How To Recover From Prince Harming??
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We all know you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. But what do you do when you discover that your supposed Prince Charming is actually a Prince Harming? Karen Salmansohn knows all too well.
I can empathize fully with Sandra Bullock’s pain right now—been there, fallen for him. Unfortunately, I found myself very much duped by a man who convincingly presented himself as loving, committed and loyal, only to later to discover that he was more than a two-timing cheater—he was a three-’n-four-’n-five-timing cheater.
I know just how difficult it can be to pick yourself up after a painful romantic fall.
At first, you might find yourself preoccupied with a bubbling stew of emotions: depression, shame, hopelessness, outrage, despair, rage, resentment, negativity, doubt, insecurity, fear and an overall sense of emotional hypochondria. You may become convinced that the best way to protect your breaking heart is to put on the permanent love brakes. It’s very important not to allow yourself to wallow in these negative emotions for too long.
I believe you can never fail in life or love. You just produce results. It’s up to you how you interpret those results. There are no failed relationships, because every person in your life has a life lesson to teach.
Ironically, life’s worst of times (aka breakups) can be exactly what leads you to your best of times—pain is your evolutionary buddy. Pain prompts you to wake up from your auto-pilot slumbers—and CLUNK—finally be more alert to seeing who are the best people and which are the best circumstances to aim at for ultimate joy.
How can the worst of times turn into the best of times?
Sometimes, a breakup leads to a breakdown and then a breakthrough—helping you to discover who and what you need to live your happiest, most fulfilling life!
I believe much of the pain of a breakup comes from having a life plan that you have fallen in love with. When it does not work out, you become angry that you now have to pursue a new life plan. But if you ever want to tame your inner demons, you must consciously choose not to become too attached to any particular life plan—and remain open to the idea that there might be an even better life plan for you. Embracing detachment as a way of life will always give you a healthier sense of peacefulness when you get plunked into one of life’s potholes!
My personal definition for enlightenment is “the quiet acceptance of what is—and an open mind to embrace that there may be a better, healthier life plan for me.”
After my breakup with my Prince Harming, I consciously chose to psyche myself up about my new life plan by owning the following as my empowering belief system: “I’m happy to be over this relationship with my now ex-Prince Harming because I know the lessons I’m choosing to learn are going to lead me into the arms of a much better life partner! My new, improved life plan is gonna beat the bupkes out of that old one!”
The questions to ask when getting over heartbreak…:
The good news: It’s always your choice as to how you interpret and respond to life’s disappointing, heartbreaking ebbs. You can choose to be miserable, or you can choose to motivate yourself to stretch your mind—seeking out the best interpretations and most valuable lessons.
If you’re presently trying to get over a painful breakup with a Prince Harming, I recommend you do some liberating mind stretching. Begin by answering the following questions for yourself:
* Thanks to my Prince Harming Teacher, I learned in my next relationship I need to find a man who offers:
* Thanks to my Prince Harming Teacher, I learned in my next relationship I need to—on a daily and nightly basis—feel more:
* Thanks to my Prince Harming Teacher, I learned in my next relationship I need to—on a daily and nightly basis—feel less:
* Thanks to my Prince Harming Teacher, I learned in my next relationship I will insist my man bring with him into the relationship the following deal-makers:
* Thanks to my Prince Harming Teacher, I learned to keep my eyes open for the following red flashing warning light deal-breakers blaring in my face:
* Thanks to my Prince Harming Teacher, I learned I need to start to especially value finding a man with the following values:
After a challenging breakup, I suggest that every time you find yourself tempted to think negative thoughts, you return to the lessons that you’ve thankfully learned.
If you find yourself with a pesky, self-flagellating thought spree rampaging through your mind, you can stop these thoughts by asking yourself the following question: “Are these thoughts I am now thinking leading me forward to finding more happiness—or backward to feeling more anger, shame and hopelessness?
What to say to yourself to move forward??
Every time a negative belief enters your head, repeat the word “forward” as your mantra! Every time you start feeling negative emotions, swap these out for new and very different emotions—one which doesn’t show up on the “Post-Break Up Emotions to Indulge In” list.
