How to get over shame from post-breakup behavior?
July 18, 2016 11:10 AM   Subscribe

A month ago my ex ended our fairly toxic intense four month relationship (we discussed marriage, babies, met one another's families, etc). Host of reasons contributed to the demise including his (functional) alcoholism, my perceived neediness, his total lack of interest in my life (past or current) the end I felt like a trophy GF that he could parade around his friends just to show everyone he is capable of having a GF. Oh, and he didn't tell me about a STD until after we had sex the first time.

I sent a bunch of alternately nice and nasty texts and emails in the ensuing days, and made a total fool of myself to the point that he blocked me from everything and send me a final email that vaguely threatened to report me for harassment if I didn't stop.

This behavior post break-up is new for me and I can't seem to move past the shame and guilt for going crazy and desperate. It has thrown me into a depression and I even quit my job last week because of the shame.

How can I move on? It has been a month since last contact (his email) and I am still reeling.
posted by Jaspersen145 to Human Relations (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Find a therapist immediately and start working your way through this. Ask a friend for help making an appointment if you can't do it yourself. You quit your job (which I assume has no ties to this relationship, e.g. he doesn't work there or something); the fallout from how you feel about this is affecting serious things in your life. You need help here, reach out before things spiral any farther out of control.
posted by phunniemee at 11:20 AM on July 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

You were in an emotionally abusive partnership. Many of us have developed strategies to deal with conflict, strife, and interpersonal disagreement, but in the face of real emotional abuse, these strategies don't work or work in unexpected, frustrating, and infuriating ways. I think it's a good thing that you have not had to harden yourself to that kind of abuse up until this point, and I absolutely think you should forgive yourself for not knowing the proper way to react to it. You were put in an impossible situation where every response would have been "wrong"--anyone who tells you they know the perfect way to respond to abusive behavior is full of shit. A horrible thing happened to you, and it says a lot about how this dude operates that he has turned it around on you and made you blame yourself.

I agree with phunniemee--a therapist will help correct your skewed framing of this situation.
posted by almostmanda at 11:31 AM on July 18, 2016 [23 favorites]

Yes therapy, but also... sometimes we get in a situation so actively poisonous that we act like people who are deprived of oxygen and other symptoms of poisoning. Like, when you are in a situation that is making you sick, you will not be performing at 100% and it is fine to say "well! that certainly was a horrible thing! that I will actively avoid ever doing again ever!" You spun out, it's a life lesson, it doesn't define your entire being.

Quitting your job is a pretty strong response, though. It's disproportional enough to suggest you are in a bad enough spiral to require external leverage to slow and stop it. Please reach out to someone you know just to have a touchstone and a little amateur support, and find someone to professionally talk to for the heavier stuff.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:36 AM on July 18, 2016 [19 favorites]

almostmanda has it figured out! A relationship like that turns you upside down and inside out. Feel good about yourself that you got out so quickly and, because of the messages, you burnt a bridge that needed burning. No bounce back from him! Once you are feeling strong enough, if anyone asks you about your behavior, tell them that you acted crazy on purpose because you didn't want to ever have to deal with him again and acting crazy seemed like the best way to get rid of him for good.

Those guys, those beautiful, perfect guys, who know all the right things to say, the ones who talk about your happily ever after and have a way of knowing what your dreams are without you having to tell them, those guys are really hard to get over. You didn't just end a relationship- you are having to let go of this wonderful fantasy future. Know that a real future is out there for you. Allow yourself to grieve for the life that he was promising you, and accept that he was creating a lie to seduce you. He was never going to give you everything you wanted. He was only telling you that to take from you. Take comfort in knowing that at least now you know what you want. That's the first step in getting it. And know that he was never the one to give you what you wanted.
posted by myselfasme at 11:44 AM on July 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

Does it help to know that most people have acted in ways that are embarrassing, out of character, undignified, or just plain suboptimal after a breakup at some point? Many without the pretty nasty provocation you experienced. Relationships can bring out some pretty intense feelings, even without the emotional withholding aspect you dealt with. I hope you can journal, exercise, therapize, and self-care your way to forgiving yourself. You are human. All you can do is move forward, wiser, and better off without this jerkface bringing you down.
posted by *s at 11:47 AM on July 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also, if it helps to know: this happens. I won't say it happens to most people, but many many people have one or two of these spin-outs in their pasts. It's not a point of pride really, but it is a badge of experience, and there will probably come a point in your life where a friend of yours surfaces saying "holy shit, what the hell just happened to me??" and you'll be all, "oh honey, let me tell you about the time..."

