How to break down the pedestal you created?
March 25, 2016 9:13 AM   Subscribe

What's a great sentiment that someone shared with you or that you discovered on your own that really helped you break away from framing your thoughts around a relationship that ended? What helped bring your ex off the pedestal?

For me, it has only been two months. I'm aware this is a very short time and the relationship was relatively short at ~10 months. I'm in therapy for anxiety/stress and family of origin stuff and it's been great so far, I'm going to stick with it. I'm staying really busy and trying new things and even dating (just to meet new women, NOT to get in a relationship) but my lizard brain still constantly associates my day to day experiences in relation to 'X and I ate at this restaurant' or 'X used to do Y', etc.

I think this comes with feeling like I haven't had full closure. Based on my previous post, the breakup went well but I've been no contact ever since. I tried e-mailing once to reach out and she never responded. I was asking how she wanted to interact so maybe we didn't have to be surprised if we ran into each other on the street somewhere. I don't know if that's specifically what I'm hanging on to (I do sort of hope on rare occasion that when I get a new e-mail notification that maybe it will be from her .. but I don't know what I'm really expecting).

I feel like self-compassion is really important here but I am struggling because part of me is still looking for that feedback response from the feedback loop I became attached to. I deferred to her a lot and that's something I've come to recognize in analyzing the relationship and previous relationships. This is a main topic for therapy. I know that she severed that feedback loop when she broke up with me. I'm reading Kristin Neff's book on self-compassion. It's hard for me to extend compassion to someone who I don't currently trust because I'm not fully aware of her real intentions anymore. I have been left feeling rejected and discarded and I'm somehow letting myself be affected about how I PERCEIVE what she's thinking with absolutely no real information. That's sort of what drives my intense desire to contact her, to find out the truth, which is very hard. I know that's unhealthy and it's not really going to solve anything for me.

What has helped you really retrain your thinking? Meditation (I use Headspace)? Daily affirmations?

What do you do when you are CONSTANTLY barraged with imagery involving the ex?
posted by modernman to Human Relations (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I can offer help with the "I ate dinner here with X!"/imagery challenges...

After my 9-year marriage/11 year relationship ended, I made it a point to go back to each place we visited (restaurant, city, etc) on my own or with friends in order to "reclaim" that place back into my own story. It took a while but it helped knowing that my most recent memory of Chicago is me going to the Hancock tower and eating at Giordanos rather than us being at the Sears Tower and eating at the steakhouse. I literally, dorkily would say, "this place is mine now." It really helped.

Good thoughts to you. :)
posted by kimberussell at 9:36 AM on March 25, 2016 [24 favorites]

Here is what helped me: I talked to her college roommate. (They were still in college.) Although they were friends, the roommate helped dispel the aura of unique wonderfulness.

Now maybe it only worked for me because I got along with the roommate so well. In fact, I've been married to her for 44 years. But I think the general idea is sound. Talk to some people who know the lady well.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:40 AM on March 25, 2016 [12 favorites]

I'm going to say something about closure. There isn't any. The more you seek it, the less there is of it.

My friend Donna always called it, "And another thing....!" Because just when you've said all you intended to say, and you're walking out the door, you remember never ends.

What I'd suggest is that when you find yourself thinking of what's-her-name, just say instead, "I like the spaghetti there." And keep moving.

As you move more and more away from the relationship, you'll think about her less and less. Sometimes you may think about her, and you'll have NO feelings one way or the other.

It'll happen.

Stop looking for closure though, it's illusive and keeps you in a place you don't want to be.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:50 AM on March 25, 2016 [14 favorites]

It's hard for me to extend compassion to someone who I don't currently trust because I'm not fully aware of her real intentions anymore

a) Try harder b) compassion is not contingent and has nothing to do with being psychic, just be it. It's magical thinking that you have to (or have the right to) read her mind and know All Things to be compassionate, and it's also magical thinking that if you demand she tell you, she will or can or must do so. You are assuming liberties with another human being that are not okay.

