I had a breakup recently. It sucked royally.
Except that it wasn’t even a breakup. The woman just stopped returning my communications. Calls unanswered. Voicemails not returned. Texts unacknowledged. Emails languishing in a mailbox, gathering e-dust. Hell, I even wrote her a handwritten letter. Four pages long! Hadn’t done that in over 15 years. Still nothing.
Breakups are never fun, but of all the ways one can be dumped, the disappearing act probably feels the worst. I mean, it’s one thing to say to my face that I’m a terrible boyfriend/husband/partner/lover and you can’t stand me anymore for reasons X, Y and Z, spurious or true. It’s a completely different thing to vanish completely. Because in the former case, the mind perceives it as rejection, which registers in the same part of the brain as a poke in the eye That pain is so similar to regular pain that it is ameliorated by acetaminophen (aka Tylenol, paracetamol). Bet you didn’t know that.
But when someone goes poof, the brain perceives it as a death. So you don’t just experience the pain of rejection, which is bad enough already. You go into mourning.
The disconcerting news is that this kind of thing seems to be happening with such frequency nowadays that it has a name: ghosting. How fucking terrifying is that?
So lest anyone think that the existence of this word somehow legitimizes the practice, let me make this clear: ghosting is an act of violence. If you ghost on someone — especially someone with whom you until very recently used to share secrets, food, bed space and bodily fluids, and was basically decent to you — you are a horrible, terrible, awful human being. This is an act of omission that is very much an act of commission: you are leaving someone for dead. And nice people don’t do that.
But I’m preaching to the choir here, because you’re probably reading this to recover from a breakup, not to inflict one. Well, you’ve come to the right place darlin’, because I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of these. I should know from breakups.
There’s more that makes a breakup painful than the pain of rejection and mourning, however. You also come to doubt yourself at the very core. I mean, what’s more personal than saying, “Y’know, I used to really like you but now that I know you better, I’ve changed my mind.” Harsh! That can be a total invalidation of the self — if you let it. Am I ugly now? Are you bored with me in bed? Was it something I said? Something I did? Did you find someone else who was more attractive? In what way more attractive? Oh crud. Am I a bad person? Why won’t she call me??
There’s also the uncertainty that slowly gnaws at your brain every day. Is Morgan going to call me back? Omigod, my phone just buzzed. Is it Morgan? Will Morgan call me? Is there something I can do to make things better? Will we ever get back together again? Is Morgan thinking of me? The mind is spectacularly skilled at inflicting this kind of self-torture upon itself.
And then there’s the waiting. Every text chime, every phone ring, every email check could surface something from the former paramour that makes everything okay again, validating your existence on this earthly plane. Or at least giving you a glimmer of hope. Something, anything. Your brain goes into a hypervigilant state, waiting for the elusive missive.
As for other thoughts, projects, ideas? Hell, there’s no more room for that in your head. This beast means business, and it’s taking over the cranium. Might as well quit your job and everything else.
But even darker than the wait is the hate. How dare you do this to me, after all that we’ve shared together? After all I’ve done for you? Nobody else is going to treat you better, you ungrateful little jerk. What have I ever done to deserve this?!?
All of this means that you’re thinking about him or her all the time. Whether it’s the buzzing of your phone, the restaurant you first shared a meal at, mutual friends, or a particular song, all of these things remind you of the departed. And then you go off thinking about the relationship, what was, what could have been, the names of your babies that will never be waaaah this is so sad gimme a box of Kleenex already. And a bottle of Smirnoff.
Oh my. Such a fine mess of emotional turmoil! So let’s summarize the havoc that a breakup wreaks on your mind:
- Social rejection pain.
- Self-doubt and ego injury.
- Rumination (including toxic emotions like hate)
Ahh, depression. It reminds me of the story of my very first breakup. It was ugly. Julie Openshaw was my college girlfriend — the first I ever had. (Incidentally, she has since disappeared from the web. If you’re out there reading this — hi Julie!) After a few months together, she professed that even though she was crazy in love with me, she needed some, uh, space. Okay, fine. I was all for space, not knowing what that really meant.
The next night, as I’m crossing the Radcliffe Quad, I look up to a window to see her making out with one of my best friends. My 20-year old heart was instantly shattered, pulverized, liquefied, drained down my pant legs into the grass, into the groundwater below. To make matters worse, every night she’d show up to dinner with him in my dorm’s dining hall, when she could have eaten in her own dorm. Geez, the nerve.
For two months, I had no appetite, wasn’t sleeping right, and wasn’t interested in having fun. Anorexia, insomnia, anhedonia: classic signs of a depressive episode. I even went to see the campus shrink (the first and last time I have ever done so), a kindly old gentleman who didn’t actually say anything more useful other than “You’ll get over this.”
