Many people break up or even embark on No Contact with good intentions. On a number of levels and in many respects, they’re aware of some pretty compelling reasons for why they’re no longer together and sometimes, it’s even recognising their own reaction and how deeply embedded they’d become in someone, that makes them realise that they lost themselves somewhere along the way. Despite the good intentions and compelling reasons, many of these people will struggle to stay broken up or NC because often without even realising it, they’ve unconsciously slipped into habits that are undermining their efforts.
As humans, we do tend to give ourselves a hard time about life not living up to the picture that we had painted in our heads. With breakups, when we have an idea of how things ‘should’ go and then we (or they) don’t respond as we’d forecasted, we think, Ah feck. I shouldn’t have bothered with No Contact, or we think, This breakup was/is wrong. I need to go back.
People say to me, ‘Natalie, I really want to be done with this. Why do I keep going back?’ and ‘Why do I keep breaking NC?’
Aside from suggesting that they look at what else was happening or going on within them at the time when they went back or broke NC, I stress that it’s all very well going and doing the actions but if they associate certain things with their ex / being in a relationship / feeling better and this runs counter to their NC efforts, they’re highly likely to go back on themselves.
It’s all to do with associations, namely negative associations.
If you have negative associations with certain things that are lumped together even though certain situations in the group don’t actually belong there, when you try to act differently, it’s going to feel weird and wrong, even though it’s not. You respond in particular ways to those situations in the group even though the response may not be appropriate and reflective of the actual situation at hand. As a prime example (and subject of another post), lumping together conflict, criticism, and people disagreeing with your point of view and then having an associated response of feeling disliked, rejected and then lashing out and cutting the person off.
Let’s imagine that we’re going through a breakup and are No Contact (NC) for our own self-preservation, after recognising how badly we’re being impacted by our continued attempts to engage with our ex and win him/her over. NC is about replacing our typical responses to certain feelings, thoughts, or ‘triggers’ with no more responding to or initiating contact while practicing self-care at the same time. For instance, we find a healthier way to respond to stress/sadness/anger and talk ourselves through why we’re not responding.
Initially when we feel angry, frustrated, mad, bad, sad, afraid etc, we may associate these with wanting and needing our ex back and all of the things that we’d hoped for the relationship. In our minds, they fit into the group of situations and things associated with making us feel good and better, and in turn, the associated actions may be to reach out and do something that amounts to people pleasing.
Over time, if we remember that we’re NC and learn to associate these feelings with the natural part of the grieving process of a breakup and are kind to ourselves at the same time, we gradually weaken the link / association between not feeling good and ‘soothing’ ourselves on our ex…. which in some instances, is like seeking comfort from thorns…
If however, we lack self-compassion and give ourselves a hard time about being NC as well as berating ourselves, we’ll continue associating feeling better and good with reaching out to our ex or getting back together, while at the same time continuing to associate feeling worse with being broken up / doing NC, and in turn will break NC. Let’s be real – if we give ourselves a tough time and pin our hopes on a ex, them so much as farting in our direction seems like a welcome reprieve from our own torment.
We are also likely to ‘go back ‘ when we’re bumbling along unconsciously and end up being distracted due to sliding into a negative thought pattern or knee-jerking to various feelings and in turn, experience a knock-on effect.
While we most definitely need to support ourselves through this time with good self-care habits, until we recognise that we incorrectly associate reaching out to our ex with feeling better or even secure and ‘resolved‘, a part of us will consider our post-breakup or NC efforts incorrect or even a waste of time.
Many people who I’ve spoken to about their breakup struggles, shock themselves when they realise that even though an ex doesn’t actually make them feel better and in fact, reaching out leaves them feeling worse, they continue subscribing to this lie that the ex is their feel good solution. They treat the belief as if it’s a fact without looking at the facts. Often beyond a temporary high, there’s a swift decline in the feel good factor that gets harder to replicate with the more damage that they do to themselves.
When we have negative associations and are giving ourselves a hard time, we’re also biased towards evidence that supports our misgivings. We wouldn’t remember that we actually had a really good week; we’d home in on the fact that we had a rough day or even few hours.
Once we become more aware of The Disappointment Cycle with this specific situation (feel hopeful again in response to a cue/trigger, go into a sequence of thoughts, feelings, and actions, disappointed again, lather, rinse, repeat), and recognise the things that we do and experience that comfort us healthily, plus recognise where we’re also feeling better in the absence of our ex, we stop regarding them as the solution. When we also become aware that our solution to how we feel internally is housed in someone else, we can also look at where we need to step up for ourselves because until we do, we’re operating from a position of excessive emotional dependence which is very unhealthy, instead of coming from a place of a reasonable level of personal security.
We can’t be chasing people down to make them fill us up, create our lives for us, or to act as escape hatches.
You always know that you need to look at your associations when trying to do good things for you keeps feeling ‘wrong’. You gradually become aware that something is ‘off’ and it’s easy to become confused and to second-guess yourself because you start wondering if your reactions are all ‘wrong’. As I explained to someone who regards people who are nice to her in a similar manner to liars and cheats, it’s not that she shouldn’t be distrusting and angry when a person lies and cheats (that’s a healthy response) but a person being nice to her doesn’t belong in the same ‘box’ or ‘group’. There are people who are respectful and caring without an agenda.
Likewise, it’s not that there’s something ‘wrong’ with you if you do the very human thing of struggling with your emotions and thoughts after a breakup, or you’re even tempted to do things (or you actually do them) that you’ll later think, ‘Jaysus! Was I smoking crack?’ How you feel is how you feel at that moment but you’ll feel much better when you don’t have negative associations confusing what you think your actions in that situation ‘should’ be plus if you’re acting unconsciously and knee-jerking around, you don’t get a chance to have a really good stab at sitting through your feelings and letting them pass.
Recovering from a breakup is very much a possibility and a reality but you need to be working with you, not against you.
Check out my original post on negative associations for ideas on challenging your associations.