How to release suppressed emotions? I need to express my sadness.
February 2, 2013 4:14 PM   Subscribe

My ex-boyfriend recently broke up with me. I am normally a very emotional person but I feel... nothing. I would like some advice about how to release my bottled-up emotions over this.

Here's the askme I posted about things when they were going off the rails, and here's my follow-up comment explaining the breakup. He broke up with me on on January 6th, and moved out the 22nd. It was six years of great happiness - we didn't fight, didn't even have many disagreements. I loved him dearly and he rejected me, for no good reason. It was by far the best, healthiest, and longest-lasting relationship of my life, and now it's gone. And I'm just enjoying the quiet in my apartment, doing productive things with all this alone time I've suddenly found myself with. I don't even feel lonely.

I have thought about things and started to feel a bit sad, even a couple of tears, but not the catharsis that I think I need. It just didn't feel like the right time to have a big cry about it, so I was able to kind of quash those feelings at that moment and they didn't get far. It actually really surprises me that I was able to hold it back. That kind of control is kind of alien to me - I was always a big weeper when experiencing a loss or other sad event.

I feel really, really odd experiencing so great a loss and not being able to feel it.

I have been through many breakups and other losses, and always felt quite sad, and cried over them. I feel that it is necessary for me to let my feelings come to the fore so I can process them and grieve and move on.

There is a big reason why this might be happening - I am bipolar and heavily medicated. I got on a really great combination of pills about 8 years ago, and I turned a corner and got my life back. I was finally able to hold a job, to be stable, to have healthy relationships. I basically won the medication lottery. I know it is so common for bipolar people to have hellish struggles to find a treatment that works (I went through a lot of this myself, of course), and some never find one that does.

But I like the person I am now. I am emotionally strong, I am resilient. I have ups and downs but they are quite dampened (probably even more dampened than a normal non-mentally-ill person). I'll have a sad day once in a great while where I feel like crying over little things, but I bounce back pretty quickly. I'll have an energetic feeling or "wow the grass is *so green* today!" sense of wonderful things all around me, but it doesn't spiral into mania, it just fades back to normal. My pills work really, really well. I like being this way. I lost years of my life to crippling depression, and I never want to experience anything like that again. Episodes of mania have also exacted a toll in awful ways.

But since I got on my great medications, I haven't had anything truly horrible happen to me. I feel like a robot or something - I should be really sad. I feel like my sadness is bottled up inside and I need to express it. So I have a plan tonight to sit down and just start writing about all the great things I enjoyed in the relationship with him, the things I miss. We had so many in-jokes, for instance. So I will always feel a pang when I watch certain shows or movies, or that sort of thing. I miss having someone to do nice things for, someone to cook for. I miss his voice, his great wit. I think if I start writing that stuff out, with specifics, it will help me get in touch with my feelings.

So, my question: do you have any tips / tricks / ideas on how to release emotions when you need to have a good cry over something terrible that has happened? Does my plan sound like a good idea?

Special note: I have given up drinking, so I do not want to use alcohol here. I decided I will limit my consumption to special occasions with friends, once in awhile, like once every couple of months or something like that. And never driving after.
posted by sock puppetron on wheels to Human Relations (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Just observe your thoughts without judgement about whether they're "appropriate" or "enough" or anything like that. Whatever's coming will come that way.

Is it possible that in the end you know you'll be alright, you know on some level it was time, and though it's a loss your life will go on and it's really alright?
posted by cmoj at 4:26 PM on February 2, 2013

I think your plan to write about it sounds great. But, you know, it's still early days and I think a lot of people, with or without medication, would still be coasting and feeling things only in little bits. The feelings will likely come if you are open to them. They may come at inconvenient moments. Good luck.
posted by BibiRose at 4:26 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Is it possible that you are feeling your true emotions but just not what you thought they should be?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:27 PM on February 2, 2013 [21 favorites]

Music. Current songs guaranteed to make me cry about my months-ago breakup: Radiohead's "Creep"; Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"; Garbage's "Cup of Coffee"; Fiona Apple's "Sleep to Dream" and her cover of Elvis Costello's "I Want You."

This might be what you're actually feeling (I went between numb and sobbing immediately following my own breakup), but some somber, sad music might still get you.
posted by RainyJay at 4:43 PM on February 2, 2013

Yeah, your plan sounds like a good one. Writing is a great way to explore thoughts, feelings, and memories. It sounds like you might get as much out of examining your (lack of) sadness over the breakup as going over the things that happened.