You are pursuing a (media-invented bs) concept called closure, but what you really want is control.

The only thing you can control is your own narrative. Not hers, not her thoughts (nor can her thoughts control you), not her motivations or behavior in the past, present, or future. As you get older, you're going to meet these situations with more understanding that you can't possibly understand it all right now - a year from now, you'll be facepalming over the assumptions you're making today. Five years from now, you'll have ingested the mistakes you made this time and will be better at relationships because of what you'll learn from this experience in the time in between. [Spoiler: the same will be true for her. She's not an all-knowing being doing this to you.]

It is fine to not know right now. It is fine to not know what she thinks and acknowledge that you have no right to control that and can't do anything about it, and so all you can do is hope that her life goes well and worry about your own. That's closure. Closure is a thing you do to yourself.

Being sad about "your" restaurant will be remedied with time and non-magical thinking. Just wait, and don't blow it out of proportion, and the feeling will resolve on its own.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:08 AM on March 25, 2016 [10 favorites]

I still have fairly pointed thoughts about my ex, whom I dated eight years ago. It helps me immensely to realize that many of those strong feelings come from the ways he made me feel -- not HIM, per se. Does that make sense?

In particular, a lot of those feelings -- shifting expectations, a feeling of not being able to live up to his weird standards, being made fun of for things he was sensitive about in himself -- seem so deep and long-lasting because they reflect things that I went through, and continue to go through, with my mom. That's a relationship that I'm not exactly able to escape or control in the same way, so those feelings keep coming up again and again.

Thinking about things in this way may also help you remember that a lot of these feelings are universal, and not necessarily specific to your relationship or the time and place. That may help you be easier on yourself.

I know it's hard to find a sense of peace sometimes, even when you're both in better relationships. That's not your fault. Be your own person and recognize that they may not be strong enough to meet you halfway -- and that's fine.
posted by St. Hubbins at 10:24 AM on March 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I think overall being very kind to yourself and acknowledging that you are heartbroken, and may be for some time, and that is A OK. I look back on my own thinking after breakups or infatuations, and I was so hard on myself. So annoyed and frustrated that I couldn't just move on or fully be present in my own life because I kept thinking of him. You truthfully cannot 'break' someone off of their pedestal, they sort of just.... slowly lose their colour and fade into the air. Re-framing it as a slow-moving process, like ice melting or a flower's growth may help. It happens very little bit by very little bit. And each and every day, therapy appointment, meditation, outing, drains her colour and contours just a little bit more. Things may feel like they are moving at a glacial pace, but I promise you they are moving.

I wrote a lot in my journal. Like free-flow let it all out, wrote out all my fears, sometimes wrote nothing but "I'll never get over him, I can't see the other side from where I sit now." Let myself be fully honest about what I feeling in that moment. Sometimes those fears lie in the back of your mind and your thinking brain won't let them out "don't say that! you know rationally that's not true!" Let them out. Let them live on the page and be your truth for that day.

Self-compassion is sometimes as easy as truly acknowledging how you feel and letting it be there. Like the weather, it will pass.
posted by hollypolly at 10:28 AM on March 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Instead of wondering what she would think of you or anything else, try to learn more about what YOU would think of yourself and these experiences. You say you deferred to her a lot, and that you're looking to remove her pedestal. Here's a thing - no Actual Human comes with a pedestal, even the incredibly great ones. You made the pedestal, now you need to help remove it - not by thinking about her, but by thinking about you.

Go back to the restaurant with a friend, and determine what you, yourself, thinking of that restaurant this time. Really explore what you think of the food, atmosphere, whether you have other friends you think would like it. And then expand that - when you are doing Anything, and you wonder what she would think, turn it around to query what you think.