To get over it, I ran a lot and buried myself in my senior thesis. Then Julie and I had a chat and got back together. She said she broke up with me because even though she was crazy about me, she was stressed out and just couldn’t handle it. She never really liked the other guy anyway, and was afraid I’d leave her first, because I reminded her of her father, and he would abandon her all the time. That made all kinds of nonsense, but whatever. We were back, and it felt good.
The reconciliation lasted a blissful few months until near the end of the school year, when she broke up with me again. After two weeks she came back crying, “I didn’t know it was going to be this bad.” Ah, but with my taste of freedom, I decided that apart was better than together. Word to the wise: don’t date 20-yr olds. Even if you happen to be one yourself.
The point of this story is that if you don’t take care of the pain, mourning, self-doubt, uncertainty, hypervigilance, and rumination, it can devolve into depression. Own the pain, or it shall own you.
Now some of you may think that you’re supposed to get depressed after a breakup. You’re supposed to suffer, lose your will to enjoy life, and be a general sourpuss around people. I’ve even heard you’re supposed to spend a month healing for every year of a relationship. As if there’s some period of mandatory penance. So if you divorce after a 12-year marriage, you’re supposed to mope for a whole year? I don’t think so.
Well, another point of the story was that the first breakup took two months to recover from. The second recovery took two weeks. That’s less time by a factor of four to five. There’s something hopeful in that.
Generally, the more intense the bond, the longer it takes to get over the relationship. But how much suffering is enough? It’s not an entirely productive activity, and it can become frankly self-indulgent if prolonged. Is anyone else out there with me that getting over a breakup faster is better than slower? That less suffering is better than more suffering?
If you disagree, you can stop reading this article now, and I’ll be happy to refer you to Lady Victoria, a very nice dungeon mistress who specializes in gluttons for punishment like yourself. On the other hand, if you would like to get over your breakup faster, I just may have some useful suggestions for you.
With this last summer’s breakup, at one point when I was writhing helplessly, I thought to myself: “Crap! Okay, so apparently writing books about love and relationships does not immunize you against breakup pain. But if I fancy myself a decent therapist with various mental retraining tricks up my sleeve, shouldn’t I be able to help myself heal?” So I used some of my techniques on myself. And you know what? They did help — a lot. Without them, I’d probably still be Mopey McMopester, the Mayor of Mopesville.
So we’re going to need some tools. We need to take care of the acute mental anguish of social rejection. We need to get your mind out of mourning mode. We need to overcome the self-doubt. We need to calm down the rampant uncertainty and rumination. And we want to forestall or at least mitigate depressive symptoms.
Is this possible? Yes, it is. You know why? Because there is no plug out there from Breakupland that sticks directly into the back of your head telling you to be miserable. Right? Go ahead and check the back of your head; I’ll wait right here. Unless you take a punch to the head, there is no actual physical connection between outside events and your state of mind. It’s all in your imagination.
So if the problem exists in your imagination, then the solution can also come from your imagination.
Do you follow me? Breakup pain is not a verdict you must endure. The mind is a versatile thing. And I’m going to teach you how to use it to have more control over your distress.
Let’s re-train your brain to overcome the pain, shall we?
Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is a technique initially developed for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) by psychologist Francine Shapiro. It’s so insanely simple that when you first see it, you think, “This can’t possibly work.” But it does. It has worked for hundreds of thousands of people, from US combat veterans of Iraq to victims of mass rape in the Congo. However, EMDR’s good for reducing the intensity of any kind of unpleasant emotion. This is what you do:
- Find a partner who can help you out. Sit in front of each other.
- Evoke a picture of the memory that’s causing you distress. Give it an intensity rating of 0-10, 10 being unbearable and 0 being not troublesome at all.
- Do your best to hold on to that picture and the associated feeling while following with your eyes your friend’s finger as it moves across your visual field, alternating left-right, up-down and diagonal movements in a random pattern. It’s like your friend’s finger is jumping from one side to another of a big square around your face.
- While your friend is moving her finger, she’ll say, “Follow my finger and notice what happens.” The important thing is to try your best to hold on to the mental picture and the feeling.
- After a minute or two, have your friend stop. Reassess the intensity of the distress on a scale of 0-10, then resume.
- Keep doing this until the intensity drops to 1 or less. Feel free to do it again on a daily basis until your feelings about the memory are manageable.
Once you get good at this, you can use a YouTube EMDR video like this one and it will work just as well. Just remember to stop every once in a while, check in with an intensity re-assessment, then resume.
Since your memory of the events is the wellspring of all the pain, EMDR will strongly affect the social rejection pain, mourning, hypervigilance and depression, with some collateral amelioration of the self-doubt and uncertainty. We’re getting at the source code of the distress here and jumbling it all up.
