The Gollum of Heartbreak, Or, How to Stop Worrying About Which Feelings to Feel

This is a guest post from xenu01. Xenu is a resuming student and history nerd in the Bay Area. She likes satirical, surreal and speculative fiction, and is a staunch feminist. If she had three wishes, the first would be to speak every language, including cat. This is mostly because she is pretty sure the cats are talking smack about her.

Gollum agrees that misery loves company

I lack photoshop skills, so please enjoy my interpretive art via MS Paint.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I am in the process of breaking up with the love of my life, to whom I am married. It is horrible and heartbreaking and I am secretly just a little bit annoyed with anyone who doesn’t bring their own life to a screeching halt and attempt to FIX ME when they hear about it, but I keep that under wraps because I am aware that it’s not fair and it wouldn’t work even if everyone did nothing but try to fix me 24/7.

I am doing everything right: I’m moving. I’m doing my damnedest to keep contact with my ex to only the necessities (“are you going to be at the house at X time? because I need to pick some things up”), even though it is the hardest thing ever. I’m referring to her as “my ex” even though that feels like a betrayal and a lie. I’m keeping myself busy. I’m trying not to vomit my relationship thoughts all over the internet, especially where they would create awkwardness for my ex, our families, or the friends we have in common. We broke up because she did some AMAZINGLY shitty things, but I avoid both trash talking her AND making excuses for her. I’m in therapy, although the moving and the breakup-induced change of financial situation are making that slightly less straightforward than usual.

The problem is that I’m too good at doing everything right. This part of this post could be describing me: “Like I *knew* that it was the right decision to break up, and I *knew* that things get better with time and I *knew* exactly how to ride it out … and somehow knowing that should make me feel less shitty,” and in my case it does make me feel less shitty, for now at least — except for the times right after I wake up and right before I go to sleep when it feels like a nameless faceless Golem of Heartbreak is sitting on top of my chest.

But then I get up and go about my day and I can’t remember all the sad, horrible dreams about my ex that I had the night before even though I’m pretty sure I had them. I feel like all my feelings are very, very far away. Even when I do feel them, I’m pretty sure it’s only the tip of the iceberg and I can’t even begin to name them — like when you see that actor in a movie and you are positive you’ve seen them in tons of stuff before but you can’t remember what any of it was? — and that’s kind of scary.

So I’m terrible at feelings. I’m awesome at seeing all sides of every situation and, for example, having compassion for my ex and why she did the things she did even though they were terrible. Despite this, I’m also decent at maintaining my boundaries, like when my brain forgets we’re not together and I have the impulse to text her about something I think she’d appreciate, only I don’t because I *know* better. I understand that my friends, most of whom are also her friends, might not be the best audience for what might come out of my mouth if I pretend, for just 5 seconds, that I don’t have compassion for her. I know I should be angry, but mostly I don’t feel angry. I am pragmatic and reasonable. I have so. much. fucking. poise. that, among other problems, I think I might be giving my friends the impression that everything is fine! I am so completely cool about this! It is hardly like heartbreak at all!

I’m afraid that this is going to come crashing down around my ears, unexpectedly, sometime soon. (Hopefully it will be after I have secured a new home and job for myself, not while I’m still between jobs, straddling two cities, and sleeping on friends’ couches. I have a history of depression, and I’m genuinely worried about whether I will continue being able to feed myself if I lose my shit right now.) I think there’s a part of me that wants to break the fuck down already, but can’t. I know my heart is broken, but I don’t know how to feel it, and I’m afraid to find out what that will be like.

Is it okay that I don’t feel that much right now? How do I let myself feel things without completely losing myself? How do I talk about my feelings when I don’t even know what they are? How do I talk to my friends or let them know that I need their help when I don’t even know what kind of help I need?

Thank you,
Emotionless Wonder

The first thing we are going to eliminate is this idea that she, your ex, is the love of your life.  If she was the love of your life, you would not be breaking up with her.  She was a love of your life, and there will be others.  For now, you must be the love of your own life and take care of yourself.

You are going through an awful, terrible, awful time.  Breaking up is hard to do don’t even begin to cover it, and you’re dealing with it all.  Many jedi hugs to you from me, and I am sure you will get many others from commenters.  You are doing a lot of things right, and there are several posts on this blog which talk about the assembling of Team You which can be found here.  I strongly recommend you read or reread them.  There is some great advice there that you might want to follow, but it might also help you feel less alone to read the letters of other people severing their ties.

