When I comb my memory looking for instances of true and complete heartbreak, I can quite honestly say that moments of heartbreak in my life have been few and far between (and it makes me nervous to even type this, lest I tempt the fates). While the reasons for this could be that I've been inordinately lucky, there's a part of me that has a sneaking suspicion that it's not so much that my life has been so full of joy, as much as it is the way I've always historically dealt with heartbreak: to bury it, pretend it didn't happen, and erase it from my present as much as humanly possible. I've never been one to dwell: Get Through It And Push On has always been my motto. And for the most part, it has worked for me.
That said, I'm not entirely certain that the way I've handled heartbreak and disappointment in the past is the right way. For the record, I don't believe wallowing is the right way to handle it either; but perhaps there should be a balance between the two.
When I wrote my book, I dedicated a chapter to heartbreak, and had the privilege of interviewing a truly beautiful man named Allen for the core of the section. I won't tell you his story here -- you'll have to read the book -- but suffice to say that Allen had his heart broken by several people during his life, in ways I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. And yet, Allen is an angel: he lives his life in service, he bears absolutely no ill will to anyone in his past. When I asked him about his incredible capacity for forgiveness, he said, very matter-of-factly, "Well, see, Karen, the thing is after everything I've been through, when it's my time to leave the Earth, I want to know there isn't any unfinished business. I've come to believe that love is the most important thing in life -- and if that's my guidepost, then I have to forgive, I can't hang on to anger anymore, or hate."
Now, Allen is exceptional when it comes to forgiveness, and while I totally agree with him, I have to admit that forgiveness can sometimes be a very hard thing to do. In my case, I'd much rather just quickly forget: my logic goes that forgiveness isn't necessary if you don't even remember what happened, right?
But then, I contrast this with something my dear friend Brené says: she says that you can't selectively numb. She says that in doing what we can to erase pain and heartbreak by numbing (in whatever way we choose to numb), we also end up numbing the opposite: we find ourselves unable to truly appreciate the joy, and gratitude, and the happiness when they also come our way. In her words, we have to be willing to be vulnerable, in order to also be available for fully embracing the good; and when we do this, she says, we are living fully wholehearted lives.
And, God help me, she may have a point.
So this is what I've been working on lately: allowing myself to acknowledge when things aren't going my way, when I've been disappointed, and even when my heart has been broken. I'm learning to sit with my feelings, and acknowledge how I feel, as Brené would have me do, before letting go of any anger, hate or disillusionment, as Allen models. Because that, I suspect, is the way to handle heartbreak.
As if to confirm this concept, I was honoured to be able to speak with Catherine Connors of Her Bad Mother last month. She shared with me her story of how she coped with the death of her father, and her thoughts of heartbreak in general. I'm so moved to share them with you, below.
So this month, I challenge you to be gentle with yourself: when things go wrong, rather than pushing them aside (or in addition to raging about them), try sitting quietly with yourself and acknowledging how you feel. Journal, meditate, or do what you can to mindfully treat yourself with kindness.
And as always, if you'd like to share with us how you deal with heartbreak and what has worked with you, please do so in the comments below. Because I truly believe that we're all connected, and any ways in which we can help each other get through the tough times is greatly appreciated.