It is a fine fine fine line between the joyful euphoria of limerance in a great relationship and the crackling short-circuit thrill of a bad-idea relationship. It's tough to walk only on the right side of that line. Not everyone gets it right every time.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:48 AM on July 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Yeah adding to the chorus, sometimes there is just a relationship that makes you absolutely crazy. Accept that your behavior happened, that it was embarrassing, and that it says nothing about you moving forward. And get therapy.

(for me, my one absolutely nutso post-breakup behavior ranged from crying hysterically, almost stalking, seriously contemplating an anonymous police tip about some of his illicit activities, and throwing the books he had lent me into a frozen river, that I then saw hanging out on top of the ice every day as I walked to work until the river thawed. It got better after a few months of no contact, making new friends, and best of all moving away. No other breakup for me has ever been that bad.)
posted by permiechickie at 12:07 PM on July 18, 2016

We are effectively different people when we are stressed in different extreme ways.

Please be forgiving of others' behavior in the future, and forgive yourself now.

You can also tell this story to encourage people to forgive each other, when it's appropriate and when your hearers won't be too inside their experiences to hear you.
posted by amtho at 12:07 PM on July 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

In the military, if you have been awake for more than 24 hours and do incredibly stupid shit that would normally get your thrown in the brig, you get a pass. Similarly, people do weird ass stuff when they run high fevers, because they just are not rational.

It might help to think of this as being kind of like that. You likely feel shame because you feel this is some reflection on your "true character." We have the idea that "character should be judged at its worst, talent at its best" and that can be helpful for some things, but it can also give a person baggage unnecessarily when something awful has happened.

So, try to learn from it so you won't get into this kind of mess again, but try to accept that this says something about how you will act under this type of really crappy circumstance rather than "this is who you really are." And then try to make sure you don't get involved in this type of crappy circumstance again, if at all possible.

The other thing is that most people are raised with either a shame model or a guilt model: When things go wrong, these models basically look for someone to blame. Those are common, widespread models but that doesn't mean they are really good models.

A healthier model is to do your best to learn from your mistakes and to take a broader perspective of problems. When things go really wrong, there are usually a number of things that went wrong. It usually is not fair or realistic to hang the entire blame on a single person. So, while you should take responsibility for your piece of it and do what you can to find other answers and not do this again, it can really help look at the various factors that contributed and to recognize that it wasn't all you.

In addition to therapy, or as an alternative to it, it might also help to keep a journal.
posted by Michele in California at 12:34 PM on July 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

can't seem to move past the shame and guilt for going crazy and desperate

I experienced extreme embarrassment and shame and became job-non-functional over the, well, extremely embarrassing (to me), but not-really-that-terrible ways I acted after a relationship and a bunch of other stuff imploded all at once.

You might ask, patiently, with lots of breaks, in your head, in a journal, and/or with a therapist:

1. What was the perfect storm that led me to act the way I did?
2. Can those factors arise again in the future?
3. How can I recognize when those factors are arising again in the future?
4. If those factors arise again in the future, how can I not have the same thing happen all over again?
5. What is the full range of "crazy behavior" that I'm still at risk for, based on this small sample that I've discovered/experienced from myself, and how can I account for and/or get rid of as much of that as possible moving forward?
6. What does it mean about me that I am a person that, under the right circumstances, can act in these sorts of ways?

Maybe the intensity of the shame and guilt is trying to help keep your attention on answering questions like the above and more. Maybe if you have a plan for addressing what you've learned needs addressing then the strong negative emotions will subside. Maybe you quit your job because it was that important to get answers to these questions and you didn't know any other way to get what you needed besides quitting your job.