And be proud of yourself. Yes, proud. If you’ve gotten hurt, it means you’ve put yourself out there in the world. You have jumped into the pool of life—swimming, splashing and making waves—instead of hiding beneath the solitary life’s big umbrella, wearing a huge floppy hat and oversize sunglasses with your body smeared in SPF 45.
One of my favorite philosophers, Aristotle, said: “We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths; in feelings, not in figures on a dial. We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.”
I think what he means is that life will have its ebbs and flows. Unfortunately, life can sometimes feel like ebb, ebb, ebb, brief flash of flow, more ebb, ebb, ebb. But every ebb always offers the opportunity to think a new thought flavor and feel a new emotion flavor. The more varied the flavors of life you get to taste, the more interesting, layered, educated, self-developed, worldly, experienced and mightier as a human you will be!
Here’s one last and highly helpful post-breakup healing mantra: “It is better to have loved and lost—and discover a far more fabulous life plan than originally conceived—than to live with a cheating Prince Harming for the rest of your life.”
“Everybody has one soul mate.” “True lovers can read each other’s minds.” “All you need is love.” A psychotherapist who’s seen it all pokes holes in some of romance’s little fairy tales and explains why life is saner—and happier—without them.
If we could each pick a few songs to banish from our heads, Diana de Vegh would nominate all those soggy old refrains that say there’s one—and only one—true love for each of us: our better half, our shining knight, the person we’ll be lost without. That line of thought, says de Vegh, a therapist in private practice in New York, isn’t benignly corny—it’s harmful, feeding what she calls the myth of love scarcity.
“In the scarcity model, where there’s only one person out there, we’re all competing for the guy who’s rich and handsome,” she says. Our relationships become fear based: We obsess and clutch instead of creating an environment in which two people try to unfold.
De Vegh, a casually elegant woman with penetrating blue eyes, meets with clients in her Greenwich Village office, where richly textured wall hangings, a deep purple sofa, and a fireplace give evidence of a delight in color and comfort as well as an assured originality.
Her strong sense of self was hard-won: The reason she has thought so much about how we can separate romantic passion from the misconceptions that often surround it is that she’s seen for herself how damaging they are. As a very young woman, de Vegh was swept into an affair with then president John F. Kennedy—perhaps the ultimate fairy-tale prince. Her own experiences, and those of so many of the women she has counseled over the past 15 years, have sharpened her insights into the ways fantasy romance, rather than completing us, undoes us.
Love is the ideological bone women have been thrown,” she says, meaning that in our society, men often get the real power while women are fed the false promises of “magic candy” romance—that someone special will shower us with attention, give us our identity, read our mind, and intuit our needs.
“Mind reading,” she says, “is useful between a mother and an infant but not in a sexual relationship between adults.” When you want someone who can anticipate your thoughts and desires, you’re really looking for an idealized parent—usually a combination of Mommy and Daddy wrapped into one. “For years, I was looking for men who would think I was charming and make me feel safe—like Daddy’s best girl,” she says. The craving for that kind of attention is rampant.
“I see women all the time who say they’re looking for romantic relationships, but I believe they’re really looking to be parented. We all want to feel special and dear, with our foibles bathed in the loving glow of a doting father,” she says. “At the same time that we want Daddy’s strong arms, we also want a mother’s sweetness and tenderness.” And when the romance goes south, she says, you end up feeling like a child who’s been abandoned and is lost.
“We all naturally fall in love with a handsome, married man—our fathers,” she says. “They bring us out into the world. And if we’re secure, we grow up to want something more interesting than parent-child love; we want an adult partnership.”
But the precondition for that, she says, is a good relationship with ourselves.
It’s when you view yourself as powerless, with your worth dependent on how someone else treats you, that love gets corrupted, de Vegh says. “Letting men determine who we are is the negative hinge that turns desire into vulnerability, changes our bodies from sites of pleasure to sites of betrayal, and transforms solitude into loneliness.
I think that when people say they’re lonely, what they’re really saying is that they don’t like their own company. And something should be done about that, because if you don’t like your own company, then you’re the victim of whoever passes by.”