You want to know why she broke up with you, but it doesn't matter. Focus on why you would date yourself: your interests, your hobbies, your friends, your life. Pretty soon the awesomeness of your life will overshadow anything that one person who isn't even in it anymore thinks of it.
posted by ldthomps at 10:30 AM on March 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think it is part of the human experience to always carry around a piece of every relationship you've ever had during your life. I still sometimes think about high school girlfriends and get a twinge of I don't know's somewhat desire, it's somewhat nostalgia, it's somewhat things that were left unresolved. I don't think that ever goes away, particularly if a relationship was intense. What you have to do, or what I do, is embrace those moments or those memories as part of my story of my life - this happened to ME, it made me part of who I am, it is a chapter that is closed but chapters in books don't disappear once you've read them - they remain part of the whole. And these feelings and memories will remain part of the whole of your story. The intensity will diminish with time as you move on with your live and create the next chapter. You're only two months out from it - that's nothing. Embrace all the emotions of it as part of your life. After all, that is what life is, a giant tangle of emotion that when looked at from 30,000 feet is a journey. Getting over this girl is part of your journey - use the feelings to make the experience part of who you are always becoming.
posted by spicynuts at 11:37 AM on March 25, 2016 [13 favorites]

I used to spend a lot of time in therapy trying to sort through all the stuff I felt about my exes, many of whom I thought were the ones that got away. My therapist told me to treat each failed relationship as an experiment, and to examine what I learned about myself and my needs by having been with each person. Then she asked me to connect the positives and negatives from each relationship together to see what kind of patterns emerged. In analyzing my relationships in this way I was also forced to be truthful with myself about the human-ness of each person I dated. None of them were villains (except one, but that's another story), because we rarely date people who we don't have something wonderful in common with. It really helped me break down the pedestals I had put together, and I started to free myself from the sometimes overwhelming desire to find emotional triggers in everything I looked at. (Like I couldn't look at Mini Coopers for over a year without bursting into tears because Certain Boyfriend drove one.) Maybe doing some deep analysis will help you see your ex in more of a plain light, not a shimmery sparkly she can do no wrong sort of way?
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:49 AM on March 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

I would give myself a break because we all have our own pace for getting over things, and I would get through this temporary rough period with self-talk.

I would decide that I will never be hearing from ex again. Every time I got an email notification and the "what if..." feeling came over, I would tell myself "well, that's not gonna happen. It's over." It'll become automatic.

When my thoughts/feelings were ex-centric, I would tell myself 1) this thought/feeling is natural and normal-- happens to everyone who's ever loved someone and 2) this thought/feeling is not an emergency. There's nothing to do about it; there is no action to take. Just let yourself feel it and then do something else. Something nice for yourself. Something healthy.

I would also do stuff/watch shows/go places/hang out with people my ex HAATED to reclaim my individual identity. That's, like, the one good thing about a breakup. You no longer have to go where ex wants or watch something ex would approve of.

Who were you before ex? Who do you want to be post-ex? Honor that person.
posted by kapers at 12:01 PM on March 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

I have been left feeling rejected and discarded and I'm somehow letting myself be affected about how I PERCEIVE what she's thinking with absolutely no real information.

Actions speak louder than words. She isn't emailing you. She may not be thinking of you at all. Whether she is or is not thinking of you, she is choosing to not communicate.

You feel rejected and discarded. Embrace that. Would someone worthy of a pedestal make you feel that way? Those feelings are real and valid, regardless of what is going on in her head, which she is choosing to not share with you.

Accept that you feel crappy. When you go to place her on a pedestal, focus on "But, she is currently making me feel crappy by not even bothering to reply to my email."

Ask yourself why you are actively overriding and invalidating your own feelings in order to elevate her in your mind. What drives that? Why can't you let her be responsible for her very real part in your negative feelings?

No matter how hypothetically wonderful she may be, practical reality is that a) y'all broke up and b) you feel crappy and c) from the way you told it, it appears she can't be bothered to do you the courtesy of answering your email. So, the reality is that she might someday be wonderful to someone else, but it will not be you.

Sit with that. Stop trying to white wash it. The illusory pedestal will be crushed under the weight of actual reality, if you just let it be.
posted by Michele in California at 12:12 PM on March 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

Unless you can find some sort of extrinsic certainty, which you can incorporate into yourself, which diametrically changes your attitude towards her and the former relationship you shared... I think it will ultimately be time, and complete absorption into other things, that finally does the trick. I took the the long way 'round, and I finally found it, but it didn't come any sooner than necessary.

