This week I’ve had an influx of client’s going through a break-up. It’s heartbreaking because each person turns themselves inside and out agonizing over their ex’s parting gift; a list of all their faults and everything they ever did wrong.
I’m not talking here about more serious matters like “The time you cheated on me” or “The times you beat me up”. Instead, I’m talking about complaints like “The time you broke up with me for a month when we were in high school,” or “The time when I was sick and you wouldn’t stay home from work”. Over and over I hear client’s lament, “He/She brought up issues from twenty years ago!”
Breakups are Hard on the Self-Esteem
And so I begin the slow process of building you back up again; trying to get your ex’s voice out of your head.
Do you know how I know you weren’t as bad as your ex says? Because when someone behaves badly, they usually deny, minimize, or in some way justify, their behaviour. You do the opposite. You exaggerate, flagellate, and bemoan all your many faults, no matter how insignificant.
You are the Expert on You
It is important that you hear what I’m saying. Your ex is not the expert on you. The “terminator” has a vested interest in making the demise of the relationship your fault; it makes him or her feel less guilty. You cannot trust this unreliable and biased opinion of you.
If being perfect and never making mistakes was a prerequisite for staying married, my husband wouldn’t be married.
Every happily married person can tell you stupid and hurtful things their partner has done. If they’re honest, they can also recount the many stupid and hurtful things they have done over the years as well.
Happily married couples forgive and move on. They accept imperfection in their partner and in themselves. They don’t hold grudges.
Everyone Makes Mistakes
I’m not saying your ex is horrible for trying to make the breakup all about you. It’s human nature to defend ourselves against our own self-criticism and the criticism of others.
And, I’m not saying you didn’t make mistakes; I actually assume you did, because you are human.
Relationships are a dance, and we step in response to the steps of our partner. No relationship is a one man or one woman show. If we are sometimes clumsy in love, maybe it’s because our partner keeps stepping on our toes.
So be honest with yourself and own up to your mistakes. If you can learn from them, learn from them, but don’t believe that anything less than perfect makes you unlovable.
If the mistakes you made truly were destructive to your relationship, take this time to figure yourself out. You did what you did for a reason. Find out your reason and ways to prevent repeating the same mistakes in the future.
You are the most reliable source of information about yourself. Let go of anything your ex says about you that isn’t consistent with what you know is true. Trust yourself. Get help if you need too, and know that being perfect is not a prerequisite for being loved. If it was, none of us, including me, would be in a relationship.
DBT Skill: Dialectical Thinking
"Dialectical thinking" is the belief that every situation has opposing sides and there is truth in each side. When you are able to think dialectically, you are able to see the truth in both positions.
In terms of a break-up, it is true that you did everything you could in this relationship and it is also true that you could have done better. We are all doing the best we can, AND we all need to do better; this is the dialectic. Find the truth in both positions, yours and your ex’s, and find acceptance of what is.
Your relationship was full of equally-true opposites, or "dialectics". Find the truth in both positions, yours and your ex’s, and you will find it easier to accept your own perspective as well as the perspective of your ex.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
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Author: Jenny DeReis
Jenny is CEO and therapist at Validity Counselling in Prince George, BC. She has a Master's Degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Calgary.
Jenny has intensive and advanced training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) from Dr. Charlie Swansen, author of several books on DBT . She has also received DBT training from the Behavior Tech Institute, and from DBT expert Sherri Van Dijk.