Also, you are already seeing a therapist, which is great.  Are you able to talk to them honestly?  Don’t protect your therapist.  They have heard worse.  And talk to them up front about your money worries- it is possible they can refer you to a free or sliding-scale clinic.  This post also gives a lot of helpful advice if your financial resources are stretched thin.  I just googled “sliding scale therapy MYCITY” to find the lady that helped me work through stressful family issues.

As a side note:
In this wonderful modern era, social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter can be a terrific way to keep in touch with people on a regular basis.  They can also make you spend hours contemplating bitterly whether your ex is dating someone new or if that is just a friend or monitoring their relationship status.  It’s also a good way for them to keep tabs on you.  Cut loose for a month or two and let you both heal a little. Deactivating your Facebook account is pretty easy, and you can go back any time you want.  If you are following her on Twitter, stop.  Fill your Twitter feed with other people.  Did you know there’s a user called Republican Dalek?

To address your actual questions:
1. Is it okay that I don’t feel that much right now?
Oh, honey.  YES.  You are going through an extremely difficult time, trying to juggle several different balls at the same time, and you don’t feel like you are in a safe place to feel the feelings right now.  Your brain is in survival mode.  You can revisit those feelings when you feel safe to process them, in your own time.  There is no Way To Be When You Are Breaking Up With Someone.  Some people have crying jags, some people get mad all of the time, some people hibernate for a few days.  All of these are coping mechanisms.

2. How do I let myself feel things without completely losing myself? How do I talk about my feelings when I don’t even know what they are?
These two questions form the basis of the most compelling reason for talking to a therapist.  Their job is to help you process things and to figure out what you’re feeling.   You might also try finding an outlet for those feelings.  I may be wrong here, but you sound like an extroverted kind of person, meaning you charge your emotional batteries by being around people?  This may seem like an out-there kind of idea, but my spousal unit suggests writing some angry, FEELINGSPOEMS or FEELINGSPROSE and reading them aloud to a bunch of strangers at an open mic night.  You might also try joining a group on meet-up- a writer’s group, for instance, might be helpful?

One of the hardest things about breaking up with someone is that you have this whole LIFE together; you have all of these things that you do as A Couple, and then you have to learn to be Just You again.  This is a golden opportunity to learn about yourself and what you like to do.  Meet-up.com is a great place to meet new people, or if you don’t want to make friends but to just change your scene you might try doing some free social activities.  A lot of museums have one day a month or week where admission is free or cheap.  Many cities have some sort of artsy night where galleries are open and free and there is food and wine- perhaps the first Friday of the month?  Some venues also have cheap or free repertory theater, so you can pay five bucks and go see Singing in the Rain or whatever.

This is also where your friends get to do their job and help you cheer up.

3. How do I talk to my friends or let them know that I need their help when I don’t even know what kind of help I need?
For now, let them make you a love sandwich.  You are couch-surfing, you say, so presumably one or more people both know that you are going through a break-up and are willing to offer you a place to sleep.  What if you took one of those people out for a beer or a coffee as thanks?  What if you told that person that you aren’t looking for advice right now, but you need someone to vent your feelings to?  You don’t want your ex to know what you say because it would needlessly hurt her, but you need someone to talk to right now; you’re having a tough time.  If you aren’t ready or able to talk about your feelings right now, surround yourself with your friends.  Invite them to go play Frisbee in the park with you.  Ask them to go see this free concert at the library, or ask your current host if you trade food and clean-up duty for them to host a zombie movie marathon.

Most of all, let yourself grieve.  I think that might be what is going on with your Golem of Heartbreak and your subsequent numbness.  Accept that it’s going to take a while and that no matter how smart or wise or well-prepared you are, you can’t force yourself to get over it before you are ready. And take it one day at a time. Stop trying to plan for an indeterminate future where everything will be safe and you can finally fall to pieces. Stop thinking that you can stop yourself from falling into a Pit of Despair if you only just don’t let yourself feel things.  Wake up every morning thinking, “How can I be happy today?” until you stop feeling like someone is sitting on your chest in the morning.