Something that would make it a really meaningful experience for me would be to harness music to make it happen. Set aside a long chunk of time, preferably when there's no pressing obligation on the other side, then use your personal music library, AskMe lists of sad songs and breakup music, YouTube, and your own curiosity to search for the perfect external example of expression for yourself.

By adding music, you can go back and forth between your own outpouring and piggy-backing on someone else's outpouring when you run out of inspiration.
posted by itesser at 4:43 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's necessary to force yourself to feel what you think you should feel if you don't really feel it. To help you process whatever feelings are truly present, you could add:

music (howling, wailing, crying-in-your-beer country music can work nicely);
scent (do you have any of his clothes around, or anything that smells like him?);
movement (dance or yoga are great for this);
a tour to some of the favorite places you enjoyed together;

It's possible that your true emotional reaction is just different than your expectations. Maybe you really are happy and excited to be facing freedom and the possibility of new things. You're not required to feel bad because something that was good for its time is over.
posted by Corvid at 4:47 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that you are feeling your true emotions but just not what you thought they should be?

Listen to St. Alia. Your plan sounds fine, but don't work to make emotion fit your preconceptions. There is no reason to, if you are going to be torn up about it that will happen in time, and there is a lot of research suggesting that people cope best when they let their natural coping mechanisms take control. Even if those are different from what they've been in the past, there's no good reason to disrupt what's going on. Needing to "express" emotion is a pernicious myth.
posted by OmieWise at 4:56 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I was in my mid-twenties I ended a six year relationship in a mutual, "this is sad but we are both going to be okay" way. I never had a big cathartic cry, I didn't demonise him, we stayed friends afterwards until he became jealous of my new partner. So, it is possible to have a break-up without the melo-drama, especially if you don't have a bunch of negative advocats stirring up drama. Another break-up was very difficult because the other person was incredibly emotional, one minute saying the break up was the best thing ever for them, a second later making promises we both knew were lies in order to "win me back", dragging family, friends, co-workers etc into the whole mess. I cried over the mess they were making of my life and that they refused to make a clean break. It sounds like you will be just fine, you are taking good care of yourself.
posted by saucysault at 5:28 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Own your emotions. If you aren't feeling grief right now, that is fine. Maybe you just aren't actually that hurt by this, and will genuinely have an easy time of moving on to the next phase of your life. Maybe the grief will hit you later, in which case you should be ready for it, but don't go looking for it. If you genuinely feel OK, it might just be because you really are OK. It happens!
posted by Scientist at 5:32 PM on February 2, 2013

You spent a lot of time miserable before the breakup; IME those are the break ups where I had less grief after because I had used it all up already.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:35 PM on February 2, 2013 [18 favorites]

Never, ever voluntarily go in search of something that can kill your being.

Even if you managed to unleash these emotions, do you believe you can control them to remain cathartic? These emotions are far more powerful to be controlled by you, as they have evolved to disable you in the same evolutionary journey as the human being's own existence. In other words, you can't "outrun" them. That is why you are taking medication, and thankfully, with good results for all these years - without the skill of a trained therapist and possibly appropriate medication, you're are gambling, unnecessarily. When (if) those emotions are released, your mind will have used that natural extra time to be in a better position to cope.

Good luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 5:50 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

But then things run through my mind like the fact that he doesn't want to get married (and I don't push this since things are good between us), he's so much younger than me, he likes to drink a LOT (it is a very important priority for him, and he drove home drunk about two weeks ago despite repeated OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE GET A CAB I MEAN IT texts), untreated (and unwilling to treat) depression, and on and on. (And for the record, I do drink too, but much less, and at home only, and never drive after).

Maybe you both recognized it wasn't working and the fact that the six years weren't slamming your hand in a car door, comparatively, is just symptomatic that you're getting better at relationships and not his inherent specialness?

I just ended a five year deal. I was fucking *miserable* with him near the end but after people are acting like I should be a wreck. I sniffle a bit, but I'm 26, y'know, and I had two years of trying to make it work. I did most of my grieving before, same as the last breakup.
posted by Phalene at 6:04 PM on February 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

"I'm not sad, though I was expecting to be" is a pretty frequent way to feel when an agonizing breakup has come to a drawn-out conclusion.

