When Richard suddenly ended it with Traci, her world came crashing down.
The couple had laughed and loved together for a few years, with things going so well that Traci was expecting an invitation to move in together when Richard suggested they get together for dinner at her favorite Boston restaurant.
Unfortunately, when the words “I don’t think we should see each other anymore” spilled from Richard’s mouth, Traci went numb.
“I couldn’t believe he was breaking up with me,” she recalled. “I was in shock. I don’t know if I heard the rest of what he was saying. All I could think about was, ‘What did I do wrong?’”
Traci called in sick for the rest of the week and stayed inside her two-bedroom apartment, moping with several boxes of tissues, a few tubs of ice cream and a Yorkshire Terrier.
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months. And although Traci had emerged from her apartment after the weekend to return to work, colleagues noticed she wasn’t the same. She no longer had a bounce to her step, rarely smiled and refused to socialize with her friends.
“I went to a very dark place,” Traci admits. “It didn’t occur to me that Richard was unhappy, that he had needs I didn’t meet. So I spent most of my time trying to figure out why things didn’t work.
“After the breakup dinner, he shut me out. So I obsessed about it over and over again, and ultimately blamed myself for the relationship’s demise. And I really hated myself for it. I ended up just beating myself up really badly over it.”
The Blame Game is Unhealthy
Traci’s plight isn’t uncommon, but Vancouver-based life & relationship coach Shirley Vollett says dwelling too long on the self-blame game can become problematic.
“Blaming oneself can be one stage of coming to terms with the end of the relationship,” says Vollett, who has been working with individuals for 25 years.
“I think that many people go through that stage. The key is, do you move through it and continue out the other end or do you stay stuck in it? Certainly, if you’re stuck, it’s not a good thing.”
Vollett says it’s good to remember that blame should never be assigned to one person. A relationship is a two-way street.
“Sometimes people go into self-blame, when really, that was only part of what was going on,” she explains.
“There was a lot going on with the other person as well. It’s helpful to take a step back and look at the relationship from a broader perspective.”
In her case, Traci, 25, fully admits that the breakup triggered some esteem issues that had lay dormant since her early teenage years, blinding her perception for a while.
“It was a time in my life when I felt I couldn’t do anything right,” says Traci. “I felt I wasn’t good enough, and at the time, it took awhile for me to realize I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. All of those emotions came flooding back when Richard broke up with me.”
So Coach Vollett, is it easy to get out of that emotional rut and love oneself again?
“It depends on how well you love yourself in the first place,” she replies.
“I certainly think we can impact our own self-talk. If we’re getting down on ourselves, we can say, ‘You know what? I don’t want to be so down on myself. I’m going to choose to take a more loving attitude towards myself around this.’
“In some cases, if being down on one’s self is so severe you fall into a chronic depression, then probably professional help is needed.
“We unconsciously — and sometimes consciously — make choices all the time about how we think of ourselves and treat ourselves. If we choose to pay conscious attention to the messages we’re giving ourselves, then we can make changes.”
“If somebody has gone through a breakup, I think they should take exceptionally good care of themselves,” Vollett advises.
“Going through that kind of a transition causes a lot of stress, and that is the time to ratchet up your own self-care: all the things that you do to nurture yourself and be good to yourself.
“That could be everything from treating yourself to a bubble bath or your favorite coffee or a good walk with a friend or going to the gym.
“Whatever you do that really nurture you — that’s the time to double-dose yourself.”
Vollett says healing takes time and patience, and if you’re hurting, it may be time to call in the proverbial cavalry, starting with your friends.
“I think a person should really look at their support structures and resources that they can bring to bear on the situation: supportive friends, books and magazines, professional support, courses and education.”
Ask Yourself: What Are You Looking For?
Vollett also says that couples don’t always break up for personal reasons.
“If someone has been left, their partner may have left simply because the two of them don’t line up in terms of values, compatibilities, life goals– that sort of thing,” she explains.
“One of the areas I work with people a lot on is getting clear on your requirements. What is a non-negotiable deal-breaker for you — one that, if you didn’t have it eventually, you’d have to end the relationship? An obvious example is one person wanting children, the other not wanting children.”
Traci admits that that scenario was the exact deal-breaker with Richard: He didn’t want kids.
“I guess I told him he’d make a good father once too often, and he told me he was breaking off with me so he wouldn’t disappoint me in the future,” Traci recalls.
Traci says she has come to terms with the relationship, and now, after a year of grieving, is ready to entertain the thought of dating again.
Vollett suggests Traci is making the right move, although she admits the time to heal varies for each individual.
“Don’t rush into another relationship,” she advises. “Give yourself time to grieve and process and make sense of the relationship that you just came out of.
“Gather up the learning for yourself going forward so you can make even better choices.”