Letting Go: The 18 Steps
Christina's is a typical story: "I've been
dating Chuck for two years, and I really love him. A month ago he broke up with
me, saying that he wanted to date other women, but I can't seem to move on. I
can't picture myself with anyone else. He says he loves me, but that he'll never
treat me the way I deserve. He keeps encouraging me to go out with other guys.
What does all this mean? How can I get him back? He wants to be friends, but I
only want to see him if I can get him back. How can I stop thinking about him
all the time and get my life back.
As the old song goes, breaking up is hard to
do. But it's time for Christina to let go. It's the crucial step in moving on to
a healthy life. The following list gives you some tips and exercises that can
help with the process:
Step 1. Practice thought-stopping. It's normal to have recurring
thoughts about your ex. One way to wean yourself is to decide on a specific time
of day where you will give yourself over to the thoughts (such as nine o'clock
at night, for 10 minutes). If you find yourself obsessing at other times, force
yourself to "change the channel" in your brain, or pick yourself up
and do something constructive -- take a walk, water the plants, clean out a
closet. Try this exercise: Think about your ex. Now think about being in love
with someone else. Now think about your ex. Now think about getting a raise at
work. Now think about laughing with a new friend. Now think about a pink elephant.
See how you can control your thoughts?
Step 2. Recognize the quality that you miss in your ex and find a substitute
for it. Focus on the qualities you liked in your ex. Was he funny? Great in bed?
A good listener? Realize that these aren't such unusual traits-- they do come
along in other people, and you will encounter them more than once in a lifetime.
Enjoy those qualities in other people or find other ways to enjoy them. Go to
funny movies, or take up a sport yourself.
Step 3. Instead of bemoaning the end, celebrate it. In this technique, called
"paradoxical intention," you wish the very opposite of what you think
you prefer. Put on some music, uncork the champagne, jump up and down, and yell
"Good riddance to bad rubbish!" Then honor your time alone.
Step 4. Be your own cheerleader. Remind yourself of all the good things about
your. Make a list of those qualities and reread the list.
Step 5. Call all your friends and have them reinflate your ego. Get your pals
on the phone and ask them to remind you of all your wonderful traits. Let them
take your side. When Georgette was dumped, she called her best friend, who
reminded her, "You are beautiful and smart and funny and fun to be
Step 6. Understand the situation realistically. Dee was devastated when her
boyfriend decided not to leave his wife for her. He said he loved her, but was
worried about his kids, his business, and his wife. If she had looked at the
situation realistically from the beginning, she may not have been as devastated.
While she shouldn't punish herself, she should have been prepared for the
Step 7. Be realistic about dating in general. While I certainly feel that you
should pump yourself up, don't expect that everybody will love you.
Step 8. Accept your responsibility, not as a way of blaming yourself, but to
learn. Go over all the sides of the story. Was he mean, cruel, insensitive?
Blame him, and then face up to the fact that you pick men like that. For
example, Francine realized she wanted Paul to be what he wasn't. She had
overrated him and expected more from him than he was able to give, overlooking
an obvious problem -- he had said he wasn't looking for a commitment.
Step 9. Reaffirm that you deserve to be treated well. Remember how you would
treat a child or best friend -- you would be loving, protective, and reassuring.
Treat yourself that way.
Step 10. Do a "relationship review." Recognize the patterns in your
past relationships to prevent the same problems in the future. What type of
person do you go for? What happened at every stage -- who started the
relationship, who made the decisions, what was the tone of the relationship
(fun, sharing feelings, fighting), what did you do together (music, art, ideas,
books, movies), who ended it? If you see a pattern that displeases you -- you're
always the caregiver, you try to "buy" love, you're frequently
attracted to people who are already involved -- make it a point to make changes.
Step 11. Indulge in pleasure. Make a list of things that make you feel good:
getting a massage, listening to music, taking a walk. Indulge in these pleasures
at least one a day.
Step 12. Keep a sense of humor. Research has shown that laughter strengthens
the immune system. On this basis, seeing the lighter side of your situation is a
positive step in your healing process. Imagine your ex in a silly situation, or
go see a funny movie.
Step 13. Feel empowered. Consider that you chose for the relationship to be
over. Even if you think he dumped you, consider that your energy helped create
the outcome. Decide "I wanted it over." This is no more real or unreal
than any other explanation.
Step 14. Do deeper work. Help the little child inside who is still hurting
from past losses. Imagine yourself as this little child, and also imagine
yourself as an adult protecting this child from being hurt, holding and
Step 15. Purge your anger. Write your ex a letter, pouring out your hurt,
disappointment, and anger -- but don't send it. That's a good way to purge your
Step 16. Rebuild trust. Erica's dilemma is common enough: "My first love
stabbed me in the back after I put my complete trust in him. Now I am wary of
people and always protecting myself." Resist generalizing; not all men or
women are alike. See each person as an individual. In your imagination, line up
all those who have hurt you in the past and imagine throwing them in the garbage
or picture them incinerating. Now you have a clean slate. Of course, trust gets
shattered after you're hurt, but try to pout the past aside. If you live in
fear, imagining that people are not trustworthy, this is the reality that you
will create. Accept the challenge of tuning your love antennae to people who are
more trustworthy, and who are worthy of your trust.
Step 17. Welcome your dreams. As Brenda asked, "It's been seven
months since my relationship ended, and I have constant dreams about the
situation. What can I do to stop them?" Instead of seeing your dreams as
obsessions, believe that your mind is trying to work through the pain on a
Step 18. Repair your self-esteem. Amanda's cry is typical: "My boyfriend
left after two years. What's wrong with me?" Nothing . Not everyone can
appreciate your value, but you need to continue to do so.