You’re probably thinking, “Is it really that simple?” Yes, it is. And don’t ask me how EMDR works, because nobody knows. It just works. Use it!
B. Modifying Mental Images
Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler at UC Santa Barbara in the 1970s, is best described as the study of the underlying patterns of human performance. It basically gets at the software of the human brain. I learned NLP as part of my clinical hypnotherapy training and use its techniques all the time. One of the techniques that works amazingly well is that of modifying mental images:
- Close your eyes and imagine that the back of your eyelids is a big ol’ movie screen.
- Think of something in your life that used to be true but is not any more — e.g., you are in elementary school, or you want to be an astronaut.
- As you make a mental picture of that, notice where it is on the screen: up, down, left or right? Usually it is down in the lower left or lower right corner of the picture, but for some people it’s different. Remember that location.
- Now open your eyes and look around the room. Pick an item and say its name out loud, then close your eyes again.
- Next, make a mental picture of the person that’s causing you distress. What is the distance of the picture from you? Is it in color or black and white? Is it sharp or fuzzy? Is it bright or dim? When the breakup is bad and the feelings are still raw, the picture tends to be very close — even right up against your face (as it was for me). Assess how this picture makes you feel on a distress scale of 0-10, with 0 being perfectly fine, and 10 being perfectly miserable.
- Now take that picture and make it super fuzzy. Then drain it of color and make it black and white. Then move it waaaay out into the distance, so it’s like a little dot on the horizon. Then move it to the location you figured out in Step 2 of where things used to be true but aren’t anymore — usually the lower right or lower left corner. Watch the picture swirl around like it’s being flushed down a toilet bowl, and watch it drain and vanish into that lower corner far, far away. Poof!
- Open your eyes and pick and item in the room. Re-assess how you feel on a scale of 0-10. Then repeat the procedure 5 more times, re-assessing at the end of each round, and each time going a little bit faster as it gets easier to do.
If you followed instructions correctly, the feelings about the breakup should be a lot less intense. Keep doing it until the feelings are where you want them to be. Once again, this technique affects the source code of your distress, so it should significantly ameliorate the social rejection pain, mourning, and rumination.
Also, recognize that you can use this technique for anyone who’s annoying you: boss, family member, co-worker, classmate. It’s a tool that works on all the tools in your life.
C. Commpassion Meditation (or Loving-Kindness or Metta)
We just learned some techniques that work primarily on your head. And by “head”, I mean the cognitive faculty of your mind, which happens to mostly reside in your head. But what about the heart? I mean, you’re suffering from heartbreak, not head-break, right? (Believe me — as crappy as you may feel now, the latter is a far worse fate. Go count your lucky stars).
Well that “heart” is also mostly in your head. So if EMDR and NLP work primarily on the cognitive faculty, then compassion/loving-kindness meditation works on the emotional part of the brain — the amygdala. That’s the threat-detecting part of your brain, and right now it’s hyperactive and considers your ex a threat.
Normally, the amygdala does a pretty good job of keeping you safe from real threats. But right now, it just needs to chill the fuck out. We can do that by re-processing your unconscious representation of your ex as a mortal, flawed human being deserving of compassion. Less grizzly bear, more teddy bear. This is how we do it:
- Sit down somewhere quiet with your back straight. Close your eyes. (Note: you may just want to follow the audio I have recorded for you below. Hard to read instructions with your eyes closed, y’know).
- Imagine someone you adore — someone for whom it’s very easy for you to have loving feelings. For me, it’s my niece, or my friend’s supercute kids. For you, it could be a parent, sibling, favorite pet, or Brad Pitt.
- As you start to feel those loving feelings in your body, imagine that you are projecting those feelings to the person you love. Say slowly, silently, “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be free. May you be at ease.” Then imagine the beloved doing the same for you, and saying back to you, “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be free, may you be at ease.”
- Repeat the procedure with a second person: someone who is a little more difficult to love. Family members and co-workers may come in handy here.
- Do it for a third person: someone you’re neutral about. Grocery clerk, bus driver, random tourist.
- Repeat it for the most important person of all: you! This will be easier for some and harder for others.
- Repeat it for the most difficult person of all: your ex. As difficult as it may be, really project the same feelings you had in Step 1, and really say the same stuff you said to that first person: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be free. May you be at ease.”
That’s pretty much it. The whole thing should take no more than 10min.
Now if you think it’s worth your while not to just get over your breakup but to become a better person, you can go the extra mile with these three additional steps:
7) Wish for a reduction of the suffering of all the people you thought of. This is the compassion component.
