Many people struggle to let go of relationships that, in reality, are not working or have already ended. Perhaps you've gone through a breakup or divorce, and you're finding it difficult to release your attachment to someone who has conveyed that they are no longer interested in continuing the relationship. You may be wondering, “How do I let go and move on? How can I get over my ex or someone else who has been a part of my life?” In contrast, your former partner might have initiated the breakup, moved on, and entered a new relationship while being clear about their intentions to move forward.
Or maybe you struggle to let go of your attachment to an individual who is not reciprocating your desires, even though they've made it abundantly clear that they're not attracted to or interested in being in an intimate relationship with you.
The questions on many people's minds are “How is it that some people are able to let go and move on so quickly, while others are not? How do people who are securely attached manage to remain friends with their ex-partners even after the breakup?
And why is it that some individuals remain in that painful state of contraction, consumed by feelings of anger, sadness, grief, and blame when a relationship ends? How can people cease ruminating and release their grip on what once was?
In this article, we'll be exploring the differences between having a secure attachment style and struggling with an anxious or insecure attachment style. We will investigate why it is considerably more difficult for those struggling with an anxious or insecure attachment style or who have experienced relational wounds to let go, even when it is in their best interest to move on from both the individual and the relationship.
Letting Go: A Closer Look at Secure and Anxious Attachments
People with secure attachment styles tend to be more flexible, which makes it easier for them to adapt to the changing contexts of their relationships. When they move on from a romantic relationship, they're able to let go of their attachment to that individual and their expectations of how that person would fit into their lives. They find it easier to transition, relating to this person in a new context, and are more likely to be able to maintain a friendship if the romantic aspect doesn't work out.
Letting go can also be painful for the securely attached, evoking feelings of sadness, grief and frustration. If they're in a relationship with someone and realize their needs are not being met, they may try to address the issues, and if possible salvage the relationship, but when they come to the realization that it's not working, their feelings of attachment start to naturally fade.
Conversely, those with an anxious or insecure style of attachment operate with profound deficits due to past trauma and the fact that many of their basic needs have never been met. There's a tendency among many of them to live in a fantasy world. When their basic needs are not being met, they become deeply engrossed in the fantasies they project onto the other person. They create numerous justifications for that person and their behaviors, envisioning scenarios with them, possibly imagining a future point when the other person will come around.
What many individuals struggling with insecure or anxious attachment styles fail to grasp is that we change, and the people who have been a part of our lives change. When the person we've grown attached to changes and becomes a different person or the relational dynamic changes, our need for that person can become much greater, and we want that person and what we had back.
Fantasy vs. Reality: Coping Mechanisms in Insecure Attachments
It's easy for those of us struggling with insecure attachment styles in these situations to dissociate into fantasy mode. We create representations in our mind that do not match with the reality of the person we're interacting with or the reality playing out here on planet Earth. Then, we project our fantasies onto the other person and the situation.
To truly dissolve your attachment and get over someone, you need to catch yourself in these moments when you slip off into fantasy and bring yourself into the reality of the here and now. A critically important part of acknowledging and living in the present moment reality is to allow yourself to really feel the relational dynamic you have with this individual for what it actually is, rather than what you want it to be.
It's easy to get so caught up in the stories we create in our heads, a reality that never actually existed. In these moments, we need to separate out the stories we've been telling ourselves that are based on the fantasies that our minds have created about this individual and how we're related to them, from who this person is in reality and what is actually occurring.
At some level, we know that the relationship is not working, but it's the powerful force of all these highly charged emotions that we've been holding in our bodies that are fueling the stories maintaining these fantasies. The stories we tell ourselves can also have us believing that we're never going to get over this person, or that we're never going to be able to find or love someone else. Despite the fact that things are not working, when we have all these stories swirling around inside of us, it can be incredibly difficult to let go and move on, even though we're suffering terribly.
Breaking Free of Our Mind's Self-Constructed Narratives
When struggling with an anxious attachment style, our minds tend to generate these persistent fantasies and narratives. We often try to stop them, but we get trapped in a self-reinforcing cycle. The highly charged emotions held within fuel intrusive thoughts and imagery, perpetuating our addiction to the person and relationship while intensifying our anxiety.
So, how do you feel when you're around this person? You may experience a deep sense of connection while spending time together. However, there's often an underlying sense of anxiety—a foreboding feeling that things won't work out. You might feel lost, abandoned, and cut off when they're not around.
Take a moment to notice when you're caught up in the crazy-making love-sick narratives. What stories are you telling yourself in these instances? Pay especially close attention to your feelings in these moments. What happens when you picture this person or when you're in their presence? How do you feel when they're not in your presence, and even more so when they haven't called or texted? What thoughts and images are filling your mind, and how are your feelings changing from one moment to the next?
Are you sensing a lack of connection or that your partner isn't fully invested in the relationship, leaving you feeling anxious and uncertain? Are they saying and doing hurtful things? In these instances, it's crucial to acknowledge the person you're interacting with, their words and actions and your current reality. Then, observe any feelings that arise from within in these moments, immersing your awareness in them as you breathe softly and deeply.
