Go grab yourself a snack, because this is going to be reaaaally long.
After the break up, my feelings were so all over the place. It’s the most unreasonable and disoriented I’ve ever been in my life. I had no idea what to expect when I went in to work with my ex. It’s not just that I didn’t know what to expect of him (whether he would be moody or friendly was a total mystery, which meant I was on eggshells a lot of the time) but I also didn’t know what to expect of my own feelings.
Sometimes I would want to scream at him, other times I’d instinctively want to give him a shoulder massage because he looked a little tired.
Sometimes I wanted to hold him and kiss him, other times I’d have to repress the urge to hammerfist him in the neck anytime he was in arm’s reach.
There were times where I was so in love with him, and other times I hated him just for existing and everything little thing he did just pissed me off. Like the way he stretches, or the way he flips his stupid phone and all his stupid little fidgets. (But he’s still cute when he hums and when he talks to himself while he’s trying to teach himself something…)
And sometimes I wanted so badly to be with him again and for us to be happy and in love again, and other times I want him to fall for me again only so I can reject him because going out with him again offends my sense of justice.
There was a part of me that looked forward to working with him and liked having him around, even though we’re broken up, and there was another part of me that dreaded seeing him and never wanted to see him again.
Sometimes I would think wistfully of all the good things we shared, other times I would think of when he’d been inconsiderate and how deeply he hurt me, all because he was being selfish, and I’d wonder how I ever fell for someone like that and maybe I really would be better off with someone else, but then the thought of being with someone who’s not him seems abhorrent, and sometimes I think maybe things could work with him if things changed and other times I wonder if maybe him and I are star-crossed somehow and doomed to fail…
I’ve never felt so conflicted over one person in my life. And that’s saying a lot.
So, everyone I’ve talked to says these feelings are pretty normal. The feelings I’m having are probably amplified by my anxiety and depression but the core of the feelings are apparently what most people experience after a breakup.
And no, feeling like this does not make you a bad person. I really want to drive that point home because when you have a psychological disorder, like depression or anxiety, like I do, sometimes you do everything you can and still have all these negative feelings crowding in on you and you don’t know why these awful thoughts and feelings are still hanging about and why you can’t seem to make them stop and wondering what’s wrong with you and why you’re so horrible when you’re trying so hard to be good.
So let’s talk about feelings and how they relate to you, your identity and your experience.
Firstly, they’re just feelings. You are more than just your feelings. Your feelings are only one part of who you are. They’re still important, because they’re your present experience, but you have other, more stable aspects of your identity too: your morals, your values, your reasoning, your choices, your thoughts (and yes, sometimes thoughts can be separate from feelings). Are those things related to feelings? Yes, but they also have some degree of independence, enough independence that people can retain a sense of identity even though their feelings fluctuate daily. You recognize your friend when she’s laughing at a bad pun and also when she’s upset over some family conflict. You wouldn’t think she was two separate people because she’s displaying two different emotions, right? So there must be more to a person’s identity than just feelings.
Secondly, the only person really affected by your feelings is you. Of course, because your feelings affect you we want you to be feeling better, but my point is, you can still be good to other people while feeling this way since it’s your behaviour, not your feelings, that impacts other people. Though I’m not going to ignore the fact that feelings are motivations and as such they do influence behaviour, it’s also important to remember that feelings can be contained to the mind and that you can feel like crap and still do wonderful things.
Third, feelings change. Example: You know when you get hangry? You’re really moody and irritable and weepy and then you eat something and then you feel fine? That shows how easily our feelings are affected. They’re affected by what we eat and don’t eat, how long we sleep for, what stage of sleep we wake up from, the temperature, whether we stubbed our toes or clipped our shoulder on the doorframe walking by, whether we’re coming down with a virus. Our feelings are very linked to our environments. Why? Survival.
Feelings serve to motivate us to survive. Feeling weepy or grumpy or sore when you’re hungry motivates you to go eat, to get your body what it needs to survive. If you didn’t feel that way, you wouldn’t recognize your body’s needs and consequently would not meet those needs, resulting in your death. This is demonstrated by the few people who are born without the ability to feel pain, who typically die young because without the feeling of pain, they don’t learn self-preservation.
So, when your feelings are all over the place, it’s not that you’re going crazy. It’s just that your needs aren’t being met and you’re in that uncomfortable spot where you don’t know how to meet your needs and perhaps you don’t even know what your needs are. Once you get what you need, the bad feelings will go away.