How to develop healthy relationships…starting with the “salad theory”
De Vegh suggests we create abundant lives for ourselves, and subscribes to what she calls the salad theory. “Just as a salad needs some lettuce, a little tomato, cucumber, this and that, a full life involves friends, work, arts, and community. When I ask clients, ‘What do you believe you can only get from him?’ they say, ‘He’s so interested, he listens to me, he thinks I’m special, we do things together.’ We can do things with zillions of people. Why is it that only he can get you doing things?
“There’s no scarcity of love,” she says. “We can find it with our coworkers, with our friends and families, in our dance class. We can love what the world offers us; we can love our own vitality. And without question, there can be passionate love between a man and a woman, where you open your heart and soul and you can be yourself—your 7-year-old self, your 30-year-old self, your 60-year-old self. And he can say, ‘I get you, and here I am. Sometimes I act like a spoiled brat, and sometimes I’m a straight-up guy.’” But the relationship has to be an “emotional peership” between partners who are already working toward becoming fuller and fuller individuals.
Such a union requires both heart and mind, which is why de Vegh is wary of unexamined attraction. “Often what we call chemistry is a mix of familiarity and anxiety, and it can be an excuse for not having to think,” she says. “Feelings are great, but we also have brains so we can decide what to do with those feelings. Now when someone comes into my office and says, ‘Oh, we looked at each other, and I so knew this man,’ I think that maybe what she recognized was, for instance, the withholding narcissism of her father. If we really had such good parents that we felt filled up with self-respect and the ability to engage in the world, we wouldn’t be waiting to be bowled over by chemistry. We’d be saying, ‘Oh, you look like a good and interesting person. Here’s what I think about the world; what do you think?’ We wouldn’t be looking to get our needs met. Adults meet their own needs.”
Having seen so many women devastated by the end of an affair—”They feel they’ve failed, and that the halo they were given is gone”—de Vegh is adamant that we not label ourselves as losers in love. “At the church I used to go to, they always said faith enters through a wound. I think wisdom comes through our wounds, that our wounds have to turn into our blessings,” she says. “They make us soft and aware so we can say, ‘Oh, yes, I learned that.’
If it turns out that you and your partner have a different view of reality, that’s good to know. You can honor that, and find someone who shares your view. If you’re losing yourself in a relationship and he has all the power, it’s important to take the self-respecting action of leaving and learning from the experience.”
The best thing that can happen after a breakup is that you declare, I give up any hope of ever being parented the way I wish I’d been when I was a child. “You might have to grieve for that loss,” she says. “And there will be moments in a healthy partnership when you can say, ‘I’m brain-dead and hysterical. Draw me a bath and put in some rubber duckies.’” But that’s temporary. We have to give up the longing to be the child in the relationship, she says.
The good news is that once we do, we’re free to find love that’s genuinely pleasure based.
“We each have a potential song in us,” de Vegh says—one that can find its unique expression after we drop the sour chord of scarcity, dependency, and fear.
What I Know For Sure..From Oprah point of view:
Too many people believe marriage is about flowers, candy and rose petals in the bathtub. Women want the big day they’ve been dreaming of since they were girls—the princess dress and ring, the perfect cake, the handsome beau, the fairy-tale Camelot.
What I know for sure is that if you’re looking for your happily-ever-after in the arms and eyes of another person, you will always be disappointed. Even in the most mature spiritual partnership, a mate is only there to give you back to yourself. In the end, you’re the only person who can satisfy the deepest craving that every one of us shares: the need to feel significant.
If you don’t already know you have significance, the process of discovering that is the very work you were put on this earth to do—whether you’ve been married for 15 years or single your entire life. As our columnist Martha Beck notes, nothing a partner can say, do, or give you will completely assure you of your value if you aren’t sure of it yourself.
Married or single, if you’re looking for a sense of completion, I encourage you to look inward. For every one of those moments when you find yourself desperate to join up with someone who doesn’t respect or value who you are, remind yourself that man’s rejection is often God’s protection—and then say “thank you” and keep steppin’. If all that you’re longing for is a wedding, and you know you’re not ready for the work involved in a lifelong commitment, save yourself a lot of money and anguish: throw yourself a fabulous party.