All that anger covers up a broken heart.

If you see this guy sitting on your chest, he’s probably mad at you for stealing the One Ring.

43 comments
  1. jamiefritz said:

    Golem =/= gollum, but I wouldn’t want either sitting on my chest. Good luck to the LW.

    • xenu01 said:

      Well yes, but trying to make a creepy clay guy was more frustrating.

      • JenniferP said:

        GollUM is also funnier.

        “Is there a Pity Party, preciousssss?”

        • jamiefritz said:

          Lighter too, no doubt.

  2. General Assortment said:

    I would suggest trying a journal. Writing something somewhere that you never plan to show to anyone, and is just for you. (You could always take it to read in front of people if you felt like it.)
    I tend to be a ‘bottle everything up and never let other people know I am upset’ type of person. A lot of times because I don’t want to burden other people, or because my head tells me that my feelings are silly and that LOGICALLY everything is fine.
    Writing things down in a sort of stream of consciousness way can sometimes help me get to the real root of the problem.
    But I expect talking to a trained/licensed professional could help in a similar way.

    • JenniferP said:

      If a sparkly notebook with stickers isn’t the LW’s thing, other readers swear by 750 Words for journaling purposes.

  3. Emma said:

    A++ advice, but I am also really into the LW’s golem reference as a metaphor for coping mechanisms. Because having a golem in your house is probably a giant pain in the butt, you really don’t like it sitting on your chest, and it is not going to Win the War against your real-life problems. Ultimately the golem story is brave in a very sad way, and your sad bewilderment at your own courage and awesome powers of dealing is very palpable in your letter. But that golem (i.e disconcerting inner quiet) is your ally and right now it is punching those cossacks or nazis or whoever long enough for you to get out of your house and make the preparations you need to for your new life. Embrace it! It’s doing it’s creepy, emotionless thing at your problems, not at you.

    • JenniferP said:

      I like this argument for GolEM as well.

  4. NessieMonster said:

    Awww, man, I don’t have any advice, but I do have lots of sympathy, jedi hugs and gollum party hats.
    All the points about therapy are good. Bring up the history of depression with your therapist and ask them to keep an eye on you for if things get worse. You’re doing a great job of holding it all together while you are sorting out your new place, and I think what Xenou said about you not feeling safe enough right now to deal with your feelings is probably pretty damn close to the mark. I reckon that once you do have some solid ground under your feet again, working out your feelings will come a little easier, and if it doesn’t straight away, well, that’s what your therapist is for, right?

    As for this bit: “I know I should be angry, but mostly I don’t feel angry. I am pragmatic and reasonable. I have so. much. fucking. poise.”, I know how that feels for me. I spent a long time being angry at my folks for breaking up but being unable to feel any of it because I could see both sides of the story, that I didn’t feel like I had the right to be angry. Didn’t help either that I come from a family where anger is never displayed to the person(s) you’re actually angry at, so it all comes out sideways in places and situations you don’t expect, or it mutates into something else e.g. tears and numbness. Not fun. 😦

    Also, it sounds like you’re kinda afraid to really impose yourself on your mates. If it were me, I’d be feeling like, ‘Yes, they are letting me sleep on their couches, but they surely don’t want to know about this mess I know I’m feeling somewhere under the surface but haven’t quite managed to look at yet. Nobody wants me to feelingsvomit on them’ and my jerk brain will kick in right about there, insinuating that they’re just putting up with me. It isn’t true of course, but it’s hard to let go of. And I may of course just be reading my own crap into your letter, but any way.

    Best wishes and more jedi hugs.

  5. Good luck, LW.

    Re: talk to your friends, just tell them what you need. If you worry, give them an option to out. When I was recovering from a soul-searing break-up, I got into the habit of announcing what I hoped would happen, and giving my friends a chance to agree to it.
    “Is it okay if we don’t discuss [ex] at all tonight? I just want to pretend he doesn’t exist.”
    “I just need to unload without interruption for a few minutes. Can you handle a deluge of emotional lava?”
    “[Ex] did/said this thing; can I get your opinion about what the hell that’s about?”

    Interestingly, these conversational consent procedures have hung around in many of my heart-to-hearts with closest friends. Sometimes it is just a little too much to hear, say, Ladyfriend vent about her relationship with her mother in exactly the same way again, so it protects us both to put limits on how much vitriol we expose each other to. (It also helps us to trust that when the Friend is listening and agreeing, s/he really means it.)

