The past is the past for a reason. It’s easy to get caught up in the memories of what once was. And while those things happened to us, they’re not happening right now. So why do so many of us struggle to look forward but not backward?
Don’t get me wrong: when you leave a relationship, there is a healthy aspect to looking backward. There are stages of grief, and part of the grieving process is a deep reflection on the relationship, including both the good times and the bad times. After you move through this process — the length of which is different for everyone — the energy and the attachment to the person will naturally start to fade.
But why isn’t that always the case? And why do some people hang onto a past relationship in their head for what feels like forever? Perhaps you’ve felt this way about an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend before. Well, believe it or not, this holding on has little to do with the other person and a lot more to do with yourself.
Let’s dive into five of the reasons why you might be struggling to let go of an ex… and why it’s really not them, it’s you…
1. You’re looking for validation from them. We put a lot of time, effort, heart, and energy into our personal relationships. When you put your soul into something that deep, and the other person decides to leave, you can be left feeling really wounded.
When someone leaves us in a relationship, we no longer feel like we were a “good” partner. It leaves us in a place where we feel the need to seek validation from them, to reassure us that we did a good job in the relationship. But often, we don’t get that. This can be extremely hard for some people, especially during the grieving process.
You might even focus on all the good times, disregarding any of the bad times. You tell yourself that if they just told you they missed you, you would feel better. That gesture would feel extremely validating.
2. You’re looking for closure. Some relationships end up slowly fading. It’s a little easier to see the path that led to the end, and there’s clarity on why one person left. Well… wouldn’t it be nice if that were always the case? What often happens is a swift and startling breakup for one person. This scenario can leave you confused as to why it didn’t work out. There’s a sense of unfinished business there, and that lack of understanding can lead to the need for closure.
This is when you begin to look for some kind of formal closure from them, which you believe will allow you to move forward. Chances are, though, you’re never going to get that closure. Waiting for them to give you the permission to move forward is just a setup.
The best thing you can do for yourself is focus on healing YOU. Focus your energy back onto yourself, and work through some ways to provide yourself with the closure you need. The only way to gain some control back is to choose how you will move forward.
3. You miss who YOU were when you were around them. I see this one happen a lot. When you love someone deeply, and give them access to your deepest self, they’re able to bring joy and love out of you that you never knew was possible. That’s the beauty of love and genuine partnership. But when you lose that person, it can feel like you’ve lost a piece of yourself, too. You miss that time of your life because you miss that version of yourself.
If you can gain insight into this feeling, that you simply miss who you were around them, it can really help you to move forward. That piece that they brought out of you is still YOU. It’s not them. It’s YOU. While they were able to bring it out more than anyone else had before, you still own and possess that beauty.
It helps to find ways to reignite that part of you. Maybe you try taking yoga classes, or getting into a book club, or even volunteering at a local shelter. Bring yourself back to that place of love and compassion, and see if you can reignite that piece of you. You just might surprise yourself.
4. You think you’ll never find love like that again. Let me be frank with you… The belief that you will never feel like “that” again is completely false. While you might need some time to heal, someone new and different will come if you’re open to the possibility of it.
Being stuck on that one person as the only one will keep you from ever moving forward. And in fact, it will keep you stuck proving that reality to yourself as you create a belief system around it. If you’re stuck in this position, recreate that belief system. Remind yourself that anything is possible if you believe it to be true. If you believe you’ll never find another, you may never. If you believe you just might, you will.
5. You’re stuck on future possibilities that don’t exist. I see this happen often when I help clients work through and with loss. I always ask them to talk about the future they had planned. Often, this is when they break down and cry. I see them attached to the idea that they had their partner in all of their future plans, and the idea that this no longer exists is really hard.
To remedy this deviation between reality and what we create in our head, I suggest they use an exercise which I find to be an extremely powerful tool to help them move through the grief. If you feel stuck in future possibilities that don’t exist, you can try this exercise, too.
Simply write a letter to this person. In it, say goodbye to them and all of the possibilities of the future with them. List them each out. And most importantly, let yourself feel it and let yourself cry. Allow the grief to come and allow the grief to leave you. Once you finish the exercise, remind yourself that you were attached to a future outcome that hasn’t happened. Now, start to think about a beautiful, limitless future with endless possibilities…
Letting go is hard. It’s a process. And everyone is different in their ability to let go and what that process looks like. Depending on the relationship, that process can be complicated and lengthy to navigate through. That’s why I welcome a grief process for clients at the end of every relationship as a way to move through it, let it go, and be able to honor the lessons and love from the relationship.
If you find yourself getting stuck in any of the above spaces, it can keep you from moving forward in a healthy, organic way. So, be kind to yourself. Be patient and loving as you move through the grief process. And most of all, remind yourself that this time is about YOU. Not them.