Heartbreak Academy by Martha Beck:
It’s a heartache / Nothing but a… Oh, be quiet, we know already. But do you know what you can learn from your dashed romances? Martha Beck offers up a three-part tutorial.
In her illuminating writing manual, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott recounts the story of a woman who goes to the zoo and sees a male gorilla sleeping against the bars of his cage. The woman is so entranced by this magnificent beast that she reaches out to touch him, whereupon the gorilla wakes up, grabs her arm, and mauls her half to death before zookeepers can intervene.
Days later the woman is still in the intensive care unit when a friend comes to visit. “God, you look like you’re in a lot of pain,” says the friend sympathetically. “Pain,” says the injured woman, “you don’t know pain. He doesn’t call, he doesn’t write….”
Ah, yes, the exquisite agony of heartbreak. We who have experienced it know that romantic love is a fall-in, crawl-out proposition: When you’re bonding with that special someone, everything is wondrously effortless; when the relationship hits the skids, getting through an ordinary day feels like climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen. But every instance of heartbreak can teach us powerful lessons about creating the kind of love we really want.
Mind you, just having your heart broken won’t get you a degree in love-ology. If you learn nothing from heartbreak, you’ll keep repeating the same old painful subject matter in one bad relationship after another. If you refuse to love at all, you will guarantee isolation and pain, rather than preventing them. The only way to graduate from Heartbreak Academy is to really master the material, and that means absorbing crucial lessons about your true self, your true needs, and the nature of true love.
Course offerings from the Heartbreak Academy of Emotional Pain
There are many ways to get your heart broken, all of them highly educational. Breakup 101 will teach you all about the discouragement and guilt that set in when you end a relationship that just isn’t working. In Situational Heartbreak 165, you’ll learn about the pain that occurs when you and your loved one are separated by circumstances such as geographic distance or (God forbid) death. Then there’s Advanced Conflict 206, a combat-training course you enter when you and your significant other become locked in a war of wills. Most unpleasant of all, in my opinion, is Unilateral Torture 262. This class starts when you’re deeply in love, investing full trust and openness in a relationship, and suddenly your partner calls the whole thing off or simply stops calling at all. It’s like getting hit by a truck, only way slower and more humiliating.
Study guide: How to make it through Heartbreak Academy:
I was in my first semester of Unilateral Torture 262, a class I’d taken three or four times already, when I stumbled across a concept in a psychology textbook that finally allowed me to learn my lesson and move on. I don’t remember anything else about that book, but I recall one crucial sentence perfectly. “Some patients,” it said, “mistakenly believe that their loneliness is a product of another person’s absence.”
I stopped and reread this maybe ten times, but it still baffled me. I could have sworn that my loneliness was a product of my ex–significant other’s absence. If not, then what on earth was it?
Finally, slowly, over the next several days, weeks, years, the light dawned: My loneliness, and the antidote to it, did not come from the significant others I’d loved and lost. I’d been emotionally isolated before I ever fell in love. Something about certain people helped me lower the drawbridge over the moat that separated me from the world, but in the final analysis I was the one who’d actually done the trick. The power to bring me out of solitude—or to push me back into it—had never belonged to any other person. It was mine and only mine.
This realization is the most important thing you need to get through Heartbreak Academy with minimum effort and maximum positive effect. Realizing that your heartbreak is not a product of the other person’s absence brings the pain into an arena where you can work with it, instead of riveting your attention on some missing lover you may never see again and could never really control. Each time you find yourself longing for the love that was, asking yourself the following study-guide questions will help you learn the lessons of heartbreak and move on to a relationship that works.
Study question #1: How old do I feel?
Most often, heartbroken people are unknowingly grieving a loss or trauma rooted in childhood or adolescence. That’s because we tend to fall in love with people who remind us of those who cared for us—even badly—when we were young and totally vulnerable. We become childlike when we feel securely adored, letting go of all inhibition. The failure of adult relationships is often caused by the dysfunctions we internalized as children, and the devastation we endure when we’re rejected almost always opens ancient wounds, making us feel as bereft as an abandoned little kid.