8) Rejoice in the existence of all the other people also wishing for the reduction of suffering and taking an active part in it. Imagine they’re little points of light all over the globe.
9) Make impartial your projection of compassion and loving-kindness to all sentient beings, without preference or special allocation.
Of course, the 15-min audio has all these steps in it already:
Even after just one iteration of this loving-kindness meditation, you should feel somewhat better about the breakup. And if you keep at it, the meditation will remodel your brain and make you a much more resilient, compassionate individual.
But hey, why take my word for it, or believe a system of wisdom and mindfulness 2500 years in the making? Ehi passiko, said the Buddha himself — test it out for yourself and see what results you get. And listen to the scientists, who have found out that this kind of meditation reduces distress, anxiety and vigilance while improving compassion, resilience and even immune function. Dang.
Compassion meditation is going to be really good for toning down the social rejection pain, hypervigilance and rumination. It also helps the self-doubt, but the tool that really works for that is in the next section: mindfulness meditation.
D. Mindfulness Meditation
A big part of why breakups suck is that it seems so damn personal. If this person whom you loved, respected and idealized so much has now decided that you’re not worth having around anymore, then, well, you must be a total loser.
I’m not going to argue about the factual basis of that statement, but let’s just say that if I called you a frog, you wouldn’t suddenly turn into a frog. Similarly, the judgment of your ex who found you snuggleworthy one day and dumpworthy the next is just one person’s opinion. Let’s put that into context and take it only as seriously as we need to, shall we?
Of course, the most pernicious judgment is the one you inflict upon yourself. And the mind has a curious way of resuming this topic, over and over again. You wonder what you could have done differently, and if you had just said this one thing instead of that incredibly stupid thing on that one day, you wouldn’t be in this mess here, etc.
That’s called rumination — endlessly going over stuff in your head and thereby driving yourself batty. We need to turn that down. Turn down for what? Because it’s making you miserable, that’s why.
With mindfulness meditation, you get to control your brain better instead of having it run away from you like a skittish lizard. Here are the steps:
- Sit down somewhere quiet with your back straight. Turn off all distracting gizmos. Set a timer for 5min; increase to 10 and 20 min as you get better at this. If your timer also happens to be a distracting gizmo, set it to airplane mode.
- Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath — inhale, exhale. Notice the sensation of air as it enters your nostrils.
- Let your gaze turn to the back of your forehead — the space between your eyebrows, specifically.
- As you inhale, quietly say on the inside “in.” As you exhale, quietly say “out.”
- When thoughts come in, acknowledge them, then let them go, and come back to the breath. If you get hung up on a thought and start following the plot of last week’s episode of “Homeland”, no big deal — just let it go and come back to the breath.
That’s it. The key insight to realize about mindfulness meditation, as it was conveyed to me by the excellent Buddhist meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, is that having thoughts does not mean you flunked the meditation. If you totally stopped having thoughts during meditation, that means you’re brain-dead, and that’s not a fun party. The practice of meditation is the letting go of the thoughts. And over time, you’ll get better and better at that.
When you get good at dismissing the thoughts without getting too attached to them, you have this realization: “Hey, I’m not my thoughts!” As you being to disidentify from the thoughts, you come to identify more and more with the thinker of the thoughts — namely, your pure consciousness. According to Eastern wisdom, that’s who you really are anyway. As you take your own thoughts less and less seriously, it becomes more and more difficult for your self to feel invalidated, since there’s not much more of a self to invalidate. This is what Buddhist’s call anatta, or no-self. It’s a rad state to achieve, and over time, a very useful trait to embody.
Meditation’s effects really are that dramatic — over the long run. Think of this as a workout for your brain. You’ll feel pretty good afterwards, but you won’t necessarily be fit for life. To get fit and stay fit, you need to keep exercising. Forever, preferably. And I’ve said it before and will say it again: meditating regularly is the single most transformative, positive thing you can do for your life. Get on it. You just ran out of excuses. Speaking of exercise…
When you go through a breakup, you also get mopey. Sad. Bummed out. The reason is that your brain starts to produce fewer of the chemicals that give you pep and verve, or the balance of such chemicals gets out of whack. On a scientific note, nobody knows why this happens or how, and if some psychiatrist or neuroscientist tells you he knows, he’s lying. It’s not just serotonin, it’s not just noradrenaline, and it’s not just dopamine. It’s your whole brain, with thousands of chemicals interacting with one another in an infinitely complex dance that nobody has figured out and probably never will.
But one thing we know for sure: moving makes you feel better. Especially if you move enough to get your heart rate up and work up a sweat. Also, when your heart’s beating hard enough to pop out of your throat, you don’t have enough breath to form words, and your legs are burning hard enough to set a barn on fire, it’s really hard to focus on how he or she did you wrong. Mood lifted, pain mitigated, rumination curtailed, life improved.
