friend only knows this side; the negative one. The friend has not witnessed the individual and their partner in their “happy” state, so instead, the friend’s perception of the relationship is very negatively skewed. It is no wonder then, that friends are often quick to encourage individuals to “move on” or “dump their significant other”, because to them, there isn’t anything worth sticking around for. If you’ve been the individual in this situation and a friend has responded that way, have you ever then tried to convince your friend that things were really good before and you’re just going through a “tough patch”? Yet, the friend seemingly doesn’t believe you? That’s because talking about the good times when things are bad has no credibility – it appears to be a hopeless plea to redeem the seemingly (in the friend’s perspective) doomed relationship. A possible solution to this dilemma is being proactive rather than reactive. Share your partner. Show them off. Let your friends see how you act around them. Let your friends witness the positive side of them. When your friends can formulate their own opinions of your significant other, it might encourage them to be less dismissive of them and your relationship when things become challenging. As a friend, being dismissive of this individual’s relationship invalidates their invested feelings and often times, makes them feel conflicted and retreat within themselves or back to their partner. Going back to my vulnerability post, an individual needs to feel safe to express themselves, so when friends become dismissive of something or someone important to an individual, it contributes to a feeling and desire to isolate oneself.
When you’re an individual in this situation, it’s easy to construct a reality that tailors the hurt you presently feel. The problem with this however, is that this reality isn’t an accurate depiction of the relationship, but it’s often the one we communicate to others. So one of the most important things you can do is to check yourself. Ask yourself if the way that you are perceiving this is an accurate representation of what is happening or whether you are merely focusing on the negatives, thus creating a waterfall effect? Checking yourself, in combination with friends challenging you, will likely contribute to a more balanced depiction of the situation. I recently had to do the former and check myself quite significantly because I realised the internal dialogue I had been narrating to myself was an unsuccessful attempt at explaining why my heart disconnected. Logically, my explanation made sense. But emotionally, it didn’t. This was my heart’s way of communicating that my mind was being unreasonable and inaccurately conveying the situation. Which leaves me in this current state of not knowing and not understanding, something that is typically uncomfortable and unsettling, but something I am learning to accept.
Anyhow, back to advice that is practical. Fortunately Buzzfeed has also written an article on 27 Things You Really Need To Hear After Getting Your Heart Broken and I think some of this advice is extremely constructive because it not only validates the individual’s feelings, but it does so while offering compassion and empathy. http://www.buzzfeed.com/caseygueren/breakups-suck#.klL2lpN5Ld (I was unable to link this article, so unfortunately copying and pasting the URL in a separate tab is the only way to view it).
I also wanted to share a text message I received from a guy who I sought comfort in during a difficult time. The reason I’m sharing this message is because I was blown away with the consideration, time, effort, and compassion that he invested in his response. But especially because I didn’t think there was anything that could be said in my situation that would be practical while still offering comfort. Here is the message:
If you took the time to share that with me then of course I'm going to reply. Anyways...
I think what you're feeling / what you did is completely normal; a lot of us remain attached when sometimes it's better to just move on, despite how difficult it may be. I think it's natural that you feel upset and hurt; she means a lot to you. Yet remember that you still don't know for certain; there could be any number of reasons why she hasn't responded. But even if you are right, then what? Relationships come and go with amazing rapidity; just because she's in one now doesn't mean she'll always be, at which point she may have a change of heart and come back to you. But it also makes you wonder if someone who cuts you out of her life just to accommodate herself even deserves you. I'm not saying anybody's actions are wrong, but usually one shows more consideration for the feelings of someone whom he/she holds so dearly. Want my advice? Start to try to seriously accept the worst case scenario; have your mind grow accustomed to it. It's like an enveloping sense of contentment and relief comes over you. And just try talking to people; it's always helped me. It takes your mind off it because once you become attached to another person, I think you may find it difficult to continue thinking of the former interest. The brain and mind are amazing things, but one thing they are not very apt at is simultaneously focusing on more than one thing when you're putting conscious effort to think about someone/something, and by that time I'm sure you'll start to think of that new person with greater ease and intimacy. As another person enters, so another goes. So remain open / welcoming of interpersonal interactions; don't live with one individual in mind. There are over 7 billion people in the world; surely that yields more reason to hope than to despair. And while that is a valid insecurity, just remember that what was meant to be will be.
People come and go, but life will go on.
As you can see, sometimes there are things we can say that will help others. This message was so profound because he validated my feelings while gently offering suggestions for change. He did so so delicately, compassionately, and thoughtfully that it was easy for me to resonate with his advice and attempt to implement it. I encourage you then, to avoid using one liners. Instead, invest. Take time to consider what advice you might like to hear in a similar challenging situation. Take time to challenge your friend. Take time to empathise. Be supportive, not dismissive. Be a promoter of growth, not of stagnation. But most importantly, validate them. And don’t forget to validate yourself, either. Because the secret to others liking you and you liking yourself is just that: validation.