If you ask yourself how old you feel when you’re in the worst throes of heartbreak, you’ll probably find that a surprisingly low number pops into your head. Whatever the age of your grieving inner child, it’s your job to comfort her, as you would help a toddler or a teen who had lost a parent. Do small, practical, caring things for yourself: Listen to a song that helps you grieve, schedule a play date with your best friend, wrap a soft blanket around yourself and let the tears come.
Most important of all, give your childish self the chance to talk. Open your journal or visit your therapist, and let yourself express your anger and anguish in all its irrational, immature glory.
As you do this, you will almost certainly find yourself grieving losses you suffered way back when, as well as the one you’ve just endured.
This is good: It means that you are finally progressing beyond ways of thinking and acting that didn’t work for you early in your life and still aren’t working today. Acknowledging and comforting that younger self is absolutely essential to easing your pain, recovering from your wounds, and finding new sources of healthy love.
Study Question #2: What did my lost love help me believe about myself?
Look back on the time when you were falling in love, and you’ll realize that though much (or some) of your time with your lover was fabulous, the relationship made you happy even when the two of you were physically apart.
The really potent part of love is that it allows you to carry around beliefs about yourself that make you feel special, desirable, precious, innately good. To graduate from Heartbreak Academy, you have to learn that neither your ex-beloved nor the fact of being in love invested you with these qualities. Your lover couldn’t have seen them in you, even temporarily, if they weren’t part of your essential being.
Make a list of all the things you let yourself believe when you saw yourself mirrored in loving eyes. Write them as facts: I’m fascinating. I’m beautiful. I’m funny. I’m important. Realize that you chose to believe these things in the context of your relationship, and now that the relationship is over, you have another choice: either to reject a loving view of yourself or to believe the truth.
But, you may say, what if these positive things aren’t really true at all? What if the truth is that I’m hopelessly unlovable? Well, let me remind you that when you believe you’re an insignificant bird dropping on the sooty gray pavement of life, you feel unspeakably horrible. On the other hand, when you opt for believing what love once taught you about yourself, the core of your despair is replaced by sweetness, however bitter your subsequent loss. I say, use what works. Self-concept is a self-fulfilling prophecy:
When we let ourselves believe that we’re wonderfully attractive, we act wonderfully attractive. By letting yourself believe the most loving things your ex ever said about you, you can get rid of the bathwater but keep the baby, honoring and preserving what was precious in your relationship, while letting go of the pain.
Study question #3: What did my relationship give me permission to do?
Being in love is so intoxicating, that special person so compelling, that lovers often drop some of the obligations and rules that dominated their lives before they met. When you’re in love, you may forget that you don’t usually allow yourself to splurge on perfume, or write poetry, or be wildly sexual, or say no to invitations you’d rather not accept. When your relationship is over, the bleak prospect of going back to the rules can drive you to the brink of despair, making you pine obsessively for your lost love to return and free you again. Eliminate the middleman. Free yourself.
You can start by making another list. This time write down all the forbidden things you allowed yourself to do when you were madly in love with someone who was madly in love with you. Now give yourself permission to do all those things anyway.
Nothing can make your trip through Heartbreak Academy easy or painless. Grieving will always hurt, but it is not mindless torture. It’s more like panning for gold. Recurrent floods of sadness and anger gradually wash away the rubble of the defunct relationship, leaving only the bits of treasure: the remembered moments of real communion, a new understanding of your own mistakes, a clear picture of the dysfunctions you will never tolerate again.
Letting these precious things emerge naturally means that you will retain the real love you’ve received, even as you let go of your former lover. And realizing that you hold the keys to your own healing will keep sadness from becoming despair and help you master the lessons a broken heart can teach. It means the relationships you create after that will be more trustworthy, the unavoidable losses less devastating.
“The world breaks everyone,” Hemingway once wrote, “and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” A broken heart is simply a heart that has a chance to become stronger. It’s a heart that is more self-sufficient, more open to the truth, and more capable of lasting love.
*Martha Beck is the author of Finding Your Own North Star (Three Rivers) and Expecting Adam (Berkley).