How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

heartwallMost people come to see me for counselling because they're suffering from a broken heart and want relief from the pain. How they get it often comes as a surprise.

The way out is in

We’re hardwired to avoid pain at all costs, and for good reason. You and I are alive right now because our ancestors, back through to the beginning of time, successfully learned what caused pain and how to avoid it. This is how we’ve survived, but it’s not how we thrive.

Shift happens

In order to thrive, we need to learn how to do the opposite of avoiding our pain. Though distracting ourselves from our pain, armouring ourselves against it, numbing ourselves to it, and dumping it on others may offer temporary relief, to heal the deeper sources of our suffering, we need to slowly and gently build up our capacity to be vulnerable, and feel what we’re feeling. It is by feeling what we’re going through, being present to it and ourselves in it, and listening to what our pain has to say and what it needs that we can acknowledge and integrate the deeper sources of our suffering, and allow our pain to shift. But this is hard as hell, especially for anyone who’s gone through trauma. The following are some simple steps you can take to make it easier to be present to what you are going through.

1. Make a plan

  • Find a private and comfortable place and time where you will not be interrupted.
  • Decide on how long you want to spend on this beforehand, and how you will know when to end.
  • Decide on and organize whatever you need to best nurture yourself and your broken heart during this time. You can try asking your heart directly what it might need to feel comfortable and supported.
  • Decide on and organize how you will help yourself transition out of this experience, and what you might need afterwards.
  • Make ready whatever you might need to write, record, draw, collage, sound, sculpt, or move what you are feeling.

2. Focusing in

  • When you are ready, focus your attention inward. What are you feeling right now? Feel whatever you are feeling as you breathe.
  • If you feel emotional and physical sensations, just be with them as you breathe. Notice if they have any shape, form, colour, texture, movement, or sound. Notice how they come and go, and change over time.
  • Write, record, draw, move, sculpt, collage, or sound what you notice. Describe the aspects that are most difficult to acknowledge. Abandon any concern with how it might look or sound. Do this only for yourself. Hold and support yourself throughout this experience. Don’t push yourself in any way. Just be with yourself as you are.

3. Deepening

  • How does it feel to touch into this part of myself?
  • What do I find myself doing or wanting to do when in touch with these feelings?
  • If what I'm feeling could speak, what would it want to tell me?
  • If I were to allow this part of myself to move or shift, what might it need to do so? What might this shift look like?

4. Integration

  • Find a comfortable way to thank yourself for this experience.
  • When you feel ready to bring your attention back to the room you are in, notice what you can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste.
  • What was the most emotionally significant part of this experience for you?
  • What might you need from yourself and others to integrate these feelings more fully in your day-to-day life? What would “help” with it in some way?

I’ve adapted this exercise from Thompson & Neimeyer’s book Grief and the Expressive Arts: Practices for Creating Meaning (2014). If you’d like to share your experience, ask any questions about it, or learn more tools to tend to your pain, feel free to contact me at 519-994-0345 or, or book a free half-hour consultation online here.