Navigating the Process of Letting Go
Letting go of our attachments can be an extraordinarily painful process. Naturally, we resist the pain, doing everything we possibly can to avoid it. But it's the pain that we're experiencing in these moments that lets us know that the relationship is not working, so that we can move on.
Many of us resist our vulnerability and fear opening ourselves up or getting too close. Once we form an attachment, the fear of loss sets in. This resistance creates a paralysis, hindering our ability to let go and move forward. It keeps us stuck in a cycle of longing and suffering, preventing us from flowing with the natural rhythm of our relationships and life itself.
Breakups and other losses are some of the most painful experiences we will ever go through in our lives. Although we resist the vulnerable parts of ourselves, we cannot let go without experiencing the pain. In these times, it's important for us to show up to the reality of our lives, instead of running away or dissociating into our fantasies and the narratives we create around our relationships, or by telling ourselves that it didn't really matter anyway.
Stay connected to your reality. Being fully present to what's happening, and your authentic emotional responses provides you with the best opportunity to actually heal, transform yourself from within, grow from the experience, and free yourself so that you can move on.
The Harmful Consequences of Numbing Ourselves to Our Authentic Emotional Responses
A significant part of the difficulty many of us experience in letting go results from spending much of our lives avoiding feelings and issues and numbing ourselves to our emotional responses. This causes a reduction in our body and mind's processing capacity. For this reason, many of us are carrying a backlog of stagnant emotional residue in our bodies from a lifetime of unprocessed emotions.
Breakups and other devastating losses can be quite traumatic. In that state of shock, we're not fully cognizant of our emotional responses. The overwhelming pain, confusion and disconnection can make it incredibly difficult for us to fully grasp or comprehend what we're going through.
Whenever we go through a breakup or experience other painful losses, it precipitates the emergence of all the painful emotions that we've been holding within our bodies, stemming from past losses and traumas and other deeply wounding experiences. As this happens, we often find ourselves consumed by overwhelming emotions that we're not equipped to fully process.
The combination of the backlog of stagnant and overwhelming emotions and our limited processing capacity contributes to the fixation that many of us experience on the person we've formed an attachment to and the relationship. All these elements, when combined, can make it extraordinarily difficult for us to let go and move on.
Ways We Distance Ourselves from Our Genuine Feelings
When our relationships start falling apart, we often create a narrative to distance ourselves from our emotions and avoid the pain of our loss. For instance, we might tell ourselves that our former partner didn't have much to offer us, that the relationship was a total waste of time, a huge mistake, and that we're better off without them. While these stories provide a convenient means of intellectually bypassing the painful reality of our loss, they are not necessarily true.
One problem with taking this approach is that we end up with our head in one place with the story we've created to distance ourselves from our true feelings, yet all those emotions that we're not allowing ourselves to experience remain trapped within our bodies. We might also default to emotional responses, such as anger, as a means of distancing ourselves from the pain of our loss.
If you felt so strongly for this individual and spent considerable time in a relationship with them, they could be an absolutely horrible person. But there's probably a good chance that they're not. It takes a lot of energy to hold on to that anger and the narrative you've constructed, but as it starts to unravel, all those emotions you've distanced yourself from will inevitably make their return.
The emotions that we're not processing, which in these instances remain trapped within our bodies, operate to a large extent beyond our conscious waking awareness. So if we're caught up in that angry story, our head is buying into that narrative. Yet our body is holding onto all these highly charged emotions operating outside of our conscious awareness. The emotions trapped within our bodies maintain the attachment, keeping us connected to that individual, thereby preventing us from truly healing, letting go, and moving on.
In our attempt to avoid the pain, we might jump into a relationship with someone else. We may even tell ourselves, “This new person is so much better, and now I'm happily in love again.” But with all those powerful emotions operating beneath the surface, you can easily find yourself feeling the magnetic pull to return to your former partner. Or you may end up projecting the conflicted drama that you have yet to resolve onto this new person you've gotten yourself involved with.
Anything we do in our attempt to move on from the person we've formed an attachment to, whether we're telling ourselves these angry victimized stories about the other person, throwing ourselves into work, drinking, using other recreational drugs, or relying on pharmaceuticals to numb or disconnect from the emotional pain, is going to prevent us from doing the deep-level processing of the grief and other painful emotions resulting from our loss. That's why so many of us cannot fully heal, let go, and move on.
Embracing the Pain: Staying Present Through Relationship Transitions
In whatever stage of a relationship we're in, we need to take the time to be fully present with how it feels within our bodies. That means becoming fully immersed in the feelings and bodily sensations as they arise. It's easier to do in the early stages of a relationship when we're newly in love or at any point when we feel connected to our partner. We also need to be present during times of conflict, uncertainty about the future of our relationship, and moments when it all feels like it's unraveling.
When your relationship has ended, and you're feeling the profound grief and sadness that you're no longer together, realizing that the future you had envisioned will very likely never come into being, staying present in these moments will enable you to bridge the gaps. This enables the conscious waking, the deeper emotional and subconscious parts of you, and body to transition from the constructed fantasy into the present reality.