You know what it was? Movement, in a sense: experiences that don't involve them, and new, meaningful, interpersonal realities for you to be present in, to sink yourself into. It sounds like you're still trying to think and feel for two people, and you don't have to do that any more. You're in incredible personal control right now of your own existence. Be risky, then temper yourself back if need be. Get that feeling of freedom, wherever you can find it. Shout out. Individualize. Reclaim. Ritualize that passing-on: you can let it go. Write that e-mail or letter to her you're talking about, if you must, and get it perfect... but don't send it. Express yourself, and then let it go. Come back to it a few weeks (or a few months!) later. Do that a good few times. You'll know when you're ready.

Two months out of a serious relationship's breakup, I don't know if anyone ever really has the real ability to reconnect with past emotional contexts. We desperately want to forge new meaning at that point; heck, I still do, and it's been three years since, but that desire wanes over time. They will start to lose luster when you stop worrying about trying to make things right. Start challenging this never-ending feeling you didn't get closure - I agree. Look, do get closure, or don't. Live with it. By realizing and believing that you can express yourself and live on your own behalf, you can become whole again. The catharsis is in the work of continuing to live proudly and efficaciously in the face of all this. All my best. You'll be okay - you just have to keep moving.
posted by a good beginning at 1:14 PM on March 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

For me, it was twofold; throwing those rose-colored glasses away, and elevating myself, instead. Part of putting someone on a pedestal is thinking they're above you, and you can't gaze up at someone if you think you're their equal, or even their better.

And part of clinging so hard to this person is because I subconsciously put them above myself, in a myriad of ways-- their feelings always came first, their desires came before mine, etc. I was so invested. It became this weird catch 22, whereby they'd pick up on it and suddenly I felt as if they subconsciously started elevating themselves, too.

Unpacking all of that, reminding myself why I'm a catch, why I'm interesting, funny, smart, worth dating, and worth loving, telling myself I deserved better than how I was treated... and also being around various people that substantiated that outlook, helped me immensely. Be it more time with friends, family, as well as casual dates. People being excited to see me and meet me and talk to me reminded me that this person wasn't the end all and be all, and that there was hope. And reminding myself that they were human, and flawed, and really not as perfect as I had painted them; that really, to even be able to put them on a pedestal, I had been glossing over all of their flaws.

Also coming to terms with the fact it wasn't a healthy or viable relationship, that breaking up would have probably been inevitable and I wasn't even really happy around them. This was harder that one would think to do; because those fleeting moments of happiness were beautiful and I kept wanting to cling to them. But I was in denial about being happy, when mostly I just felt unfulfilled and unloved, even when the relationship was at it's 'best'.

And I reminded myself I hadn't been 'discarded'-- that I wasn't trash-- although it certainly felt that way. I felt terribly rejected. I mean, in my case, he left me for someone else, and when he told me about her, it felt like he was describing someone who had everything I didn't. Man, that sucked. I coped with this generally by telling myself that part of this 'rejection' was based on an impression he had of me that wasn't who I truly was-- because our relationship was unbalanced, and our dynamic was flawed, the real me wasn't coming through. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but essentially, to put him on a pedestal means I wasn't acting like 'myself' or an 'equal' around him -- thus the person he left was me, but it felt like a small, sad version of me who felt tiny around him and never got to shine or feel loved in the relationship. It didn't feel the 'best' version of me -- he never got to see that, thus he never got to see all of me, and therefore he never got to reject it. Sure, I mean it's probably wishful thinking but, it helped me to cope with feeling discarded by re-framing it in that way.

Lastly, dating again, getting excited over someone that made me feel appreciated in the ways he didn't, that helped a lot.