    • alphakitty said:

      This sounds like a really idea.

    • Ambivalent Academic said:

      I like this idea a lot. I am curious, though, what a good “no” response from the listener would look like. Because if someone were asking me those questions, and I really *couldn’t* handle a deluge of emotional lava right then, I guess I’d want to know how to say that without feeling all callous and uncaring toward the friend who needed to vent or whatever.

      I imagine you and your friends have already navigated this, but if I were initiating this kind of exchange with a friend and we hadn’t done so before, I guess I would want to follow “Can you handle a deluge of emotional lava?” with a script for them to bow out, like, “It’s OK if you’re not up to it; just let me know and I can take it somewhere else, or you can let me know when there is a better time.”? I don’t know, something better?

      • I don’t think there is a great script – the “bow out” option puts even MORE pressure on the person to agree, since you’re being so very cool about it. I think it’s a trust thing, and the same issue with all consent procedures – you need to have a way to be okay with hearing no. For emotional issues, I usually have a back-up plan. If friend says “I can’t really handle that right now” sometimes I will go “Okay, I need to go into my bedroom and scream into pillows and write in my journal for an hour then, will you be cool? Make yourself some tea, mi casa es tu casa.” One of my very bestest friends, when she doesn’t want to engage with my emotional lava, will suggest that we bake something nice and watch a movie while drinking tea (and I don’t always ask before ranting, but I can tell when she can’t deal with it because she will keep redirecting the conversation to baking, movies, and tea, and I am getting better at stopping the eruption process). Having a therapist is a great back-up option too. The kindest refusal you can make to a friend is an honest one. “Sorry, I don’t think I can, but if there is anything I can do besides that, please let me know. Hug? Tea? Quick game of Connect Four?”

        • Datdamwuf said:

          I’d say first you have to be the kind of good friends that are honest with one another, you can draw the boundaries of a friendship in a similar way to those of a romantic relationship. Had those conversations with by best friend long ago. If she doesn’t want to hear my shit she just says she can’t deal with it and same on my end. We had to talk this out again when I went through a breakup with my husband of 17 years because I had/have so much trauma from his abuse – now I try hard to take most of my shit to my therapist and I just started EMDR with great hope! Sometimes though you just need to talk to someone who *really* knows you and hear their words on it and my friend is cool with that. Just talk to your friend about talking to them before you go lava :).

          Someone brought up the “I don’t want this repeated” or the “this is private between us” thing. I’ve lost a lot of friends over the years because I fully expect a close friend to keep confidences in confidence, that is part of what a good friend does.

          • Yes! I am terrible at keeping confidences from EVERYONE (good at keeping it from people who are involved or know both parties, but bad at not telling SOMEONE, usually a confidant of mine). I work around this problem by being honest when someone says “this is just between us” before telling me something – “Um, you know I have issues doing that, depending on what it is. Is it okay if I tell my therapist/friend who is uninvolved/person?” My friends often tell me things anyway, but I don’t have to feel guilty that I broke a promise or created unrealistic expectations. And if it gets back around to involved parties somehow, at least my friends knew it was a possibility, and also know it was me, so they feel free to ask more support/damage control from me at those times.

      • staranise said:

        I end up saying “No is an okay answer” a lot. There are also alternative answers–“I’m not up to listening to you vent, but here, have a hug.”

        It really just relies on the two of you having enough trust in your relationship you know that saying no is not an indicator of lack of caring. In fact, it means that you do care enough to want to give this person your all, and you’ll let them know if they’re asking for more than you can give right now.

      • Cora said:

        When I’m the one doing the asking, I say “It’s okay to say ‘no,'” explicitly. Like, “X is really bothering me and I’m pretty upset about it right now. Can I unload? It’s okay to say ‘no.'”

        There is, of course, still some pressure on the person to say ‘yes,’ simply because most of us like to be accommodating, especially of our friends, especially if they’re hurting. But I find that it helps a ton to give them permission to say, “Yeah, I’m really sorry you feel that way and I wish I could help, but right now I can’t do that.” Because that is a totally fair and legitimate answer and doesn’t make them a bad person.