So get out there! My therapy for my first breakup was running. I highly recommend yoga, since the deep breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system and has a meditative aspect, calming your neurology down. If biking’s your thing, may want on an exercise bike instead of cycling on the road because you’re going to be a little distracted from a breakup and it’s dangerous with cars around. Whatever you do, I guarantee you’ll feel a zillion times better after the workout.
F. Good Company
The pain of social rejection and loneliness is a big part of what makes breakups miserable. One day, you’re getting all these happy chemicals in your brain from companionship, cuddling, touch and orgasm. And the next day, you’re loose on the street like a crackhead with no dealer in sight.
Well, I have good news for you: there are other dealers in town who can dose you up with dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. So go forth and seek out the old friends who value your company. Visit them, travel to them, invite them over. It’s very important to impress upon your mind that the vast majority of the people you know — to be precise, all of them minus one — still think you’re pretty cool and do want to hang out with you.
Get and give hugs whenever possible. If there’s low-drama sex available, by all means partake of that. If you don’t have cuddly friends, go get a massage. Touch does wonders for flooding your body with oxytocin and endorphins and chasing away the blahs. All of this takes care of the rejection pain, mourning, self-doubt and rumination.
It’s really important not to let yourself get too lonely (or hungry or tired, for that matter). Part of what I did after my recent breakup was to embark on a 5-week trip during which I was always around good friends or interesting people. I’m happy to report that it was highly therapeutic, for reasons I’m about to elaborate upon in the next section.
Of all the non-clinical interventions I’ve mentioned, travel may be the most potent one. It works wonders for re-setting the breakup brain:
- You’re constantly exposing yourself to novelty. This jacks up the dopamine in your brain, which you need more of right now.
- You’re busy figuring out where you are, where you’re going, what language to speak, and what to do next instead of ruminating over your — I’m sorry, who? Exactly. Your mind is on more important things beside your ex.
- Your mind is on is other people! You look around and see the diversity of hundreds, thousands of beautiful, available people inundating the world, each one an opportunity for love and companionship. Insane mind-blowing crazy amazing abundance.
- The places you’re traveling to are free of associations with your ex. No corner restaurant you first ate at, no street you used to take romantic walks on, no beach you sipped champagne and made out on. It’s all brand new! Your brain doesn’t get those constant reminders about you-know-who, and you get to start fresh.
Ideally, you want to travel to a place you didn’t go to together. I would also recommend going to a place where they speak a foreign language, preferably one that you can speak or are willing to learn. The mental effort of wrestling with a new language does wonders for waking your brain up and superseding less pressing concerns.
So what does all of this do?
The NLP and mindfulness meditation will reduce the frequency and intensity of intrusive images. This means you’ll be ruminating less.
The compassion meditation will allow your brain to reprocess the ex as not as an ogre, enemy or threat, but just another flawed person who’s also in pain and deserving of compassion. As a result, you’ll feel less animosity towards the ex and less rejected.
Meditation, EMDR and the company of good friends will calm down your amygdala, bringing down your hypervigilance and stress levels.
Exercise jacks up your happy neurotransmitters and boosts your immune system, forestalling depression and disease. It will also make you look better, in preparation for meeting your next fabulous partner.
All of this, plus the physician’s favorite remedy — tincture of time — will have you back to your jolly old self. If not tomorrow, then soon. Just make sure you get lots of sleep, because that’s when a lot of these healing and repair mechanisms do their magic.
The Gifts of the Breakup
In the throes of my own breakup not too long ago, as I writhed in the pain of rejection, mourning and uncertainty, I thought to myself, “This is stupid. What’s all this suffering good for?”
A lot, it turns out. Suffering sensitizes you to the suffering of other sentient beings. Suddenly, that homeless guy selling newspapers outside Whole Foods supermarket isn’t a total stranger anymore. He’s in pain, too. Same for that girl across the globe kidnapped at school by militants, the kid in the hospital with leukemia, the mom whose kid just died at age 32. You are now a member of the fellowship of suffering, whose vast and permanent membership you were ignoring up to the day before the breakup. As that old song by The Police said, you’re not alone in being alone, and there’s something strangely reassuring to that.
Moreover, here’s your opportunity to feel again, deeply, and to re-engage with your body and the world. If you’re feeling, it means you’re alive. And if you’re alive, that means that trillions of things are going right in your body and world to keep you alive: free gravity; free air; free sunlight; 70 trillion cells all working together to allow you to hear Beethoven’s last sonata, to see a redwood tree, to smell a stargazer lily, to taste a sachertorte, to read a poem by Rilke. Even the experience of pain itself means that the agents that are for you must vastly outnumber those that are against you.