I’ve heard people condemn feelings and treat feelings like they’re something to beat into submission and that if you “just had some self-control” and “weren’t so weak-willed”, you would be happy all the time. But that’s not the nature of feelings. Yes, we can influence our feelings with certain thought patterns and by managing our behaviour (this is essentially what cognitive-behavioural therapy comes down to), but it’s important to acknowledge that there is a biological basis to this and once that is accepted, we can work with our body’s limits instead of against them. And also to acknowledge that feelings, behaviour, environment, and biology all act on each other in a complex cycle so we can’t even say which causes which. In fact, I could argue that certain feelings and genetic predispositions can enable one to have self-control or will!
Feelings: best and worst part of the human experience.
And it’s okay for you to feel like a human. You are one, after all.
However, though I acknowledge your right to feel your own feelings, that doesn’t mean I’m telling you to act on those feelings. As already mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was the most unreasonable I’ve ever been in my life. If I’d acted on my feelings, I could’ve destroyed all the things I’d worked to build in one foolish impulse. Also, it’s important that your actions remain moral and that you don’t do harm to others. Even if he is being really moody and childish, it is still not moral for me to hammerfist my ex in the neck, for example. Or to punch his girlfriend’s face because she’s being inconsiderate and kind of a suck-up. Feel your feelings, but behave in a way that you can be proud of, a way that you can build a good future off of.
Also, I am not telling you dwell on your feelings. As already discussed in the “process” post, there is a time for everything and that means there is a time to let your feelings go. Sometimes, you need to indulge in feeling miserable. That’s okay. Go home. Curl up in a ball. Cry. Scream into a pillow. Punch your pillow. Tell your best friend what a jerk your ex is being. Complain. Listen to some depressing music. Cry some more. But only temporarily. It’s not in your best interest to remain in that state for too long and at some point you will need to come out of that. The difference between feeling your feelings and dwelling on your feelings is the amount of time spent on your feelings. “Too long” is when feeling turns into dwelling. Again, what “too long” is varies from situation to situation so you’ll have to figure out how long that is for you.
It’s okay to be angry at your ex. There are probably things they did royally screw up and you don’t need to deny that. Be honest about the bad things they’ve done. But, again, you will have to let it go at some point. With my ex and his new girlfriend, loving them was killing me, but hating them didn’t make me feel any better, either. Hate felt like a poison. What is needed was for me to come to a point between those two extremes.
At first, I couldn’t bear to hear others say bad things about him, even though they were true, because I loved him so much. Too much, perhaps. I didn’t make excuses for him, but when my mom would call him an asshole, I’d ask her not to because it made me sad.
So for me, complaining about all the jerk things he’s done is a sign of how far I’ve come. It balances out all the rose-tinted, lovey-dovey thoughts that I have to distance myself from. One day, I won’t have to be angry at him to distance myself from my love for him but right now, I need that anger to keep myself together. Remember, anger is a survival instinct and it’s okay to use it as such.
It’s okay to feel sad. It doesn’t make you weak. It means you love.
It’s okay to be happy. Feeling happy again doesn’t mean you’re absolving them of any wrongdoing. They are still responsible for their actions towards you regardless. And being happy without them doesn’t mean you didn’t love them. It just means that you’re moving on in your life and taking care of yourself.
And it’s okay to not know what the fuck you’re feeling.
I think of my emotions as a pendulum. Right now, they’re swinging back and forth, from one extreme to the other. But as time goes by, the laws of physics act on that pendulum and the swings become slower and less extreme, until it stops right at the middle. The middle is my neutral. That is where I want my feelings for my ex to be. Not in love with him, but not hating him either. Neutral. Fact-oriented. Painless.
I’m still in the swinging stage, but sometimes I do stay in the middle for a short while. Honestly, no matter where I am emotionally at present, I’m not sure what to do with any of it. It all feels very foreign. I’ve really had to turn off the “analysis” part of my mind and just let my feelings be without agonizing over the how and why. This is I mean when I say “feel your feelings”. Feel them, don’t think about them. Centuries of philosophers and scientists still haven’t figured out how exactly feelings work, yet here we are, seven billion strong. You don’t need to figure it out right now.
I hope that all made sense to you. Since I’m in psychology and philosophy, I see feelings as the final frontier and even now science still finds human emotion mysterious. I feel like I’ve skimmed over a lot of ideas here but I can’t come up with a better way to say it all than I did here and I don’t want to do anymore editing of this post.
In summary, feel your feelings, but don’t think on them and don’t act on them. Feelings are survival instincts, abilities, and tools. They are a part of normal human experience. Feeling angry, sad, happy, or confused is okay. You are more than your feelings and you are still a good person.
And I’m so proud of you. Keep going. You got this.