As for the perception of their thoughts. I used to do this too. Yes, this is unhealthy and obsessive and difficult habit to break. The fact is, they're probably thinking of you occasionally, because it's a recent breakup. And In my experience, most people think of their exes here and there over the years. Whether it's good thoughts or bad, who knows? If you thought they regretted it, what would you do with that knowledge? How would you feel? What if they didn't regret it? What then? Would that help at all? Would it stop you obsessing? Or would it make it worse? For me, I found out first hand how much they were missing me and suffering-- (it was a lot) and while it did help, it helped very little to stop the thoughts, or to stop second guessing. Thing is, even if they regret it, even if it is technically a bad decision for them to leave, the mind will justify and try to rationalize any bad decision they make, so I doubt it will ever keep them up at night in the future. It's just the way it is, that one day you'll be a footnote in their life.

The only thing that can stop intrusive thoughts like these is therapy, I think, especially CBT. You need to train yourself to really not care what they think of you. For me, at least, this was always the hardest thing, but I did it by acknowledging that they probably were thinking of me in some way, sometimes, and then just going 'hmm' and letting go of that thought.

I hope that helps somewhat. Take care.
posted by Dimes at 1:25 PM on March 25, 2016 [11 favorites]

Following the most terrible, cruel, destructive breakup I have ever experienced, the first thing that broke through the ruminations and negative self-talk for me was hearing someone say: The past is gone. There is only now.

Simple, and obvious in retrospect, but at the time, everything just sort of clicked and I was so moved I nearly started to cry.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 2:58 PM on March 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

I needed the perspective of numbers.

Was she the One? How could it be that the One just happened to live near me? Either I was incredibly, lottery-winner-style lucky, or it's absurd to think there could be only One.

In the next town over, there's another One. There's a hundred Ones in a big city. I just haven't met them yet.

You know that old saying about there being plenty of fish in the sea? It turns out the sea is really, really, really big, and you're standing on a very tiny beach.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:31 PM on March 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Cool Papa Bell's comment reminded me of a line out of the Witlam's song Up Against The Wall: "She was one in a million, yeah/So there's five more, just in New South Wales.."

What helped me bring That Guy down off the pedestal was from some crappy or Cosmo story about letting go of your ex. It said, what you're grieving is the loss of the idealised person, not the actual person.

Now that you've broken up, there's no more opportunity for that dream girl to happen. And you have to realise she wasn't the dream girl because, for starters, your dream girl is not someone who doesn't want you.

As for how to stop thinking about her, hoping to hear from her, you can do all kinds of cbt, exercise like crazy, distract yourself with others etc etc but time really is the only proper cure. Pass the time doing things that are good for you. I worked out like crazy and, it's not best practice, but it helped get me through the early days to think that if I bumped into him, I'd be looking amazing.

Nthing that closure is a myth. I take comfort in reading thoughts from others, including this question of yours, to remind myself that he's probably sad about us too. That gives me a bit of closure, to believe that the good stuff and the big feelings were real, that he's not just blithely moved on as if I never mattered. If it helps, I was the dumper and 6 months on, I still miss him even though I haven't had one second of doubt that I did the right thing. And I did genuinely do it in part for him, we were bad for each other in many ways.

I have a journal app on my iPhone that locks. I write all my crazy stuff in there. Beggy sulking whining heartbroken crazy stuff. Every now and then I delete it all.

Take care of you.
posted by stellathon at 8:37 PM on March 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have been left feeling rejected and discarded and I'm somehow letting myself be affected about how I PERCEIVE what she's thinking with absolutely no real information. That's sort of what drives my intense desire to contact her, to find out the truth, which is very hard.

Here's the truth, which is painful but you need to understand it: she doesn't want to contact you. That's your closure. There's nothing beyond that. She thought you were a very nice person and dated you for a bit, then realized she wanted something else and broke up with you. She is moving on.

You could hound her and ask her to explain herself to get closure, but whatever she would say would be some version of this. There's no other "real" version.

I know it feels awful and you feel discarded, but you haven't been discarded. I've been the one to end things and often, the reality is that I just stopped feeling it for the other person. The more I got to know them, the more I recognized that we just weren't a great fit for me. When I break up with people, I don't want to hurt them and I'm not discarding them; they're just not the right person for me to be exclusive with. Sometimes you just don't feel it.