        If I’m on the other end and the person has not given me an explicit out, yeah, it’s hard. Because you have to draw a boundary with someone who may be a good friend and who may be emotionally raw and bleeding, and no matter how gently you say, “I’m sorry, I’m not in a place where I can do X for you,” is really, really super hard. It sometimes helps to make it clear that you’re not saying ‘no’ because they don’t deserve it or are a bad person, and it sometimes helps if you can offer an alternative (a distraction, a cup of tea, someone else to call).

        The truth is that sometimes there is no perfect answer. Sometimes one person needs an emotional cushion and another person equally well needs to not be an emotional cushion and both are good people and both really need those things and yet they can’t be there for each other because their needs are incompatible. So I guess the final thing is: needs being incompatible doesn’t mean either person is bad or wrong or undeserving. It just means that sometimes, even just temporarily, two people are emotionally not in a compatible space, even if they’re friends/allies/have each other’s backs. And that’s fine. Nobody has to be the bad guy.

        • Yeah, Cora and staranise et. al. have the idea–the scripts would vary by relationship and do tend to rely on existing trust. My friend J reserves the right to make a joke–she might say, “Okay, I’ll let you rant for ten minutes, but I AM TIMING THIS.” My friend E tends to listen thoughtfully, and then insert her own consent conversation: “Okay, I see what you’re saying, but can I tell you something you might not be ready to hear?” (And I agree, cause I want to hear it, readiness be damned.) With my friend G, I was the one setting firm boundaries of how much he could tell me about his awful relationship, and I usually just went with blunt and earnest: “I want to hear you out, but it’s really hard for me to hear about someone treating you so badly.”

          • I should add, it probably helps when the requests you make are relatively minor in scope. Ignore this topic for tonight, let me rant for a bit. But I’m a person who does best with small goals, so that’s how I wanted to take my life back too–in coffee spoons.

      • solecism said:

        I often will offer two or more conversational options: “Can I talk about X problem that’s really got me upset, or shall we compare notes on that novel you loaned me, or shall I tell you my big cooking plans for the weekend?” So the reply isn’t so much a “no” as “I prefer Option B.”

        I also am not always so good with the confidences. For one thing, I tend to tell my partner everything. I also have 1-2 confidantes that I tell most everything, particularly since one of them is long distance and doesn’t know any of the parties involved. Plus I tend to talk about what’s important to me, often with various people as I process things. And if I am concerned about a friend, I will tend to check in with other friends about the situation. Therefore I don’t assume automatically that my revelations remain forever private, or that something shared with me should never be repeated. If I think that there might be a seal of confidentiality on the conversation, I ask if I should keep it to myself. I need that constraint made explicit so I know just what the conversational boundaries are.

    • xenu01 said:

      I love the idea of conversational consent! Especially because it might serve to prevent possible “I can’t hang out with ______ anymore because zie is always talking about _______” situations.

  6. Allison said:

    Oh LW, I feel you. I too am newly single, and had been really holding it together (I’ve been operating very hard on the “fake it ’til you make it” principle.) On Saturday night, I got kind of drunk and ended up vomiting my feelings all over my three closest friends. And you know what? It helped. Amazingly. They hadn’t known the degree to which I was struggling, because I’d been putting up the Having It All Together Front so consistently, and they had wanted to help but didn’t know how.

    Xenu is right, people who let you sleep on their couch are your friends, and would almost certainly be open to hearing you talk (if that’s what you want). It’s OK to not know what you want, or to change what you want all the time. One thing we talked about was what, specifically, makes us feel better, and my friends each had a specific answer and I had “Sometimes it’s having people around and sometimes it’s being alone” and that’s OK too. It’s OK to decide that now is not the time to have feelings because you have to get shit done, but I hope that you find ways to have feelings in small bursts to let off pressure, until you’re ready to have more of them.

    I hope your logistical/financial hurdles get better soon (that, for me, is one of the hardest parts of this breakup — feeling like I needed to ~*~run errands~*~ in order to meet my basic needs when my most PRESSING need was the need to sit on the couch and eat cookies and marathon TV shows and wallow). Many Jedi hugs to you, LW.

