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Conflicting feelings and memories from a past relationship

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  • #346324
    Joe
    Participant

    Hey hi,

    I just needed to post this somewhere anonymous – A few years ago, I was in a romantic relationship with someone. We really connected well, and we went on several nice dates, but it ended up not working out – the relationship only lasted a couple weeks, actually. It was a classic case of bad timing. But while the relationship was sweet as honey while it lasted (in fact, neither of us wanted it to end), it was a very ugly, long, drawn-out break up, made worse by the fact that we grew attached very quickly.

    To put a long story short, I felt I was being pulled along/led on by this person for a few months, as they kept going back and forth between wanting to get back together and feeling unprepared to commit to someone (all while still remaining very flirtatious towards me, and she remained that way even after we officially broke up). There was more that I won’t go into detail here, but as a result of this, plus other related things that occurred, I experienced a lot of emotional hurt and perhaps even trauma as a result. Several close friends, seeing how damaged I had become, recommended that I sever myself from this person, so I did all the things you’re supposed to do after a bad break up: stop talking to them, delete their number, disconnect from them on social media, etc.

    It’s been few years since then, and I definitely feel that I have been able to move on (even though it took longer than I wanted), and I’m definitely ready to see someone else should the opportunity arise. However, every once in a while, I’ll remember or be reminded of that relationship, and it will still sting. I even find myself missing this person from time to time, even though I really don’t want to. And due a mental condition I have, I tend to feel these things more intensely than the average person might. So even when I haven’t thought about it for a few months, there will be a period of a week or two where the memories nag at me before fading for another period of time.

    I guess what I’m asking is how to process all of this. I know that these feelings are normal, and that I shouldn’t just avoid them, and they don’t mean that I should make any attempt to reconnect (actually, I think it would be a better idea to just not to see this person again – even sight their face pierces like a dagger sometimes), but still, I’d like to find a way to dampen it, so I don’t have to deal with the extremity of this pain every couple of months. Any ideas?

    PS – I hope I didn’t make this person sound evil – truly, this person was wonderful; it was just a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances that caused it to just not work out. Peace be with you all.

    #346446
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Joe:

    This woman has become associated in your brain with the following unpleasant and painful emotional experiences: “very ugly.. hurt.. damaged… sting.. nag at me.. pierces like a dagger.. extremity of this pain”.

    You want to “find a way to dampen it”, it being the above, which is associated in your brain with thoughts, memories and images of this woman.

    “Any ideas?”, you asked. My answer: it will be difficult to do and it will take work and time because .. it takes work and time to change brain connections already made- it is literally a physical- neurological change.

    The work I suggest is to reconnect your thoughts/memories/ images of her to a different emotional experience by creating a guided meditation for yourself, on audio,  where in a relaxed state, taking slow breaths, maybe to the sound of relaxing music,  you imagine her and repeat certain sentences out loud. Through repetition, over time, you will habituate your brain to experience a lesser intensity of the negative emotions currently associate with her, and experience more and more peace of mind in regard to memories and thoughts of her.

    Is this making sense to you?

    anita

     

    #346478
    Joe
    Participant

    Yes, I think that idea makes sense. I’ve started brainstorming some ideas of saying to use in a guided meditation, like “It didn’t work out, and that’s okay,” and “You’ve come so far since those events happened.” I’ve even thought about beginning with something like “Try to picture her in your mind:” as a starting point. I don’t know exactly where I should go from there. Do you happen to know any other common sayings for this kind of guided meditation?

    #346482
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Joe:

    I  don’t have common sayings to the kind of guided meditation that I suggested to you because I never heard one.

    On second thought, I have a better idea for you to start with: you can download a Progressive Muscle Relaxation guided meditation, one that suits you, that feels good to you. It will start with breathing, and proceeds with instructing you to relax your whole body, part by part. At one point, when you are relaxed and the speaker no longer speaks (or you an pause the audio), bring her image to your mind and keep her image in your brain for a while.

    The idea behind this idea is that you see her/ think of her when you are most relaxed, associating her image with calm.

    When we are very relaxed, we are not inclined to think or over-think. Not thinking, just feeling calm, is what you want to associate with her image/ thought of her.

    You can try it and let me know how it works.

    anita

    #346556
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Joe:

    I came across something I researched a few months ago that may help you to. It is about the concept of habituation, defined as the diminishing of a physiological or emotional response to a frequently repeated stimulus.

    Habituation allows people to tune out non-essential stimuli and focus on the things that really demand attention. The repeated stimulus in your case is the thoughts and images of this woman. Habituation will be about diminishing your intense physiological/ emotional response to the thoughts and images of her.

    An example of habituation is getting used to (being less bothered by) traffic noise outside a person’s home. At first the noise bothers us a lot, over time, we are less and less bothered.

    Relaxing first and then bringing up her image in your own mind, during a guided/ other meditation, and doing it repeatedly over time, will habituate your brain to the image/ thought of her.

    I wrote to another member today regarding two website I came across today with lots and lots of information on Mindfulness, meditations and exercises, and more. The first is www. mindful. org (no spaces). Click on “getting started” at the top, and you can get started.

    Here is one exercise offered in this website: it is called STOP. You can use it any time you find yourself thinking about this woman:

    S- Literally, just stop what you’re doing, rest, pause.

    T- Take a conscious breath, a deeper breath, or two.

    O- Observe your thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations. Instead of getting tense, overwhelmed, trying to get rid of the thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations (removing them from your awareness), hold them gently in your awareness, with compassion for yourself, breathe into them, relax.

    P- “Proceed with intentionality, taking the next step in your day from this place of strength, wisdom and presence”.

    If you need another website on mindfulness with tons of information and exercises, you can look at positivepsychology. com/ mindfulness- exercises- techniques- activities (no spaces).

