A client torn between staying in contact with his ex and doing no contact wanted my advice and help. We talked a little bit about his relationship history, his recent break-up, the regrets he had about the break-up and what he had learned about himself since the break-up.
He indicated to me that when he broke up with someone, he cut off all contact and tried to move on or waited until they contacted him first. But since the break-up, he had realized that this is how he dealt with all relationship problems in general and what frustrated his ex relationship partners.
“I just didn’t want to deal with it”.
His way of dealing with relationship problems he said was to not leave the room but try not to hear anything his partner was saying. “I shut down emotionally”, but sometimes he “fought back” and there would be yelling, cursing and even threats before he stormed out and didn’t speak to her for days, sometimes weeks.
“And how did you guys work it out?” I asked.
“We didn’t. Sometimes she’d reach out first and sometimes I’d reach out first, and we go on as normal.”
“Until the next fight?” I interjected.
“Yeah. We both get emotionally worked up and can’t control our emotions.”
“In a way you’d say that not talking for days or weeks helped, right?” I asked.
“You could say that”, he said laughing.
“What would you want to change about how you deal with relationship problems?” I asked.
“Work it out. I don’t want to run from s**t anymore. I want to sit in my own s**t and clean up the mess like a grown up man”.
“Starting with keeping the lines of communication open, I guess?” I gently pushed.
“Yes. She deserves better. I really love this woman, Yangki. I don’t want to lose her because I can’t keep my f*&%*g s**t together.
“I can tell you love her, but easy with the cursing. I am Canadian, I have sensitive ears.” I teased him.
“Oh s**t! Sorry. I apologize”.
We both laughed (I was serious about not cursing though and had to remind him a few more times before he caught on it).
For the next 45 minutes we talked about building emotional resilience and the opportunity to practice using these skills so that he felt confident working things out with is ex without emotionally shutting down or cutting off contact and not speaking for days or weeks.
What is emotional resilience and how does one develop it?
My own definition of emotional resilience or being emotionally strong is 1) having the skills to face challenges head-on, 2) being able to constructively handle ones emotions and the emotions of the other, and 3) adapt well in emotionally stressful and difficult situations.
It is a significant indicator of emotional intelligence and plays a big role in if one has lasting, health and satisfying relationships.
How does one develop emotional resilience?
Proponents of attachment theory suggests that the way we deal with challenges and adapt well in emotionally stressful and difficult situations can be traced back to childhood experience with an attachment figure.
Research regarding the association of specific attachment styles with resilience, as measured by a stress-resistant attitude found that both dismissive attachment and secure attachment styles are associated with greater resilience, whereas fearful and preoccupied attachment styles are not (Karreman & Vingerhoets, 2012)
Compared to individuals with dismissive attachment styles, securely attached individuals are more likely to rely on social support systems including significant others when stressed (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003). Dismissive individuals, however, are more likely to develop a self-reliant attitude in which they avoid interaction with significant others and all social support systems when coping with stress (Bowlby, 1977; Main & Solomon, 1986).
Comparatively, individuals with fearful attachment styles tend to desire interactions and support but experience intense anxiety about displaying vulnerability and therefore withdraw from significant others and peers whereas preoccupied individuals exaggerate their need for interaction and support and often fail to gain the connection and support they believe they require in order to cope with stressors (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2003).
And according to the American Psychological Association, a person’s culture “might have an impact on how he or she communicates feelings and deals with adversity — for example, whether and how a person connects with significant others, including extended family members and community resources.
Very useful to know! But I don’t think how some individuals come to be more emotionally resilient than others is as interesting when talking emotional resilience in case of a break-up:
1) How can you confidently face the emotional challenges of a break-up head-on?
2) How do you constructively handle your emotions and the emotions of your ex?
3) How do you adapt well in emotionally stressful and difficult situations?
This I think is of more interest to my readers and I will be discussing this in more detail in future articles.
Before you get to being able to constructively handle your ex’s emotions, you have to first and foremost learn not to “run from s**t anymore”. You must learn how to “sit in your own s**t and clean up the mess like a grown-up man (or woman)”.
The American Psychological Association lists these 10 ways to build resilience.
1. Make connections.
Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.
3. Accept that change is a part of living.
Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
4. Move toward your goals.
Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
5. Take decisive actions.
Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.
7. Nurture a positive view of yourself.
Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
8. Keep things in perspective.
Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
9. Maintain a hopeful outlook.
An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
10. Take care of yourself.
Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
It also helps to understand how you get triggered and how your ex gets triggered.