It's going to be painful and may, at times, feel so overwhelming that you're not sure if you can survive it. There may be times when you will want to find any means of escape—another person, something to drink or smoke or pharmaceuticals. Yet, in these moments, you need to do everything you possibly can to remain as fully present as you can be with the feelings and sensations as they arise. When your mind wanders, as it tends to do, it's essential to bring yourself right back to what you're feeling within your body. Stay present by fully immersing your awareness in the depths of any feelings or bodily sensations that arise, and then keep breathing into them.
Listening to Our Body's Signals: A Path to Healing and Moving Forward
Those of us with insecure attachment styles weren't able to cope with the painful realities of being unloved, neglected, abandoned, or abused that we experienced as children. Because we lacked the resources needed to cope effectively, we relied on elaborate defense strategies to help us cope, possibly escaping into fantasy worlds.
Your physical senses play a vital role in alerting you to danger. When you touch a hot stove burner or an electrical wire, you experience physical discomfort, a clear warning of potential harm to your body. Your sense of smell detects a foul odor, signaling that food has spoiled, and your vision can spot mold. You know not to eat the food that you discovered after sitting for a month in your refrigerator, now resembling a science experiment. In addition to your physical senses, your emotions also provide crucial information.
When we’re caught up in our fantasy world, we disconnect from our feelings and physical bodies, leading us to engage with people, relationships, and situations that harm us. Without the awareness that our emotions provide, signaling that something is wrong, we keep involving ourselves in the same people, relationships, or situations that cause us harm. It's not pleasant to experience these emotions, but when we do, they provide us with crucial information, drawing our attention to the issues we need to address. They may be informing us that the relationship is not working or, at the very least, that there are crucial issues that need to be addressed.
Sometimes we need to start by acknowledging the reality of what's happening. For instance, if we're losing something that we care about or someone whom we deeply love, then we need to ask ourselves, “How does that feel in my body?” By learning to remain present with our authentic feeling responses, experiencing the full range of our feelings and bodily sensations, we realign ourselves with the real-world reality. This enables us to let go of the person we've grown attached to and a relationship that never worked or is no longer working, allowing us to move on.
Embracing the Void of Lost Love
Moving on from someone you once loved, who has been a significant part of your life, inevitably creates an emotional void. We often feel as though a part of ourselves has been left behind, a part that we once shared with our partner. This void can be quite unsettling, leading many of us to try filling it in various ways. Some people seek to fill it by entering new relationships, turning to alcohol, overeating, or immersing themselves in work.
However, it's essential for us to acknowledge and be present with this void. It serves as a reminder of how much we miss the person and helps us understand their profound impact on our lives. Embracing this void allows us the space to digest and integrate the aspects of our former partner that we cherished, incorporating them into our being as a source of nourishment.
In relationships, there's often a merging of identities; we see ourselves as a pair, a unit, sharing a vision of our future together. Through this shared perspective, we absorb elements of each other, constructing a shared identity. When our attachment to a person ends, their role in our life concludes.
There are aspects of the other individual that we leave behind, while there are others that we carry with us, integrating them into our own identity. It's up to us to decide which parts of that shared reality we want to embrace and incorporate into ourselves. Embracing the void assists us in the process of letting go while allowing us to integrate what we need to carry forward.
They're Gone: Feeling Their Absence
When a relationship ends, we feel that person's absence, but life goes on. We feel a profound sense of emptiness, a sadness that lingers. We want to reach out, but they're no longer there to talk to. We come home to an empty apartment, cook our own meals, eat alone, and lay in bed alone. We may even find ourselves in a completely different living arrangement. All of this is part of the void, the emptiness left behind by their absence.
At times, we feel compelled to fill the void, to escape the loneliness and sadness. However, filling the void with distractions or new relationships often prevents us from healing. Being present to the void helps us to heal, integrate the loss, and let go. Moving through this crucial stage means reaching a point where you no longer feel the need to return to this person or have them back in your life. There will be moments when something reminds you of your former partner, and you might have fond memories of them, but you're able to appreciate the recollections and move on.
As children, many of our basic needs were never met, making it crucial for us to be fully present with the loss instead of resisting it. Embracing your experience and being present with the pain and the void is an act of self-care. In a sense, you are learning to comfort, soothe and love yourself, which, in turn, has a way of cracking you open, heightening your senses and putting you in touch with all kinds of valuable resources. As you connect with the deeper aspects of your being, you experience greater strength, resilience, self-love, acceptance, and appreciation. As a result, you become more compassionate toward yourself and others, less dependent on another person for your well-being, and you learn to show up for yourself in ways that you never could before.
Are you struggling to let go of a relationship that is either no longer working or has ended? Message me through the website or call me at (332) 333-5155. The individual sessions that I facilitate will greatly accelerate your healing, transforming the sadness and grief in a way that increases your capacity to love and be loved while enabling you to attract healthier companions with whom you can create more meaningful and deeply fulfilling relationships.
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