12 Ways to Let Go of Past Loves
Come unstuck with these techniques and discover yourself, happy and free.
At a recent dinner with five friends, my friend Julie mentioned that she had been unable to stop thinking about a former boyfriend she hadn’t seen in years. In fact, she confessed, she thinks about him every day.
As she glanced helplessly around the table not one person appeared surprised. By the time dessert was served, every woman present admitted a persistent emotional attachment to a former relationship. Most surprising? Every woman at the table was happily married!
If you are stuck in an emotional tie that no longer serves you, it’s time to set yourself free. Here are 12 fool-proof ways to enjoy the present and release your past.
Get Real About What Was
According to Harville Hendrix, we are most magnetically attracted to people who embody the characteristics of our parents or early caretakers because we unwittingly seek in a partner someone who will re-injure our childhood wounds. Our adult selves can finally heal those wounds, but the more negative those characteristics are (from critical and controlling to charmingly irresponsible) the more intense the attraction we feel.
We can get relief from our nostalgia for a passionate love by remembering the intensity of the memory does not hold some great truth about the relationship’s sacredness. Remember, what fueled the attraction may not have been love, but your soul’s desire to heal the past.
Purge the Merge-UrgeSubliminally, people in love promise they will meet all of each other’s needs while having none of their own. (Like mommy did!) Listen to the language of lovers and you will hear the echoes of that infantile bliss: “Baby, Sweetie, Honey, Darling.” We long for the feeling of fullness again, of merged egos. Getting free means understanding that the completeness you felt with your past love echoed a memory from infancy. It was an illusion and temporary and in reality it was not love.
Had the relationship continued, you would have seen boundaries snap back in place with the inevitable reestablishment of reality. No one would have made you feel that high forever.
Are You Romanticizing?Brain scientists now recognize that nearly 20 percent of us suffer from “complicated grief.” According Rob Stein of the Washington Post, “One of the hallmarks of complicated grief is a persistent sense of longing for the lost one and a tendency to conjure up reveries of that person.”
The persistence of a romanticized memory contains an addictive element but the element is not in the former relationship, it’s in you. For the 20 percent of us that stuck-ness has a biological source, an actual difference in brain processing. It can help to know the connection you still feel may be more biological than spiritual in origin.
So trade in your rose-colored glasses. Chances are you are romanticizing weaknesses as strengths. Was he self-employed because of his independence or his inability to accept authority? A realistic assessment is empowering. Keep a cheat sheet of unflattering truths and refer to it when you slip into dewy daydreams. It is easier to let go of a human than a hero.
There’s No Such Thing As One and OnlyRepeat this 20 times. Ask yourself whether deep down you believe that remembering the relationship preserves it in some way. Embrace the reality that longing does not connect you and write a new belief code, such as: “I have never left a relationship that would have made me happier than I am now.” “This is a person of great worth, but not to me.”
Each of us probably has 10,000 people we could feel a similar connection to---don’t mythologize as “one and only” someone who actually might have been unremarkable.
This Is Me, Free!Visualize yourself as free without requiring that you know how that will be accomplished. Just imagine you have already arrived at a place in the future where you are. Imagine yourself saying to a friend, “Oh my gosh, I haven’t thought about x in years!” Absorb how fantastic you’ll feel, how happy and energized, and say thank you for that.
Remember that visualization is not about vision. It’s about what you feel when you envision. Feel into your freedom and cement it with gratitude.
Your Brain Speaks Body LanguageYour brain believes your body, sort of a reverse of the placebo affect. You begin to feel free of the past when you act free of the past! Don’t talk about the old relationship, don’t ritualize it, don’t note anniversaries, or send mental messages. Your brain will notice how healthy you are and deepen those neural networks until they become routine.
Turn to CreativityOne of the best balms for emotional wounds is creativity, which is different from staying busy. Doing something creative, whether it is writing, drawing, composing lyrics, changing your hairstyle, planting a garden, thinking of a great gift, or redecorating a room, connects you to yourself and a power greater than yourself. Doing something kind for someone else is also a good idea but let’s face it, you can brood the entire time you are doing a good deed. Creativity is deeply engaging. It fills you from the inside out.
Read it RightSwap longing reverie for gratitude—by whatever means you can. A photo of your dog or cat. Photos of your kids, an upbeat song without a history to it. Something to look forward to—a ritual you enjoy. Try having a book on tape to stop the tape in your head. Books work better than music because they are intellectually captivating and pull you into the moment. Music can do the opposite, drop you right into the past.
Keep a tape in the car, which is a place we’re particularly vulnerable to romanticizing. The left- brain act of driving puts your “logic brain “ into neutral and gives your right brain a chance to wander down memory lane. Best book to get on tape? “How to Break Your Addiction to a Person” by Howard Halpern.
Exercise to ExorciseGo to the gym regularly, or go for a run. Regular exercise keeps your endorphin levels high and keeps you from falling into melancholy memories. (This is a place where you can use music, upbeat and invigorating.)
Shut the Door on the Uninvited GuestPractice separating your “self” from your “thoughts.” It does not matter whether or not your thought is “true.” It only matters whether the thought interferes with your happiness.
Think of persistent thoughts as you would a neighbor who drops by without calling to tell you your car is parked in front of your house. Say, “Thanks, Mind, for the boring and obvious update.” In other words, respond without resistance—a mental yawn.
Disarm with CharmWhen thoughts come unbidden replace them with neutral, factual thoughts, again offering no real resistance or mental gymnastics. Replace the tape in your head with, “Trees are growing,” “People are talking,” “Rain falls.”
Swap Melodrama for Goofy — LiterallyHarris also suggests replaying the voice in your head in a cartoon character’s voice.
Try replaying “I wonder what ____ is doing today…” in a silly voice—like Mickey Mouse or Goofy. Likewise, try singing your memory to a silly tune like “Happy Birthday.”
Find Freedom Today
You can become unhooked with practice. Don’t mythologize the ordinary. Don’t assume a connection is sacred just because it persists. Don’t revere the teacher when it was the relationship that provided the chance to grow.
Picture this: You. Happy and free.