Anyway, the above might not be what's going on, but if so, I hope this helps. Lots of time, lots of thinking, lots and lots of breaks and turning your mind off, and lots of time with other people for discussion or distraction helped me to sort a lot of this out. It's still ongoing.

And, I agree with the above, that you're sort of lucky (and I was sort of lucky) that you've never encountered reasons to learn how to deal with the pieces of badness that altogether produced this behavior in you, because you haven't had the gradual opportunity to learn how to constructively leave, diffuse, or engage with this sorts of stuff. It is embarrassing, but you're a product of your experience, and your reactions are product of your experience. And it can be creepy when you realize a lot of being human is having buttons that can be pushed in just the right way, and some people are more button-pushable than others, and it all depends on life experience, good and bad, and journaling, and therapy, and basically just everything that's ever happened to you ever. In a certain sense, the reactions you have to things are not your fault, and this sort of thing happens to lots and lots of awesome, brilliant, sensitive, caring, generally sane people.

In any case, because of the intensity you're experiencing now, you might learn a lot of healthy, good, empowering stuff much better and more completely than people who learned such things piecemeal and gradually.
posted by zeek321 at 1:20 PM on July 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

Go watch that episode of sex and the city where Carrie gets dumped by a post-it note and then runs into her ex's friends at the bar and goes off on them. Like you totally empathize with her AND see how embarrassing she was at the same time. They coexist. Even the most likeable characters have off moments. Today I went a little nuts on a co-worker who mentioned my favorite author and I could see him be all "oh crazy alert" but I could. Not. Stop. Myself. Hyperactive fan girl. Because I love that author. I felt really stupid afterwards but... I just forgive myself for being a bit of a weirdo. And expect that he's either going to overlook it, or not, and either is OK. I'm OK. I'm human.

and exactly what amtho said, forgive others for being waay too out there sometimes. That gentleness will come back to you.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:57 PM on July 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

My wife of 18 years moved out six months ago. I have been through the same thing you are going through. I didn't call her names or use swearing (other than one time), but my actions were definitely not normal.

It's really embarrassing. Alcohol makes it worse. I am convinced that time heals all wounds, and I will make it through this without being *too* crazy.
posted by tacodave at 4:00 PM on July 18, 2016

Rough roads, but sunshine a few miles ahead.

You were taken captive by an alcoholic - thank the gods he practices 'catch and release', many don't. Don't dismiss his alcoholism as 'functional'. It clearly wrought some damage to you. Reminds me of the great movie line when two such men are talking to each other. One says to the other, "you know our problem? We enthrall, but we always disappoint." It's a bit like that.

As a 30-year recovering alcoholic, I've heard this story a thousand times and taken a leading role a few times, sadly.

My advice: go to Alanon. Lovely group of folks, and I'm sure you'll hear your story there and get loving and caring support.

This too shall pass - love yourself and forgive yourself unconditionally. Here's to happier days soon and acceptance of today's lessons. Much love.
posted by lometogo at 5:10 PM on July 18, 2016

As others above have said, know that a lot of people you know and respect would have "crazy breakup reaction" stories but they just don't talk about them much (or ever in a lot of cases I would guess) becasue of the shame. I had a long-term relationship end which came out of the blue to others and I think people could see how sad I was (particularly stark as a contrast to how upbeat I almost always am) and were a bit awkward about what to say when they found out about the break up and a few people were apparently comfortable/put on the spot enough to share their "post break up craziness" stories with me at the time (60+ texts in an hour, driving by the exes house just to feel close to them, parking their car and spying on the ex's door to see if the dumping was actually becasue of an affair. By the way mine was emails alternating between angry and begging him that we could make it work, although that was still too raw at the time of these conversations for me to share this story then...).

Maybe opening up a conversation with friends where the other feels comfortable sharing a bit of a break up story could help you with your own shame. Nothing too counselling-session-y, but maybe by saying something along the lines of "I've actually just had my heart broken. It's pretty awful. Break ups suck, hey?"
posted by hotcoroner at 8:02 PM on July 18, 2016

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