Let yourself not be sad now. You might be sad later, who knows? Or you might not ever be.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:21 PM on February 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

If I knew you in person, and what I knew about your ex was what you had shared in your AskMes, I would be saying, "Holy shit, of course you're not sad! You dodged a bullet! This guy was acting like a total shit!"

Would you please, please talk about this in therapy? Your self-esteem and jerk-ometer both seem miles off.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:25 PM on February 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

I loved him dearly and he rejected me, for no good reason.

There is a reason. It doesn't matter what it was, but it was probably not random. And that's okay. His reasons are his own. They don't matter to you. Point being that it wasn't random. This was probably not "an act of god" but rather something that has run it's course.

It was by far the best, healthiest, and longest-lasting relationship of my life, and now it's gone. And I'm just enjoying the quiet in my apartment, doing productive things with all this alone time I've suddenly found myself with.

Often, it's relieving in the immediate after-wake. The silence. The surety. Whilst the other person is gone, at least you know they're gone and there is no more ambiguity. Immediately afterward, there's often relief, with the grief to set in once the relief has past. Expect the grief – almost welcome it – for this is all part of a natural process.

I feel really, really odd experiencing so great a loss and not being able to feel it.

It's shock. You may be adjusting to the new state. It's important to connect with people now. Even if it seems trite, the grief will come. Grieving is a social process, often best served in the company of others. You can get ahead of the grief by jumpstarting your social life. You don't need reasons, you may well just need people.

I feel like my sadness is bottled up inside and I need to express it. So I have a plan tonight to sit down and just start writing about all the great things I enjoyed in the relationship with him, the things I miss.

Whatever you need. Writing is effective because the ink becomes real. Emotions can bounce around inside forever, but paper is cathartic.

So, my question: do you have any tips / tricks / ideas on how to release emotions when you need to have a good cry over something terrible that has happened?

I go to nature, to the forest. The peace of the wood, and the juxtaposed permanence and impermanence of the natural world.

We each have our own. The only thing that is required is that you are in a place of your own, where the emotions can come. Let them come. Be sad. Be bereft. Be taken over by the waves. Release. It's okay. It's a very natural process – the grieving. I think we each have our own way of doing it. It doesn't matter what it is, as long as you feel connected to yourself.

When things happen – medicated or not – we put up defences, for the sake of our own sanity and composure. Healing happens when we accept those emotions and allow them to simply be present.

There doesn't have to be resolve, or closure, or anything else. Just simply recognition and acceptance of how you feel right now. There is no judgement. The world disappears. This is your time, and you should own it.

If writing helps, write away. If writing does not help, throw away the pen. If screaming helps, have a scream. But recognise the feelings, and allow them to emerge.

Else you will fight them and try to repress them. These are real feelings – important feelings – and it's okay to let them go. The trick is to do so in a place where you feel comfortable and safe.

Does my plan sound like a good idea?

posted by nickrussell at 6:27 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like you are responding to this emotionally, it's just that the overwhelming emotion right now is relief. That is totally ok. You've been up against all kinds of sadness, frustration and other emotions leading up to this, and you may feel sadness again in the future, but I think you should give yourself the space to just observe your emotions as they happen. They are all legitimate and they are all ok.
posted by goggie at 6:29 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I see no reason to not take your emotions at face value. It's possible you've just been over the relationship for a long time or that your attachment to your ex didn't run very deep (maybe, in this case, because your ex was kind of a dick). I remember after one three year, serious relationship ended being surprised that I never missed my ex. At first I thought my emotions were just buried but it's been several years and nothing ever bobbed to the surface. I really never think about that relationship, even the good times.

In retrospect our connection was pretty shallow. We did have good times but oddly when I reminisce about them I keep forgetting he was even there because in a sense I always felt alone with him. I didn't realize this until after the relationship had ended.

Then I've had much shorter relationships whose endings sent me reeling into the abyss.

