By Vikki Stark
You know the signs: that sick feeling in your stomach, those tossing/turning nights, food that tastes like cardboard and a mind that whirs relentlessly like an old-time computer that refuses to shut down. When a relationship ends, particularly when you didn’t see it coming, your mind is in torment and it’s exhausting.
You’ve been hit by a tsunami and you’re struggling to get your head above water. You’re desperate to understand what happened and what you could have done differently. In other words, you’re obsessed! If you could only get some relief from your thoughts, you’d feel much, much better. But how?
Many people are surprised to learn that we actually have more control over our mind than we think we do. We believe ourselves to be helpless because attempts that we make to get our thoughts in line don’t work right away, so we give up. But unfortunately, and luckily, like most things in life, the more we keep at it, the more successful we become.
First, we have to make some changes:
Step 1. Believe that this painful phase won’t last forever. There’s comfort in recognizing that although you’re suffering now, life won’t always be this hard.
Step 2. Grab back your feelings of self-worth. Just because the one you love no longer loves you does not make a statement about how valuable you are. Don’t let other people define you.
Step 3. Turn your focus from the past to the future. Push yourself to make plans and visualize how good you’ll feel when you’ve accomplished them.
Harnessing your mind requires practice and a willingness to reach for happiness, even in the midst of your misery. Too often people wrap the victim label around themselves like a protective garment, reluctant to remove it. But if you can get in touch with the healthiest part inside of you, the one that knows you need to keep building a life for yourself, then you can boost your recovery from heartbreak.
No doubt, time is the best healer, but while we’re waiting, here are some tricks you can use to make it through the days:
Sweep, Sweep, Sweep. Imagine that your mind is a small, wooden-floored room that keeps getting all dusty and dirty with your negative thoughts. Now visualize a tiny, inch-high cleaning lady snoozing in the corner of the room, an old-fashioned twig broom leaning against her chair. When your thinking drifts into dangerous territory, wake her up and urge her to “sweep, sweep, sweep” away those pesky thoughts! Imagine her working away furiously, tidying up the floor, sweeping all that unwanted muck out the door and making the place spic ‘n span.
Barking Dog. This simple but effective trick helps you separate yourself from intrusive thoughts. Imagine that you’re walking down the street and you see a dog chained up to a fence next to the sidewalk, barking wildly at you. Continue on your way down the street knowing that the racket he’s making, which represents the cacophony of thoughts in your head, can’t hurt you. It’s just noise. Hold your head up and keep on walking.
Shake it Off. While we’re on the topic of canines, here’s another very simple option for breaking out of a bad mind-set. You know how a wet dog shakes from head to tail in that goofy way to dry himself off? Well, when you need to lift yourself out of a funk, stand up and literally shake it off. “Shake, shake, shake” from head to toe, good and hard. Waggle your arms, bobble your head, jiggle your derrière (but remember to remove your glasses first!) It’s guaranteed to break the spell at least a little bit. Try it now!
Paint the Wall. This technique enables you to manage those rotten bad feelings you walk around with. Picture yourself vigorously painting all those angry, hurt, pent-up feelings in strong colors on a great big wall. Use your whole body, jabbing and stroking until the wall is violent with color. Stand back and take a good look at the turmoil exteriorized. Then imagine grabbing a roller, dipping it in a tray of thick white paint and rolling it criss-cross and up and down until the wall is covered all over with a field of pure white. Stand back again and let yourself exhale. Then inhale and breathe in the clean paint smell!
Recovering relatively unscarred from the unwanted end of a relationship requires that you use all your positive energy to fight off those doom and gloom thoughts that hold you back. Happiness is a choice that we have to keep making for ourselves at every twist and turn in our lives — the choice to roll up our sleeves and do whatever it takes to keep moving forward — even shaking like a dog!
For more than 25 years, psychotherapist and family counselor Vikki Stark has helped people grow through hard times, solve problems and restore hope for the future. She is the author of Runaway Husbands: The Abandoned Wife’s Guide to Recovery and Renewal, which grew out of a study of over 400 women who were left out-of-the-blue from what they believed to be happy marriages. Learn more at www.runawayhusbands.com.