All of this results in an involuntary vulnerability that everyone will notice and, paradoxically, makes you much more attractive to potential mates. Your open-heartedness will let more people in, right when you need them most. And believe me when I say that rebound relationships are not a bug — it’s a feature. Let it happen.
Given the opportunity, I probably would not have chosen as harsh an experience as I had last summer. But I know that I’m a better person for it, and for that I’m grateful. And in a way, gratitude is the ultimate triumph over turmoil like this. As Percy Bysshe Shelley said in Ode to a Skylark:
Yet if we could scorn
Hate, pride and fear;
If we were things born
Not to shed a tear,
I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.
Where there is no darkness, light has no meaning. And where there is no pain, joy can go unappreciated. So perhaps it makes sense to think of a breakup is as an unexpected gift sent to hone our senses and open our hearts to a greater savoring of all the grace that makes existence possible.
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, Ph.D. The entire book is a gem, and a tonic against feelings of worthlessness that achievement-oriented modering living can inflict upon us unawares. Each chapter has a meditation, and the loving-kindness and tonglen meditations are priceless. The last few chapters directly address relationships.
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle (ebook and insanely good audiobook read by the author) The whole book is transformative, and the chapters on relationships are amazing and directly applicable to whatever you’re experiencing. I highly recommend the audiobook, since there’s something very powerful and healing about Eckhart Tolle’s reading voice.
Best Breakup Recovery Song: Starting to Remember by my favorite band of all time, Duran Duran, is a beautiful, life-affirming song that has the magical ability to meet you where you are in your distress, then gently lift you up. Cannot count the number of times I’ve listened to it when I was in the pit of despair.
Project Irresistible by Dr Ali Binazir (that would be me). Sometimes the best way to prevent a bad breakup is to set things up such that you end up in healthier relationships in the first place. Project Irresistible is a 6-week self-directed online course for the ladies. In it, you acquire the skills to figure out who you really are, what truly fulfills you, how to go about finding that fulfillment, and how to keep it in your life.
And there’s The Tao of Dating: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Being Absolutely Irresistible (paperback, ebook and audiobook), your general reference for setting up your life for less heartbreak and more joy.
Maybe you had to have the break up so you could meet a gorgeous Turkish Australian girl who is a psychologist and works mostly with couples in private practice? ??
This sounds like the best kind of leading question :)
Hi, I love your writing and find most of your wisdom life changing. I am a MFT registered intern who has taken formal trauning in EMDR and have some concerns about people utilizing it without some additional information. Firstly someone needs to be well resourced before utilizing. Some people with trauma histories dissociate. Others may and remember an earlier trauma with the same or greater feeling of emotional hurt. It may also be less effective if there is an earlier feeder memory. EMDR is very powerful and very helpful but does have some potential risks.
I hope your travel brought you healing and that you continue to recover from your break up. It sucks to be treated so poorly especially by someone you care about.
Dear Dr. Ali,
My heart really goes out to you because I (then 49) was ghosted by a 51 year old(!) man about 2 years ago. I knew that 10 year old boys might just “fade” on their middle school girlfriend, but this level of cruelty I felt coming from a man of this age (who also had a daughter in her mid-20’s) after we had a 5-month intimate relationship hit me on a visceral level in a way that I had never experienced before. This “ghost” made me despair with regard to humanity in general.
Thank you for explaining why this one was particularly traumatic and why I desperately wanted to know that he was in fact still alive and not languishing in a coma in our local hospital. So about 2 weeks in, I sent out a group e-mail that included him, announcing that I had successfully completed some continuing education program. He responded with a single-word “congratulations” so that I at least could move on from the highly improbable “coma hypothesis” and get on with accepting that I had been dating a sociopath, which I concluded after 2 texts that came in the following months: The “fade out” was in Nov. Then a day before Christmas I get a text from him that said “merry christmas”. Then on a snow day in Feb., a text commenting on the heavy snow and that I should “take care out there”. So the guy keeps my number and then dangles a text out there like I have so little self respect that I will just pick up texting with him. I of course ignored him like he was a piece of furniture.
It is also not a great realization that one has been dating a sadist, but at least I felt more in control over the situation and could spend the next months in my (now necessary!) hiatus from dating asking myself why I ignored early signs of this. I am happy to report that your book, The Tao of Dating for Women has in the meantime done much to assist me in restoring my self confidence and owning my own joy in life. I now date with a real sense of empowerment and dignity and can spot and drop the selfish and the sociopaths of this world with lightening speed.
In the last 2 years I have built a beautiful life that includes dancing and yoga and a spiritual path and I KNOW that any man seeking my company will have to bring as much of an attitude of positive sharing to the relationship as I do. I have also established caring relationships with men and women and weeded out all of the relationships that do not promote my positive outlook on life.
