You opened your heart to someone. You felt like, at last, it was safe to share your deepest feelings, your tears, your laughter, your secrets. You let someone in.
And you’ve been abandoned.
Your feelings are a roller-coaster.
You wonder what you did wrong — you might even question if you’re worthy of love.
You revisit all your most recent conversations with the person who left you, everything over the time you were together that may have led them to give up on your relationship.
You rage at them — How could they leave you? After you gave so much to them, after you trusted them, how could they? You feel like there’s something wrong with them to leave you.
And then, back to pitying them — or doubting yourself.
You think over all the loving conversations you had, all the promises they made you, all the things you said you’d do together: How could this have happened? It must be a nightmare. This can’t be real.
Maybe you look back to times that you felt somewhere in your gut that something wasn’t quite right. You start reviewing how you got into this relationship in the first place. You wonder, “What about my intuition? I thought I knew how to read people. How could I have read this situation so wrong?”
Abandonment creates such a deep sense of loss, and of anger — and there are few places to turn with these feelings, of grief, of rage, of confusion.
So what do you do? Where do you go?
There are some things my clients have found to be useful. Maybe one or more of them can help you to find your next step forward:
1. This may be the most difficult, and the most important one. The other advice will be easier to follow once you can get this one: Avoid abandoning yourself. When you’ve been abandoned and betrayed, it’s typical to feel like you are to blame, and to try to numb out your feelings or avoid your own feelings, your own company. The deepest pain stems not from another person’s rejection of you, but from your rejection of yourself. Maybe you made some mistakes in your relationship. We all do. In order to learn from those mistakes, in order to heal, it’s essential that you find ways to come back to yourself and stay present to your own feelings. This may take work and time — but keep working, again and again, to extend kindness and compassion to yourself.
2. Give yourself time and space to grieve in your own way and time. Make room for the different feelings within you — whether they’re grief, rage, relief, joy — make a space to feel those things with a minimum of self-judgment. If you have someone to vent these feelings to, all the better. It will help to talk to someone who won’t moralize, judge you, try too hard to get you to “cheer up,” or harshly judge you or the person who left. You need space for all those feelings.
3. Journal. Some people use poetry or music as a way to express feelings that don’t seem to find their expression in simple words. Journaling can help you to find a space for your feelings, and clarity is likely to emerge when you least expect it.
4. Keep on moving forward with life. I know this one is easier said than done. You might want to hide under your covers, eat a pint of ice cream, and imagine a life of solitude. But this is an important time to both give yourself space to grieve, and give your life space to grow.
This is an important time to notice any support you have, and to expand your support network if you need to. (Especially if lots of your support was tied up with this other person and their activities and friendships!). Studies of grief and how people moved through it showed the process called pendulation to be most effective. Here’s how pendulation works: You put some focus on your grief. Then you put focus on resources you have in your life. You move your focus between moving forward and looking back. By giving yourself new good experiences, you build the resources and strength inside to cope with and move through your grief.
These principles have helped my clients. They can help you.
And, perhaps, this is a time that you could use some more help. You’re in a process that often moves through predictable stages, but if you’re stuck on one feeling, can’t seem to move forward with your life, or this loss has triggered a lot of other feelings, memories, or beliefs about yourself, it might be time to talk it over with someone who can help to navigate you through the next phase of your healing. This is also true if you notice that you’ve been repeatedly abandoned. This kind of cycle can be healed.
If you’re feeling stuck, know that it doesn’t have to stay that way. And reach out for support if you need it.