The end of the relationships of any kind can be painful and it’s something we all have to go through at one time or another. They might be a romantic partner, family member or close friend but losing someone who has been in our life for a significant period or had a huge impact on our lives can be devastating. In a way, the loss can feel similar if as if the person had died and be experienced as form of grief. Both are a form of loss, a change in our identity from the end of the relationship with the person. Depending on the circumstances losing this person could be life altering in many ways:
- ENVIRONMENTAL: physical changes to your lifestyle because of the loss e.g. not spending time with that person, change of daily routine, moving house, changing jobs…
- INTERPERSONAL: losing support system offered by that person and the qualities they brought to your life such as humour, knowledge and companionship, not seeing mutual friends because of the separation…
- INTRAPERSONAL Grieving your identity and how it has changed without the other person
All three levels are natural and normal reactions that tend to pass as one adjusts. If you grieve for the environmental changes to your routine you can construct a new, fulfilling lifestyle after the person. If you grieve the interpersonal relationship you may feel lonely but you can forge satisfying new connections with others over time.
It can be easier to get stuck on the intra-personal type of grief. Our self worth can be eroded when we take the end of that relationship as a reason to question our value as a person. Most of us can identify a time when being rejected in some way led us to think such kinds of thoughts:
I wasn’t interesting enough
I must be a bad person
I am unloveable
Usually if the end of a relationship makes us ask these questions it is because people have criticised us in the past and said we are boring, bad and unloveable. As children we attach ourselves to those around us for physical safety – as adults we don’t need to do that. We don’t have to listen to the leftover voices from people in the past – we can choose to discard those voices in order to take care of ourselves.
There is a mistaken belief that when you let someone in, you inevitably give them power over you.
You might say:
But I shared everything with them – my hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities, invested time in their company, made sacrifices for them. Then they decided I wasn’t worth it – how can I not feel powerless?
You might say you handed your inner child into their care.
Let’s imagine that this is a real child for a moment. Let’s call him Fred.
It’s Fred’s first day of nursery school and at the end of the day you collect him and he’s crying. He says some of the other children are cruel to him and the staff don’t pay him any attention. Maybe you tell him ‘chin up Freddy, be brave’ and keep taking him. But a month later, things have not improved. You’ve confided in some of the other parents and they are raising concerns about the care of their toddlers too. One said her daughter came home with several big cuts that the staff hadn’t cleaned or recorded in the accident book. Another said he was teased and beaten up in the toilets. At this point are you going to continue letting the nursery take care of him? Probably not.
You might have also heard the saying that you can’t solve a problem at the same level as that problem. Your estranged loved one is gone now, is not looking after your child. If the nursery staff stopped turning up to work that would be a pretty good reason to take Fred home too. The person you cared about has showed you they aren’t going to look after your inner child and losing your self worth over them around is like mistakenly thinking the only way Fred will get taken care of is if the nursery staff suddenly come back and become competent.
You handed Fred into their care and when you saw they were treated badly, what did you do? You stopped letting them have control over him and then probably found another nursery or person who can take care of him responsibly.
If you wouldn’t let your real child be beaten up, don’t let your inner child be beaten up either.
So how do you stop letting your inner child be beaten up? You take care of them and teach them not to engage with the bullying thoughts that make you feel bad about yourself.
Imagine you took Fred out of that horrible nursery. You enrolled him in a new nursery and he was very happy there. The nursery teachers were very pleased with his behaviour and his progress. When he moved to primary school his teachers were equally impressed.
The school started a football club and most of Fred’s friends joined. Fred tagged along to not to feel left out but it soon became apparent football was not his forte. Whenever he kicked the ball he completely missed his target and the only goals he ever scored were own goals. But at school all his friends ever seemed to talk about was football and he started to feel left out and embarrassed. You told him it doesn’t matter if he’s not the best so long as he’s having fun but now he’s confided in you that he only goes because he doesn’t want to have no friends. What’s more, his teacher says Fred is suddenly becoming disruptive and his grades have started to suffer. Next week, you have a word with his teacher. She says there’s a running club on Tuesdays which is also very popular and he could come to that. So he joins running class and low and behold, Fred is fast as a cheetah, the fastest in the school! He makes new friends, drops football and returns to his happy self.
There was nothing wrong with playing football – playing football made his other friends feel great. But football wasn’t a good match for Fred and was negatively affecting his wellbeing. There was nothing wrong with football and there was nothing wrong with Fred but they simply weren’t compatible.
Translation: Just because you (Fred) and the person you lost (the football) weren’t a good combination doesn’t mean there is something wrong with either of you. Blaming yourself or the other person (telling Fred he’s rubbish or accusing the school team of foul play) won’t help you to find out what makes your inner child happy.
Fred could have ended up believing he was not enough if the people taking care of him didn’t help him see that wasn’t the case. Don’t blame yourself for the negative thoughts that come up as you go through this experience – just use them as tools to be aware of the ways you weren’t taken good care of by others or yourself.
Fred and football didn’t get on from the start. But you obviously had a connection with the person you were rejected by – at one point things seemed to be going well.
Everyone has their own unique inner language of thoughts, feelings, ideas, values, goals… These languages evolve from the simple needs of a baby through to our last day on Earth. If someone’s language is close to ours we tend to enjoy their company – say if you were stranded abroad and you want to speak to someone, chances are your first pick would be someone who could speak your language. If they answered you in a different language, it would be frustrating to the both of you.
When this important person came into your life you probably spoke a similar language. However as both your languages evolve we may not feel like the same person to each other because our thoughts, feelings, ideas, values and goals have changed – we are no longer speaking the same language. Sometimes we may think we were speaking the same language but we had a strong accent because of where we were emotionally or a particular belief or aspect of our lifestyle which was disagreeable to the other.
As our language is evolving not everyone’s language evolves with us. Most people find it too hard to surround themselves with people who don’t speak the same language – it’s a mental and emotional drain and makes it much harder to achieve something together. That’s one reason why most people like to travel to exotic places but don’t stay – in the end they want to be around what feels familiar. But that doesn’t mean your language is not rich with wisdom and beauty.
So, we have worked out that our inner child (our minds) don’t thrive in an abusive environment or one that does not suit our unique needs. We have also worked out that whilst we can entrust them to others we are now responsible for that inner child and looking after it. We have learned that even if a person is not abusive, if they did not speak our language we will find it hard to get what we want together. If they are not around we have to find new ways to take care of of ourselves. People reject us usually for two reasons: because they do not understand us or because they cannot take care of us – whilst they’re busy trying to work out what to do with their Freddy you can run along to the next adventure.