You are a beautiful human being Dr. Ali and this woman obviously does not deserve someone of your caliber. Sending you a little prayer for a hasty recovery and that the right one find you soon. Feel free to use my email as you see fit. I believe your work has real spiritual significance in helping people heal and take charge of their own destinies.
Love and light,
I just have to truly thank you for this article. It’s an incredible piece to turn to, I wish it was available three years ago!!!! I went through this then and it was utterly devastating, I haven’t come across some of the techniques you mentioned, and even in practicing them now is helpful. Definitely a life long practice! Thank you for your light and compassion in helping others ease their pain!
Wishing health, happiness, ease and much love to you!
Welcome! And thanks for the kind words!
Hi Dr Ali
How extraordinary to sit on the other side of the world and hear someone (you) so clearly articulate every thought and feeling that I have experienced over the last 5 months after a devastating and brutal breakup!
Luckily for me I have listened to and read books/articles written by wonderful people like your good self so I have practised the art of being kind to myself.
I would never wish on my worst enemy the distress and deep animal wounding that I have felt however, getting down and dirty with the real true and authentic me has been well worth it. Strange irony!
Thank you for sharing and thank you for the work that you do. I will be re-reading your book and remembering to be radiant.
Hi Dr. Ali, just wanted to thank you for your courageous honesty about your breakup and for explaining all the emotions, feelings that accompany it … And how to deal with them.
May you be blessed with someone who is truly kind and loving and appreciates you as a wonderful, compassionate person.
Thanks for the kind words, Elaine! Really appreciate your note.
Thank you so much for sharing your pain with us as I too had a break up over the summer and thought the same, “I’m a therapist, I will be immune to the pain.” I really underestimated that pain and how it almost wrecked me. Almost…but I’m getting better everyday.
Thanks for the note, Wendy! Great to know you’re feeling better. Just remember that no matter how much expertise we’ve got, we’re still human, and humans are squishy :)
Hi Dr. Ali, I’m Camila from Chile and I have been following you since The Tao of Dating came out and changed my life (specially about my beliefs with the Tao Te Ching).
I’m here just to say you that I’m really sorry about what happened to you. Really, really sorry. From Chile I send you kind thoughts and my wishes for your heart to heal. You are a wonderful person and I wish your soul the best. My prayers will be with you.
Thanks for the kind words, Camila!
Just to let you know that we read and hear you. Thank you. I like your imagery :)
Thank you Ali. Very helpful information. This would have helped me so much after the break up of a 22 year marriage. I though I was going to die foe 2 years . Ive sent this on to my friends going through breakups .
Ive also told them Tao of Dating is one of the best books Ive read on dating or approach to life in general. Thanks for sharing. You also remind me to start meditating again !! Namaste
So sorry to hear, that IS really awful. I like that you said that your ex was going through the same pain, because it’s true. Actually saying that I wanted to break up and then subsequently asking them to let me go was extremely painful…you’re going out on a limb, you don’t know where you are going to fall and you feel like the source of all this pain for both of you. Thank you for post.
Hi Dr. Benazir,
I had exactly the same type of breakup five years ago, “the disappearance kind”! I thought it was an exclusive man’s trick to break up by disappearing, that sounds easier (for them), that avoids complications.
Thank you Dr Benazir for having chosen the exact words on describing the situation and the feelings around it, and for the your advices. I wish I had this article on hand at the time I lived that situation.
I am not completely over it yet, but I have faith I will be. I lately started reading your book, and it seems very interesting.
wish u lots of happiness (still being happy, cause i know u are), health and looooots of love (the one you deserve)!!!
Thank you for this…
I was ghosted almost a year ago by a man I’d fallen very much in love with. He started the relationship by insisting we be very open and honest with each other…about everything; he wanted to ensure that I would always be open about what worked, what didn’t, what I needed, etc. Then he went about the business (initially) of gaining my trust and affection through his actions. So I was very open with him…not realizing at the time that I was actually giving him everything he needed to manipulate me into believing he was just as in love and committed as I was.
Along the way there were a few subtle red flags I rationalized until those flags started piling up and I began to ask him some tough questions as a way to understand his behavior. Unfortunately, I was also at a point where I was trusting him more than my own intuition. And then, after seeing or talking to him every single day for months (and no indication that anything was wrong)… one day, he simply disappeared. No goodbye, no explanation, no closure. So much for his insistence on an open and honest relationship.
A couple weeks later, through an old professional connection on Facebook, I noticed a profile picture of a woman and this guy taken while on a date night. When I looked at the date on the picture, I instantly felt as if my insides had been shredded. I discovered a few days later that he had been seeing her for at least a month prior to his ghosting. Somehow it made the act seem even more cowardly… for him to actively pursue another relationship, and make sure it was “going somewhere”, before walking out on me.
