Why Do Breakups Hurt Even When You Want Them?

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Is breaking up the only way you can think of to end the hurt in your relationship? Don’t  you really want to fix things and get back to a place where everything is smooth and easy? Have you reached out to listen, understand and mend fences, all to no avail? Then you are hurt by the failure and hurt about having to resort to a breakup as the only way to stop the pain of tension and uncertainty.

Hurtful breakups involve blaming yourself to protect your loved one

Shelly, a 34-year-old divorced school administrator thought about breaking up with 35-year-old Phil at least 20 times or more a day. In fact each time she sent him a text and he didn’t respond within the hour she imagined shutting down, cutting off the relationship to protect herself from this awful anxiety of having to wait and see if he would respond, how long it would take, and what the quality of it would be. If he didn’t respond in an excited way, Shelly went to the hurtful breakup scenario in her head. If he took longer than she could tolerate (usually more than 1 hour) the hurtful breakup scene came up again as the only way to end the awful images in her head – one set of explanations that involved what was happening at Phil’s end, and the other set revolving around her faults.

Hurtful breakup because of you imagine is going on at his end

‘he’s forgotten me; he’s disgusted with me; he’s found someone more interesting; he’s gone off me; he’s tired of me; he was playing with me!’

Hurtful breakup because of what you imagine at your end

‘I’m too needy so he’s keeping his distance and I can’t stand it anymore; I’m too demanding so I must be pushing him away; I’m too pushy and not waiting till he’s ready but whatever – this is too much for me; I want him more than he wants me so what’s the point of hanging on; I expect more than he can give so I should just cut my loses and have that hurtful breakup.’

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Hurtful breakups involve reliving the pain of perverted love in infancy

Shelly yearned for Phil to be responsive to her – to make her feel that she mattered to him. She needed to know that he carried her wherever he went and had her in mind no matter who he was with or what he was doing. Without a regular and reliable response she felt as helpless and scared as little Shelly had felt as an infant.

Shelly had been welcomed into the world by a loving but inconsistent mother. At first the mother fawned over her cherished daughter, but soon got caught in her own insecurities with a series of men who were unreliable and unsupportive. Shelly was an afterthought, sometimes useful for a cuddle, other times a nuisance that wanted feeding and holding.

Infant Shelly didn’t know what hit her. She’d reach out to her mom with a gurgle, hand holding, crying or being sick. Her mom rarely responded to the beat of Shelly’s needs. Instead when Shelly’s mother felt lonely, empty and alone because her latest guy was high on booze, she turned to Shelly for comfort. Instead of mom comforting Shelly, it was the other way around. Mom’s needs were so great that she became an intrusive all-consuming mother that Shelly had a love-hate relationship with. She wanted closeness with mom, but was afraid that it would eat her up alive. Shelly often froze at these times, and became untethered – detached from the world in order to survive.

Hurtful breakups involve having to give up a cherished wish

Hurtful breakups occur when you feel paralyzed like Shelly – stuck between wanting the relationship if there was some assurance it would be nurturing, but fearful that it may be devouring – then not wanting it. Shelly was reliving the same dynamic with Phil that she had experienced with her mother. You see, Phil had made her feel so good at the beginning. He had been so attentive and loving, so affectionate and available that Shelly fell head over heels in love with him. She became addicted to what she had a taste of when she was born. But just as in her infancy her mother suddenly changed, so did Phil – leaving Shelly in agony reliving her fear of not being able to survive alone and helpless.

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Hurtful breakups involve self-castigation

Hurtful breakups are especially painful because in order to try to get through the withdrawal symptoms cold turkey you, like Shelly have to denigrate that part of you that got tempted in the first place. Shelly berated herself for having any needs at all. Why didn’t she just carry on as before, independent and functioning? She had done without a serious relationship before and could do it again. Her abusive marriage was a testament to her ability to give up what wasn’t satisfying and go it alone. So she could do it again, and should! Attempting to eliminate her need for normal care and connection, Shelly hoped she would go back to being strong like a fortress. But it didn’t work. She collapsed and got very sick. The longed for mom didn’t come and make her better. Breakup counseling was the last resort!

Hurtful breakups push you to heal in therapy with a ‘do over’ of the negative childhood experience

Shelly didn’t trust any relationship and fought against the therapeutic one that she signed up for. She was addicted to the ‘high’ of being special and adored by her mother and Phil for a short while, and nothing else came close. She was furious, but turned the knife against herself. As she felt safer in therapy she started to get her anger out instead of turning it inward and hurting herself with insults. It was the hardest thing ever for Shelly to hang in there and allow her therapist to be that consistent, reliable but realistic person in her life who eventually taught her what love was and how to be in it.


copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2017

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