She's not discarding YOU as a bad guy; you're just not the right guy for her.

One thing that does help is to go on other dates and you'll quickly understand that construct: you will meet perfectly nice people but you just won't feel it. It will give you a better sense of how sometimes, it just doesn't click and it's not personal.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:27 AM on March 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Lots of little things:
- I couldn't set foot in the local park because "X and I used to go there" but then I took up dog walking and I had to go there. Now I associate the park with my canine friend, not my ex.
- I had a thing about going to the town which he lived in when we got together - I went back there to run a half marathon.
- I blocked him on all forms of social media for ages - for a while I even set up a thing which hid any posts with his name in altogether. I was terrified I'd see a picture of him. Eventually this happened anyway and it was the most ridiculous picture (he appeared to be playing a gig wearing a potato sack and not having brushed his hair for a week. I don't even know...) That certainly knocked him off his pedestal - I had built him up to be this fearsome, devastating creature and actually he was just plain silly.
- I wrote my feelings down, both in private and semi-public forums - I probably bored everyone to death with the topic, in fact I even bored myself, but I'd rather be boring than go nuts. I also bored my friends to tears with the topic. It's okay, because most of them have done it to me at the same time. Realising that I was not the only person to have gone through this and that no one thought I was bad or crazy definitely helped.
- I threw away everything he'd ever touched. New underwear, bed sheets, nightwear. I even cut all my hair off, which was extremely liberating. I threw out things he'd given me or packed them away.

FWIW the feelings of wondering if he will contact me and even feeling slightly annoyed that he hasn't even though I don't want him to (?!) haven't quite gone away, but they have faded. I will quote my own journal from a few months after the break up: "I am trying to treat this like running: after the first kilometre everything aches and I want to stop but then it gets easier and you keep on doing kilometre after kilometre just to see how far you can go and before you know it you're doing a half marathon and you're not even out of breath. I haven't actually done a half marathon yet but I will, and I will get that MOFO out of my head if it is the last thing I do."
posted by intensitymultiply at 7:30 AM on March 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Intensitymultiply's comment reminds me of a saying from addiction recovery circles: Change your people, your places and your things.

It's not a bad idea for anything that is eating you up.

I also have been thinking more about this. You say she dumped you and you say you feel rejected. You seem to think there is something "wrong" with feeling that way. I realize it isn't a pleasant feeling, but this isn't neurotic: You feel rejected because you were rejected.

Your feelings are aligning with reality. How you feel and what she did are in agreement.

Feelings come from somewhere and can be a useful source of information. Whatever anxiety and other issues you have going on, you aren't doing anything fundamentally wrong here. It is two months out and your feelings and actual reality align.

If five years pass and you still can't move on at all, okay, you need therapy. At that point, you can conclude that something isn't right. But, you do not need "fixing" at this time, on this topic. You aren't crazy or neurotic. Your mind and emotions work just fine. Being dumped actually sucks. It is okay to feel sucky about it.

No contact is intended to starve or suffocate the romantic feelings so they can die. It isn't a bad practice, but it isn't a super nice practice either. I rarely use it. I tend to remain willing to talk to people, unless they just have serious boundary issues. That doesn't mean I talk to them a lot. It does mean that, typically, if they were to send the kind of email you sent, I would reply in brief.

The fact that you have gotten no reply is part of why you are twisting in the wind. That isn't a nice thing to do to someone.

I am not saying you should demonize her. But she isn't being super nice here. She is leaving you hanging, probably because she doesn't know how to give you closure. It probably just means she is a normal person. But she doesn't belong on a pedestal.

No contact is effective. It works. But it isn't a super nice thing to do. It may be the least worst option available. But, having had an amicable divorce, I can say for certain there are nicer ways to end a relationship.

I will also say that some people do, actually, get closure. I got closure before I filed for divorce. Not everyone continues to hurt.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 10:26 AM on March 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

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