  7. Journaling or taking a friend out for a quiet drink to vent sounds like an especially good idea. This must all be so difficult while you’re couch surfing and don’t have the *privacy* to grieve openly. It may be easier to feel your feelings when you don’t have to meta-feel the embarrassment or bonus vulnerability of ugly-crying in front of people. Maybe that’s just me?

  8. LW, you are having a nameable, connected experience: it’s grief. It sucks and it’s confusing and totalizing and it feels EXACTLY like someone is sitting on your chest and it takes over your whole self for a while. There are a lot of good sober resources on grief out there, but I recommend this cheeky no-bullshit version: http://griefsucks.wordpress.com/, especially “the complete beginner’s guide to asking for help.” *jedi hugs*

  9. alphakitty said:

    Oh, ouch. I fervently wish any of us *could* wave the magic fixing wand. And I totally understand feeling amazed and resentful that the world continues to go around and beautiful summer days still happen and people chat and laugh and do their jobs like nothing happened when you just got run over by a freaking train — even friends who have seen the wreckage and should notice (despite your stoic efforts to hide it) that you are bleeding out before their very eyes.

    I also know you’re afraid you’re not coping well, but you sound like you’re coping as well as you can day-to-day, which is all there is right now. You are definitely grieving a dream, and grief can be numbing… yet at the same time I think it’s totally normal to feel like, “Oh, yeah. I’m coping — for now. But I know intellectually that there is so much rage and despair building inside this calm facade that I’m terrified that when it blows it will take out the whole neighborhood, if not the whole town/city.”

    Speaking for the Awkward community, we all wish we could invite you over, make you dinner, and let you talk about whatever you need to talk about — whether it’s the weather or how good things were when they were good or a foul-mouthed rant about the shitty things your ex did and how you would never have done the same crap to her no matter what the mitigating factors are.

    But since we can’t, I hope you find an outlet for that. While it is admirable that you don’t want to badmouth her to everyone who will listen and otherwise piss in the mutual friend pool, is there someone who is really your friend more than hers or shared, who you can make your designated listener who won’t repeat what you say (who can be trusted to understand that you need THEM not to piss in the friend pool on your behalf, because if that’s what you wanted you could do it yourself)? Or maybe a family member of yours, whose loyalty is to you, you, only you!! ‘Cause I know I would need at least one person to know about the train that ran over me.

    It’s all well and good to be compassionate about your ex’s reasons, but whatever they are you still have a right to be furious about whatever happened that destroyed your marriage. I would talk to my person, tell them all the reasons that you have for being compassionate (in the manner of a disclaimer), and then cut loose immoderately. ‘Cause that sounds like what is making you feel like you’re going to explode: the tension between your conscientious effort to be fair and reasonable and moderate and forgiving of this woman your heart is still intertwined with and your need to howl at the moon and be pissed that she destroyed something beautiful and irreplaceable and hurt you so badly. Find someone who will join you in saying, FUCK HER, she had no right to do those amazingly shitty things, no matter what the hell was happening in her life/head, and it totally sucks that she did and it’s her loss because you are an amazing person!!!!

    Which I guess is a long-winded way of saying yes, build Team You. And give yourself moments when you set your compassion aside. It is no longer your job to be her advocate. Be yours, and find other people who will join you in that. Not because I want you to be hateful and consumed with rage, but because it seems pretty clear you need to acknowledge and vent your anger.

    • xenu01 said:

      I think every couple should sign a prenup regarding equitable distribution of friends and relations, so that everyone has their team all built in in the event of a disaster. 🙂

      • mintylime said:

        You put a smiley on it, so I’m guessing you weren’t serious. Just in case …

        I can’t really recommend this, as the dynamics of friendship are likely to change over the course of the relationship, and then an aggrieved ex has a (signed! you agreed!) license to be a Complete Jerk about it and split you up from people you are really close to now (but weren’t N years ago).

        And it takes the agency away from those other folks – they’re adults too, and should be able to decide who they want to be friends with.

        Full disclosure: When I left my husband, we had near-completely overlapping friend/social organization/work circles (we worked at the same small company). I told my friends that I didn’t want them to have to take sides; I tried very hard not to talk crap about him (except with the tiny handful of people on Team Me); I refused to give up the job I had worked hard to keep and get promoted in (plus, fed/housed/etc.) like we’d informally agreed to do when I started working there. I realized that it was a stupid agreement that would’ve left me homeless and unemployed (and deprived my employers of my asskickery), and generally made the process of starting my new life incredibly, needlessly difficult. I felt some sympathy for his position, but not -that- much (and less when I heard he was talking crap about me).

