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 Letting Go: The 18 Steps

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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 with."

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 possibility.

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 comforting her.

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 feelings.

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 deeper level.

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.


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