In sum, whether you miss a relationship or not when it's over doesn't have much to do with its length or how many fun things you guys did together.
posted by timsneezed at 6:31 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

sidhedevil has it, for me. Please do write for yourself, please be prepared to be surprised (you may discover - if you are and have been in the situation we think - that the suppressed feelings and grief are not about the breakup but about the relationship as a whole. You may not; this may not be how things are), and please do come back if you need to. Alternatively, don't write, for exactly the reason Kruger5 says. Live your life and your truth will come when it needs to. You will be, and are, okay.
posted by lokta at 6:43 PM on February 2, 2013

I'm not on any medication, but I did go through cognitive behavioral therapy after a bad breakup in college. It was one of those breakups where you were in the throes of passion and things went very wrong. I was pretty devastated. I cried constantly, ate badly, didn't go to class.

But the last breakup I had, I had none of those things. Maybe it was the CBT or just being more emotionally mature, but I also think it was at the point in the relationship where things were not very passionate at all, there was no limerence or intense feelings of passion being cut off, and in fact the relationship was detrimental to me. And when it was over I didn't feel good, but it wasn't like I sat around crying and eating ice cream.

I moved on without much grief or drama. It felt very weird, almost unsettling, but I think it was a good thing. The only relics I have from that breakup are a few playlists I made of mostly "I'm free!" songs like Camera Obscura's False Contender and The Sunday's Here's Where the Story Ends, tasting menus from restaurants I went to with friend or by myself that he would never have gone to, and several RPGs I bought and played through that were probably a bit distracting.

Maybe you should talk to a therapist or at least a very good friend or family member about it? But don't think that necessarily it is something wrong with you.
posted by melissam at 11:26 PM on February 2, 2013

Never, ever voluntarily go in search of something that can kill your being.

Even if you managed to unleash these emotions, do you believe you can control them to remain cathartic?

Agreed, with the caveat that you may not actually have leashed anger, or despair that is repressed or suppressed. The way you feel right now is, simply, the way you feel right now. And that the way you feel is real, and that you should acknowledge this.

Consider this homily or analogy: "My self-aware rice cooker killed and ate my roomate's roomba, but I'm not going through the Grief Process correctly? What am I doing wrong and how do I get to denial, and then anger; bargaining; depression; and, acceptance?" When what is really going on is that you're processing stuff in your own way, and ok with that, but you feel uncomfortable because you're not feeling the emotions that society (and your internalized nagging busybody) thinks you should feel.

But you may be able, through hard work, to trick yourself into being absolutely miserable. You may be cozy and comfortable (well, mildly discombobulated and wishing for a self-heated body pillow) but then tell yourself you simply must have leashed, buried anger/grief/etc. And then create that anger out of nothing (well, mild shock). Or make yourself really unhappy.

For example, a hypnotist could convince you that 1) you had a self-aware rice cooker and 2) you should be furious with it. Pow! You're furious. Similarly, you could self-hypotize, self-analyze, or rationalize yourself into thinking X-therefore you are be furious, and Pow! You're furious! Or despairing, etc.

Actors can induce themselves into feeling undue emotion via method acting. And misguided therapists can induce patients into feeling undue emotion via induced false memory syndrome. When the emotion may or may not have anything to do with reality.

Do practice mindfullnes - self-awareness of how you're feeling.
Don't rehearse unhealthy emotions unnecessarily (2) or create them out of vapor unnecessarily.

(More discussion of anger)
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:54 AM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

If what you really want here is to have a big cry, my suggestion is to sign up for a free one-month Netflix streaming trial subscription and watch sad, tear-jerking movies.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:41 AM on February 3, 2013

Just throw paint at a canvas and scrub it around. It's wonderful therapy.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:46 AM on February 3, 2013

Walk. Go out for a long walk and think. Round all the parks in your neighborhood will be fine. For an hour or two. See if anything sprouts up in your mind.
posted by ambrosen at 7:59 AM on February 3, 2013

I read your earlier question and here's what I think:

You're angry, not sad.

Basically, you had this great relationship -- it was healthy, happy, long-lasting... and then he dumped you for someone else after treating you like crap and making you feel fat, old, and ugly.

I don't think you can be sad until you see how this might make you angry -- and you are totally within your rights to be angry at him. (It's not that he's a bad person necessarily, but he did not treat YOU well at the end of the relationship.)

I would try to feel into that anger, and then the sadness and grief. But also just enjoy how well your life is going overall, how great your medication is for you, and how bright your future is. Both things are true: he treated you like crap, and you are having an awesome life!
posted by 3491again at 3:48 PM on February 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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