  10. Jessica said:

    As the Captain said, you are in survival mode. It may not actually be true that if you let yourself totally feel your feelings you will “break down” for awhile – but if you FEEL that it is true, that is what matters. The heart needs to feel safe in order to fully feel, and it’s completely 100% OK to suppress feelings until such time that you do feel safe to feel them and express them fully. In fact, it’s no different than suppressing feelings temporarily because it is not appropriate to express them in the moment – as during a job interview, or driving through heavy traffic, etc..

    That is why the grieving process needs safe space to hold it in. As others have suggested, your friends, a journal, an open-mic event, can hold that space for you – but if you need more to feel safe (moving into your own place, whatever), that’s OK too. Really, the only thing you need to do is be patient with yourself, accept whatever your heart feels like it needs (and whatever it does), and at some point down the road do whatever you need to do create the safe space to finally “let go” and grieve.

  11. LW, for those mutual friends: some of them may not be able to deal with the complexity of Feelings that happen in breakups, but hopefully at least the ones who are closest to you will be able to understand your feelings. They hopefully will able to understand that you do empathize with your Ex and understand her actions, but aren’t always able to talk or act that way – sometimes you need to vent your feelings of hurt, anger, and sadness, and need to focus on how her actions made you feel, and not on excusing her. That is legitimate, and hopefully you have people that can let you go there, and draw you back if you start to live there a little too much.

  12. I think it is important to also open yourself up to the possibility that you are not bottling up some huge storm of feelings, but that your feelings really are on the calmer side. And if that is the case, you should be totally ok with that. The traditional script of breaking up a close relationship requiring a FEELINGSEXPLOSHUN isn’t any sort of universal imperative, and if your reaction is different, that is perfectly fine.

    • alphakitty said:

      Quite true; my advice was based on his apparent fear of what would happen if he let his compassion slip for 5 seconds. Sounded like he has been holding himself to a pretty rigid standard of the mature, correct, non-asshole way to handle what has happened… and while I think it’s a commendable code (which has the added benefit of potentially reducing collateral damage) I also think he needs to cut himself some slack to be mad in (when he finds a safe-feeling environment to do it in). But you’re right. If he lets himself go and nothing particular happens, it doesn’t mean he’s shallow or “emotionless,” just that his coping skills tend toward less dramatic manifestations of his feelings.

      • Planetplanet said:

        Just a friendly reminder that not everyone who dates women is a man.

    • Yan said:

      Re: grief — feeling calm unto numb is a very normal coping response according to my very trusted therapist. Though it happened years ago (14), I recently talked to her about what I felt was a very weird lack of emotional response to my father’s death. I basically didn’t do much reacting for about 2 years — in which time I was finishing college, moving across the country away from home, and starting graduate school.

      I was doing the same thing after a recent breakup and a blow up at work, and I just wondered if I was weird and Vulcan emotionless, as my response to really big emotions IS to just freeze. They process slowly, usually without major breakdowns and tantrums, but definitely not following the socially-expected script. My therapist told me it was all okay, all normal, all fine because I was and am working through it, in MY time.

      So I hope that helps a little, LW. Find Team You. You have it — you have friend surrounding you and helping you out. Use them. They want to be there for you.

      Jedi hugs.

    • mintylime said:

      Indeed, you may just actually be pretty calm and not worked up about it. The LW doesn’t say how long it was before breaking up that they knew it would be the right thing to do.

      I found myself pretty calm when I broke up with my (now ex-)husband, because the relationship had started to go south long before and I’d been doing a lot of the grieving/breakdown/getting over it/etc in the last year or two of the marriage. There was definitely still some baggage, don’t get me wrong. But sometimes real life doesn’t have to follow the “we broke up and now I am FULLOFWOE and FEELNGSBOMB” storyline.

      Do what you need to do now to get life moving onwards, and if you need to fall apart for a while later, that’s an option that’s still open to you.

  13. staranise said:

    I definitely suck at asking for help. I have myself so together, I sometimes lose sight altogether of what someone could help me with: when presented with people saying “I want to help!” I’m at a loss, because I don’t know what to ask for.