I’ve done a lot of counseling and personal growth work over the last year… the experience actually helped me identify some things (post divorce) I still needed to work on. But some of the subtle red flags I experienced were actually indicators of bigger issues with him (he exhibited a lot of narcissistic behavior), so I’m glad he’s no longer in my life.
However, no one seemed to understand the hurt and the anger I experienced, especially in the first few months following the ghosting. I can’t tell you how many times I heard friends say, “you know he wasn’t right for you, why can’t you just get over it?” There were times I surprised myself even, at the extremity of the anger and some of my own reactions to the incident… like when I fired off a few nasty emails to the guy :) So I’ve definitely had some moments where I was asking myself the same thing… why was it so hard to get over, and… where did all that anger come from?
You’re the first person I’ve ever heard articulate it so perfectly… it was not just cowardly, careless, and manipulative… it was an act of violence. It was a choice, on his part, to act in such a was as to hurt me so much that I would be left for dead. Every bit of it was intentional, from the disappearance through the unanswered texts, calls, and emails. I can’t begin to understand how you could do that to someone you’d been intimate with and claimed to love. Thank you for sharing your story and expressing it in such an empathic way.
As you outlined above, I spent a lot of time healing through hypnosis and mindfulness meditation, exercise, and practicing gratitude for all the great people I do have in my life…the compassion meditation took me some time to work up to, lol. It does work. I’ve dated some since (casually), but am actually enjoying just living my life right now. A couple years ago I bought an audiobook of the Tao of Dating, and while I’m not actively dating, I listen to it almost every day while I’m on the treadmill at the gym because it offers such great affirmation for personal development.
Thank you again for all that you do!
Ghosting is the sign of some too immature for a relationship in the first place, but found out too late. There was possibly a fair bit of projecting your good onto her, the blinding yet so-in-your-face kind where the realization after the fact is pure humiliation. Everyone saw it but you….or is that just me who became the most exquisite doormat at the exit sign…
I want to throw this out there tho – for some reason, a certain person somehow guts us beyond any good AND bad combined. It’s something linked to early on, really early, implicit times, no words or concepts linked to these early feelings because right hemisphere wasn’t even online yet. This implicit emotional interpretation that got stuck gets linked to and processed with the current break-up. So the hurt is way out of proportion. And lasts longer than anyone would ever imagine. But there’s a lot of internal shifting and reorganizing going on, it’s just implicit so we can’t describe it, just feel it – just keep going into the feeling.
(or stay drunk for 10 years. The wave of life will catch up and have it’s day tho, and will stay to the exponent that you’ve been running. That’s my experience at least, or maybe I’m just lucky)
I’ve been thru the recommended material except your program (the promise to determine what you REALLY want out of life….done so many techniques and still it’s locked off to me so gonna pass, sorry). The one book that helped me through the worst was … Akeru was her process. Journey From Abandonment, Susan Anderson. She has a website I won’t post but the stages are spot on: Shattering, Withdrawal, Internalizing, Rage, and Lifting.
I can’t do anger or rage, STILL, that’s under the finest subconscious deadbolt. Hence the inability to answer week 1 of your program.
Sorry, long way to talk about 1) something implicit linking and purging and 2) those five stages. “Love-and-light” is for washed up hippies – it takes an enormous act of courage to turn and look the pain in the eye, own our part, and learn the lessons.
Props for summarizing the “hot” mind tools making the rounds now. You have summed up years of digging and rooting around I’ve done, and haven’t even touched NLP yet lol!
Thank you for the honesty too, we’re all crazy and if we can’t be ok with our ‘finer’ moments, we won’t be ready for Mr. The or Mrs. One. :)
Came across this through your HuffPost piece. Wise and quite funny! Surprised no woman has snapped you up yet, then again most people don’t have much taste! The only thing I have to say on this topic is quite simply, find something to laugh about. I was ghosted on on Valentine’s day (all dressed up and ready to go and…. ghost). Learned a year later through mutual friends he was out with another girl… and everyone knew about it when I was asking them what was up and if he was OK. Then just a few years later, no one showed up for my self planned bday party until 3 showed 2 hours late and I was left alone with 7 layer dip in my flat. Now it’s quite funny as those are the exact sort of things that you find in any kind of comedy, romantic or otherwise. So now I merely do nothing for my bday or Valentine’s day etc. Who says someone in the Triple 9 society can’t learn anything? Keep up the good work!
You really worked hard on that one. Great descriptions and, as earlier mentioned, imagery. Really simple, but still very touching. Thank you for that.