The Key Thing We Forget to Repair After a Breakup
What do you tend to focus on in the wake of a bad breakup? Your memories of the times you shared with your ex? How sad you feel? How uncertain everything now seems?
Well, what if I were to tell you that you’ve been focusing on the wrong things? What if there was one key thing that you could work on repairing that would enable you to heal faster and make you feel whole again?
Because - at least in my case - there was.
Once the dust from my divorce had settled and I finally had some space in my life to start taking stock of things, I discovered that I hadn’t walked away from it all unscathed. In fact (pretty unsurprisingly), I’d sustained a fair amount of emotional damage and found myself battling symptoms of depression.
I was fortunately able to recognize that I needed some support, so I began regularly seeing a psychiatrist. And right from the outset, I remember being acutely aware that a huge new area of vulnerability for me was trust.
In the spot where my trust had once been built-in, there was now just emptiness. I didn’t know how I would be able to open myself up and trust someone ever again.
I’d been with my ex for nearly a decade when our relationship ended. And I felt confident that I knew him inside and out - better than anyone else in the world. I could intuit his very thought patterns and predict what he’d say. I sometimes felt like I understood him on a deeper level than I understood myself.
It took me years to realize that what I thought I had with him isn’t even really possible.
The problem is, even when we know another person better than we know ourselves, it doesn’t mean we know everything about them. In fact, I would dare to conjecture that we can never truly know another person to such a comprehensive extent, because it’s just not possible - human beings simply aren’t consistently predictable.
We change and evolve. We act out of character. We keep secrets. We lie (sometimes, even to ourselves). We make mistakes. We act in ways that are sometimes frustratingly inexplicable.
I gradually discovered I’d been deceiving myself by thinking that I fully knew my husband and that I could therefore trust him above anyone else. My logic had been flawed, and it would ultimately lead me down a tumultuous path.
But there was something else that it took me longer to realize. Namely, my ability to trust others wasn’t the only thing (or, for that matter, the most important thing) that had sustained damage as a byproduct of my relationship ending; rather, in the fallout from my divorce, I found that my ability to trust myself had also been crippled.
I vividly remember the moment I realized I’d lost my self-trust. My therapist could tell that I was suffering from a deep-seated fear of some sort and had asked me to identify what that fear was.
And what I feared - the thought that paralyzed me whenever I thought about moving forward - was that I would repeat the same mistakes I’d made in my relationship with my ex with future partners.
I didn’t understand how this had happened. Why hadn’t I seen (or, in some instances, just trusted) the signs that my ex was hiding significant things from me? How had I failed to notice all that was happening behind my back and, sometimes, right under my nose?
I felt like the biggest fool. Like a colossally naive idiot.
Since I hadn’t seen the red flags with my ex, I feared that my radar was somehow broken. That I wouldn’t be able to detect if or when similar issues arose with someone new.
I was terrified that I wouldn’t be capable of spotting a narcissist, much less protect myself from one. That I’d get myself hurt again. And it would be all my fault.
This had become my new narrative.
I was plagued by fear, and I honestly believed that I might just belong alone. That maybe I was so irreparably broken or flawed that I didn’t even deserve to be with another person.
We most commonly lose our sense of self-trust after making choices that have burned us.
Our ability to trust ourselves can be easily damaged. We make decisions throughout our lives, and each time those decisions don’t produce the results we want, our self-trust erodes a bit.
Think about it: how many times have you blamed yourself for not taking a risk, for hurting someone you really cared about, or for not following through on a goal you set or a commitment you made?
We disappoint ourselves fairly regularly. And, particularly with respect to the larger injuries that we sustain this way (often involving our careers or significant relationships in our lives), each time we let ourselves down, we lose trust in ourselves. We begin to question our judgment and abilities.
And then? As if that wasn’t bad enough, we also beat ourselves up over the past mistakes we’ve made, rendering the losses we’ve suffered all the more painful.
It’s a downward spiral, and until we’re able to re-establish trust in ourselves, we’re an indecisive mess - caught in limbo and unsure of our direction.
So what can we do to repair our self-trust if it’s eroded?
We can actively work to rebuild trust in ourselves by way of mindfulness, self-awareness, and cultivating it from within.
But how do we go about doing that?
The first step is to find and focus on just one thing within yourself that you fully trust. Reflect on your life and consider what things you’ve accomplished, what challenges you’ve overcome, what mistakes you’ve avoided making, and any ways in which you’ve been able to contribute to the world around you.
Odds are, you’ll be able to come up with a list of items across one or more of those categories. However, if you find yourself drawing a blank, start by simply trusting in the present moment. Trust the path that you’re on. Trust in the fact that you are making an effort right here and right now to repair yourself.
Once you’ve begun the process of regenerating self-trust, with time, continued awareness, and effort, you’ll find that the number of things that you trust about yourself will gradually increase, begin to coalesce, and may even radiate outward - helping you to begin trusting in others again as well.
But the key to this process lies within. As a culture, we have a bad habit of looking externally - for answers, for validation, for distraction, and whatever else - when what we really need is inside of us.
So the next time you go through a bad breakup, don’t focus on your ex, the loss, or whom to date next. Instead, once you feel ready to begin healing, start with your own self-trust. Because you’ll find that no one else can give you what you cannot give yourself.