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Breakup Recovery, the Stoic way

Written by
Michael Wells

Breakup Recovery, the Stoic way

Written by
Michael Wells

Breakup Recovery, the Stoic way

Written by
Michael Wells

Six years ago, I went through an incredibly difficult breakup.

I had all the fun experiences at once... paralyzing self-doubts, pain, and confusion about life, uncertainty about the future.

The belief that I'd never find a relationship that made me as happy, and even that I'd never find happiness again in life.

"Crap. It's all downhill from here, right?"

Happily, I've never been more wrong.

Ultimately, that experience led me to studying psychology, and along the way I encountered Stoicism- an age-old philosophy that directly addresses questions about life, emotions, and how to live purposefully.

I wish I'd discovered it long ago.

Looking at my breakup now, and how I recovered from it, I can see that most of what I've learned about myself and about life is clearly connected to what Stoicism has always taught.

Dealing with Breakups, the Stoic Way

Here I've listed some of the key Stoic principles, and how they applied in direct and meaningful ways to my breakup recovery.

Amor Fati

Learn to love fate.

We live in a world where we're used to controlling things.

Cold? Turn up the heat.
Bored? Turn on the TV.
Hungry? Hit McDonalds.
Lonely? Hit social media.

We rarely feel pain, because the moment we want something, it's just a click away.

This is super convenient, and it means we're rarely uncomfortable- but it horrendously warps our expectations around life, and our tolerance for discomfort and pain.

In the real world, surprisingly little is under our control - including most of the functions of our own body, and our own mind.

Accept that you have no control, never had control, over this person, or any other person, and you're not meant to.  

Them being with you, for part of your life journey was a reflection of where they were in life at that moment, and where you were in life at that moment.

Everything changes, continuously, and most of those mechanisms of change are far outside of our understanding or ability to control.

And that that's totally OK, you've survived so far, and you've still found moments of bliss.

Any discomfort you have about this fundamental nature of reality is about you fighting it, rather than just simply accepting it.

You'll find the most happiness if you simply accept life as it is, moment by moment, and treasure those unexpected happy moments.

Sympatheia

Find the people you connect well with, we're all in this life together
( and none of us gets out alive )

Make friends who mean something to you. Unique people, who you can have real, deep, authentic, honest and vulnerable discussions. They will become your real family, and these connections are much more stable as they don't have the complications of sex, attraction, hormones, and life goals.

Also, realize that there are about another 3.5 billion people you haven't dated yet ( double that, if you're bi-sexual ).  So the idea that this was your soulmate, is based only on what you've experienced so far.  

And frankly, you've experienced nothing.

A drop in the ocean, at best.

You have no idea how much wonder awaits you, if you choose to seek it.

I was stunned that the more I learn about myself, and the more I work on improving myself, the better my relationships get.  

That one "perfect 10" relationship I had, and lost, and felt so devastated by... now ranks about a 4.5 on my ten-scale, compared to relationships I've had since.

I had no idea what a good relationship looked like, or how connected I could be to someone.

Ego is the enemy

This breakup, really wasn't about you.

We like to think we're in control of everything, and that therefore when things go wrong, that we must be the cause of that wrong....

But as we learned in Amor Fati, fate has a far greater hand in our lives than we do.

When someone leaves you, it has very little to do with you, and far more to do with them.

You've helped them grow, and learn about themselves, what they want from life, who they want to become, and they realized at some point that their path takes them a different way than your path is going.

Nice work, give yourself a pat on the back.

Part happily, wish them the best, enjoy some alone time, and find a new travelling companion, if you wish.

You have not failed, you have succeeded in living, and helping someone else live too.

Apathea

All of your pain, you are creating yourself.

Consider this if you can. If you had a beautiful relationship, and knew, from the very beginning, that it was going to end- would you feel the same pain when it was over?

I've actually been in this situation.

One of the most beautiful relationships I've ever experienced lasted only 2 months, because the first week we met, she got a job offer from Google that would move her overseas.

When she left, of course we felt sadness that we might never see each other again, but we also felt incredible joy and appreciation at what we had experienced together.

Most significantly, neither of us suffered after our relationship ended.

For me, a guy who used to think relationships were the center of my world, and the source of all of my happiness, this was a mind-bending discovery.

Pain does not come from relationships ending - it only happens if you expected the relationship to go further than it did.

Since you create those expectations, that means you are 100% in control of them, and therefore your suffering when life doesn't match what you "wanted".

Learn to develop a good perspective on your emotions, and your pain, and understand what they are telling you- rather than to drown in them.

Learn to manage your expectations. Nothing is certain, and everything good in your life will last exactly as long as it lasts.

Also, recognize that everyone is flawed, because we are all human, trying to figure out life, and what we want while we're here. Resentment towards others won't make your life any better.

Even if you're absolutely certain you were wronged in some way, that just tells you more about your core values, and what kind of relationship you want.

Be OK with the fact that not everyone shares your values.

The Obstacle is the Way

Life is not meant to be easy.

Pain is not meant to be avoided- in fact, it's pretty difficult to grow in any area of life- physically, spiritually or psychologically, without pain. If you're at the gym, and not feeling some intense burn, you're wasting your time.

Our body, mind and spirit resist change- and will complain about it.

Are you feeling pain? Good, it means you're changing, and growing. Embrace it, and learn that pain by itself, doesn't hurt you. Cold showers are a great way to develop this central perspective.

Feel like you can't do relationships? Learn to do them better.

Identify your challenges and pain points, and go towards them. Let that experience of challenge and discomfort change and transform you, until you're greater than those problems were.

Summum bonum

Do the right thing, and don't worry about the rest.

Build your own life, around your own values and interests- rather than around another person.  

Learn that your happiness does not come from other people. They cannot make you happy, and they will always, always, eventually go away.  One of you will die first, eventually.

Learn to love yourself, and to create your own happiness, and then you will have way more to give to your relationships, and take much less from other people.

Learn your core values, and live by them authentically. Build a life that excites and interests you. You'll be amazed how you suddenly start to attract the right people, because you're out there living, like they are.

Memento mori

Life is short, and we will all die someday.

Life is full of experiences, hopes, goals, and memories, but it comes with only one guarantee - that one day, it will end.

Treasure what you get.

Appreciate that you had beautiful amazing moments and memories with this person, and that those were REAL.  They are yours to keep forever. You earned them, and the relationship ending does not lessen their significance. They are an integral part of who you are now.

We seek pleasurable experiences, but painful experiences are just as important, and often far more significant to our growth and sense of value.

Without pain, and the absence of pleasure- pleasurable moments can't really exist- even the brain's dopamine mechanism is designed this way.

Journal, and reflect on these things every day. This is how your rational mind, and your emotional mind will learn to understand each other.

Good luck, stick with it, you'll get there.

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Addendum

Does Time Heal All Wounds?

I used to think so, but... it seems time doesn't help as much as you'd expect with mental trauma.

Except when you die, of course, we assume.

I recently coached a man who was still missing his girlfriend from high school. They dated for only 2 months. He last saw her 34 years ago, and has not had contact with her since. 34 years... mind-blowing.

The mind reinforces what you choose to think about consciously, and it surfaces memories and imagery attached to what it wants & needs emotionally.

When you experience trauma, I see people heal much faster and more completely if they approach it the same as, say, a broken leg. Get it set right, attended too, care for it. Don't walk on it for awhile, then once it's sound, re-strengthen it and rebuild the muscles with exercise. Done right, it will be stronger than it was before it was broken.