    One of the things I manage to do is very factually state what I’m going through. “I know it doesn’t look like it, but I’m actually really sad and overwhelmed. I get through it because I have things I need to do in the future and I don’t think it will last forever. You don’t need to do anything, but now you know.” Even though it feels to me like a very unsatisfying exchange, it’s important information for my friends to have. It helps them interpret my later feelings/actions in a more sympathetic way, it makes them feel trusted and valued, and sometimes they figure out what will help when I can’t.

  14. Datdamwuf said:

    Hugs to you! This spoke to me ” I’m genuinely worried about whether I will continue being able to feed myself if I lose my shit right now.) I think there’s a part of me that wants to break the fuck down already, but can’t.”

    I think you may be feeling what I call being frozen, this happened to me when my ex did some incredibly shitty things to me and I felt trapped. I couldn’t get my move on, I was so numb. It passed for a while and now I’m there again because the pain and all that I need to do feels overwhelming. So I push it aside and I keep on working and I keep on making sure the essentials are taken care of. I am the “strong one” I’ve always been “strong”, that is how people describe me…fact is I’m not, I want to curl up and disintegrate but I know if I do, I jeopardize my livelihood; so I don’t break down because I can’t, because I will NOT. And at least for this moment, I don’t break down because there is a hummingbird on my feeder and she’s awesome, you find your happy where you can get it. Look for good things to break through the numbness.

    When you are ready you will get to the place where your emotions will break out of what I call the “undermind”, right now I think your undermind is protecting you from you so you can get the practical side of things done.

  15. drst said:

    I think there’s a part of me that wants to break the fuck down already, but can’t.”

    Not a relationship story, but a week ago, my moving company canceled on me with less than 24 hours notice. I had to find a U-Haul and dolly to haul the car, get help for me and my sister to load the truck and then drive it to another state, then unload it in the 104 degree heat. And then we lost power for 2 days.

    People have been telling me how amazing my crisis management skills are which feels awkward since it’s not like I had a choice about what to do. I wanted to panic, to scream and cry and throw things, but I just didn’t have time.I had to get through it. I’m kind of waiting for it to hit me at this point, and I know it will, but sometimes you don’t have the option to wallow or dwell until after everything is sorted out. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me or you. It’s just how we deal.

    Many Jedi hugs headed your way.

  16. Oh, LW. Your break-up grief process sounds at least a little similar to mine. I go numb. My brain feels like it’s been wrapped in layers of cotton wool, padding it enough that nothing hurts the way that I think it “should,” apart from moments just before going to bed when it’s like someone is sitting on my chest, but nothing feels good, either. I’ve come to realize that it’s okay to feel removed and to insulate like that. As scary as it can feel, it’s part of your grieving process. Xenu and the commentariat have covered everything else beautifully; I just wanted to drop another solidarity comment after reading your letter. Sending you all of the well wishes.

  17. LW said:

    LW here. Thanks for your advice and support, everybody, especially Yan, Datdamwuf, and others who pointed out that processing emotions slowly can be okay. “I’m feeling X. It’s okay to feel X. I can trust feeling X” is a thought habit I need to practice in my life generally, and I guess I should keep in mind that X could be a lack of feeling, too.

    Those of you who pointed out that this is a defense mechanism are probably right. In the past few days I’ve actually started feeling more feelings. Of course, I find myself having to push them away a little in order to continue functioning. Taking brief notes in a journal helps with this — it allows me to set my difficult feelings aside while still acknowledging them. (Writing more extensively still feels a little too intense for me to handle.)

    I’m actually NOT an extrovert, but I do really need my friends right now. I’m finding it hard to break through my solitariness and get the human contact I need. Staranise, I like your script for letting my friends know what is/n’t going on. It’s easy to fall into a cycle of not knowing what to say, so not saying anything, so feeling distant from my friends, so feeling less able to talk … and just checking in like that might help break the cycle.

    • xenu01 said:

      Thanks for checking in, and I’m glad that the commenters here could help you. I hope that things get better for you!

    • staranise said:

      Self-contained introvert high five. Good luck.

      • Datdamwuf said:

        Glad we could be of some help LW. I’m an introvert too, mostly I pick up the phone if I can’t get myself to move out into people land.

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