You have consumed a bucket of ice cream, gone through boxes of tissue, and watched every movie and TV series on Netflix in an effort to drown your sorrows and numb the invisible pain. You make every attempt to try and take your mind off of it, yet you still feel like it haunts you. Nothing seems to be working. That person is all you can think about. Every. Moment. Of. Every. Day. You can hardly stand to acknowledge to yourself that you have just experienced one of your biggest fears—a breakup.
Severing an attachment with another human being is excruciating. Fear of being alone is one of the most crippling fears we face as human beings. We are a species wired for connection and belonging.
Research shows that we experience the emotional pain of a breakup in a very real and physical way. To make matters even worse—as if we aren’t struggling enough already—our attachment system actually works against us during this time. In fact, our brain is employing any activating strategy it can to try to reconnect us with our loved one. We tend to remember and focus on all of the things that we loved and enjoyed about that person. Our attachment system doesn’t know when to terminate an attachment or relationship. All it knows is that being around our attachment figure (the person we are most attached to) will ease the pain. This mechanism in our brain cannot decipher the quality of the attachment and when/ how to leave it. Those advanced decisions are left to your rational decision-making brain. To counteract this biological takeover, you need to have a plan to override your attachment system.
I often describe this full-fledged attachment system takeover as relationshipzilla. Huh? Relationshipzilla? Well, in high-pressure times when our attachment is on the line or we are trying to navigate a breakup, we do crazy, insane and irrational things. I would like to think that most of us are rational and sane people—at least most of the time—but many of us do some pretty crazy things during a breakup. Relationshipzilla seems pretty fitting to describe the fear driven monster that can grip us during these uncertain and difficult times.
The great thing about understanding our attachment system and recognizing when relationshipzilla is taking over is that we can learn to override and cage these impulses. There is hope. It is going to take some work, but when our attachment system triggers and turns us into an alter ego much like the hulk, we can learn to regain control.
Let’s take back control, and learn how to override our breakup-provoked relationshipzilla.
Create a list of the reasons why you broke up
There are numerous reasons why a relationship may come to an end—reasons that we so often quickly forget or overlook when our attachment system kicks into overdrive. Writing down a list of reasons in your journal, on a sticky note, or in a memo on your phone can be a helpful reminder why you decided to part ways. This helps us to override our attachment system and use our rational brain to regain some control. Having a list can be particularly helpful for times when you are alone and when your support system isn’t accessible.
Plan ahead and make sure you have a support system
Breakups don’t generally happen suddenly. There are often several red flags or issues that build up over an extended period of time. I would go as far as to say that most breakups are actually prolonged because we overlook or ignore red flags for so long. That being said, if you are sensing a break up is coming or you feel that you need to end the relationship you are in, make sure to set up a support system ahead of time. Take on extra hobbies, join a team or reconnect with old friends. Do whatever you need to do to rebuild your individual life back up so that you have something to support you and keep you busy.
Select a couple of close friends to keep you grounded
As previously mentioned, when you go through a break up, you tend to look back over the relationship with rose-coloured glasses. You get flooded with positive memories and overlook the legitimate reasons the relationship wasn’t working. It can be extremely helpful to have a couple of close and trusted friends to keep you grounded in reality. Obviously a break up is challenging time so you want to make sure that these friends are close and will be sensitive to your needs. Their role would be to remind you of the reasons you left and to be strong for you in times when you are weak and want to return to the relationship. They will help to point you in the right direction should you try to stray.
Feed your needs in other ways
We tend to have more then just one attachment in our lives. Think about and make a list of all the other people that you have a strong attachment and connection with. Make a point to spend time with those people. This will help to make sure that our needs for attachment, connection, and belonging are still getting met, which will in turn calm our attachment system. For example, if you have a strong secure attachment to your mom, plan to spend some time with her. Catch a movie, go to dinner, and get your snuggles. Moms or other attachment figures have a way of soothing and calming us even with something as simple as a phone call. Alternatively, spending time with animals, such as horse back riding, can be an incredibly therapeutic and bonding experience. Put your thinking cap on. You got your attachment/relational needs met before your ex came along and you can get them met now!
Limit time alone for the first while
While it is important to grieve the breakup and the loss you’re experiencing, it’s also important not to isolate yourself and spend too much time alone. Even if you don’t feel like it, make yourself get out of bed or off the couch and maintain your schedule or routine. Plan hangouts with friends, take a class, volunteer or do whatever else you enjoy that will keep you engaged in the world. The more time you spend isolated at home, the more your mind will race. The more you allow your mind to race, the more you are feeding your relationshipzilla. Allowing yourself to get lost in your thoughts can also lead to some pretty depressive moods, so get your butt up and keep going on with life.
Create a vision board and focus on your future
One of the hardest things about a breakup is the constant ruminating and chewing on old memories. One of the best ways to combat this is with some purposeful, meaningful distraction. Start to reevaluate where you are and where you want to be. Maybe there was something that you compromised or gave up to be in your last relationship? Perhaps you want to travel, go back to school or train to run a marathon. The reality is that you have been given another chance to improve and refocus the direction your life is taking. Don’t miss this chance! Make it count! If you are going to spend your time obsessing about something, obsess about where you are going, not where you’ve been.
Learning to control or regulate our attachment system takes a lot of practice. Caging your relationshipzilla response won’t happen overnight. But I can tell you it will get better. The journey does get easier. Don’t feel bad if you slip up and return to the scene of the crime. It is only natural that we want to seek out the person that made us feel safe and secure for so long. But don’t lose sight of the goal. Remind yourself of the reasons you need to move on. The sooner you can get through this, the closer you are to building a lasting and secure connection.
Thanks so much for reading and I am happy to be on this journey with you! I would love for you to subscribe to upcoming posts, and to pass this article along to friends who would find it valuable.
To get the comments flowing, I am interested to know some other ways you have found helpful in getting over a breakup?
Wishing you love and connection,