    One of the exercises is under “Mindfulness Techniques for Anger” section (it applies not just to anger, but other painful, distressing emotions). It reads there that mindfulness helps create space between the stimulus (thought/ image of this woman) and an immediate, impulsive response (your painful emotional responses).

    The exercise, applying it to your situation, would be for you to sit comfortably, eyes closed, draw in a few deep breaths, then bring her image to your mind,  notice what you feel, where in your body you feel what you feel, bring compassion to yourself,  and as calmly as you can, say goodbye to her image in your brain.

    Say: goodbye (her name)-

    Do so repeatedly, maybe at night before you go to bed, when you are tired and relaxed, bring her to your mind, and calmly tell her goodbye.

    anita

     

    • This reply was modified 2 months ago by anita.
    #346784
    Joe
    Participant

    Thanks for the recommendations – I’ve started developing a routine for the “mindfulness techniques for anger” exercise. It’s too soon right now to see the effects, but if you’d like, I could post an update sometime in the future on how it’s going.

    #346802
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Joe:

    You are welcome. I would very much like it if you post an update anytime in the future. Do take good care of yourself.

    anita

    #350572
    Joe
    Participant

    Hi Anita,

    Here’s an update about how things have been going:

    I’ve been doing something of a hybrid of the two self-guided meditation exercises you recommended; I would lay down and intentionally try to make my body as limp as possible, without a single muscle engaged. I would try to bring up her image, or memories of her, and allow myself to feel the emotions associated with them. I would imagine the memories as though I was watching them through an orb placed on my lap. From there, I would imagine myself hugging the orb. This would help me come to terms with the feelings associated with that memory. After that, I would breathe in, bringing the orb in front of my face, and then say “Good-bye, [her name]” and breathe out, sending the orb out into the aether. I would repeat that for each memory and image that came to mind.

    I think it has helped me in unpacking some of the memories and feelings of that experience. It’s helped me to reflect on those experiences and understand just where I’ve both succeeded and struggled in moving on. It’s been a slow, but steady process, digging up all sorts of hidden memories, good and bad, but I’ve managed to at least begin to process them.

    The one catch about all this is that I’ve had a hard time picturing her in my head – not necessarily because it’s emotionally hard, it’s just that I can barely remember her face! Maybe I was too good at suppressing her image in my mind – after all, everything that happened between us only happened about three years ago. I do remember other more specific aspects of her appearance, though – her hair, certain clothes she would wear, her figure, etc., as well as her voice. I’m actually considering having my therapist look up a picture of her and show it to me, allowing myself to actually look at her face (which I really don’t think I could do alone). I expect to be very painful, but hopefully that will help me be able to visualize her in my mind’s eye in the future, so I say good-bye to it, just like I have to the memories.

    Another thing has been happening in the meditation – I think it may be my mind subconsciously trying to make sense of all of this. One day, in my mind, I found myself in a dark obsidian room, where I saw a bloodied body in the expanse. I walked up to it, and saw that it was my 22-year old self (that’s how old I was when all of these things happened), with a large open wound from the left shoulder down the side and half-way down the left thigh. I had to allow my current self to stitch him up, and prop him up to a sitting/lounging position and take care of him and nurse him back to health. Over the period of several days I would go back to him in my mind, and saw that he was steadily getting better, with a couple days it seemed to get worse – it usually mirrored how I felt emotionally that day about processing things through the meditation. I don’t know if that means much, but I thought I’d share it for what it’s worth.

    It’s an on-going process, but I thought you’d like to know how things have been going. I’ll keep you posted as I move forward. Thank you again for your suggestions.

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by Joe.
    #350584
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Joe:

    I appreciate your update and am looking forward to read it and reply when I am back to the computer in about 10 hours from now.

    anita

    #350646
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Joe:

    I re-read your original post and was wondering to what mental condition you referred to in the sentence: “due (to) a mental condition I have, I tend to feel these things more intensely than the average person might”(?)

    In the meditation you described in your recent post, you wrote that you “can barely remember her face!”- I don’t think it’s unusual to forget the face of a person you haven’t seen for years.

    In the exercise, you saw yourself at 22, when the relationship and  breakup happened, with “a large open wound from the left shoulder down the side and half-way down the left thigh”-

    – do you think this wound was caused by this woman, or was it there before you met her?

    anita

    #350706
    Joe
    Participant

    There are actually two mental conditions that I was referring to (I was trying to be vague about them): PTSD and Asperger’s Syndrome. Essentially, these two conditions operate in tandem with each other. With Asperger’s, I tend to get “stuck” on things. I often have temporary obsessions, which occupy my mind for a period of time – the amount of time is almost never the same, as it could be hours, days, months, etc. And with PTSD, of course, I often have traumatic memories arise unannounced from time to time. When these traumatic experiences resurface, I get stuck on it due to the Asperger’s, and I end up having to live and re-live the trauma in a seemingly endless loop for however long the obsession lasts. It’s a vicious cycle that I have very little control over.

    As for the wound, I do believe that a substantial part of it was cause by her, though not all. What I didn’t mention in the original post is that prior to the relationship, I had also through another series of traumatic experiences (being bullied out of a community I was close to), and I was in the midst of processing that by the time she and I were together. While those wounds were definitely healing (even now, I know I have made great progress on working through that trauma), I think the relationship and long break-up either added to that wound, or it reopened some of the wound that was already there. Either way, I do still think the relationship inflicted notable damage to myself.

    #350718
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Joe:

    I wonder if you were diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome before or after having been diagnosed with PTSD (assuming you were diagnosed with both), and if the Trauma in the PTSD, is the bullying you mentioned, having been bullied by people your age?

    I am also  wondering if you live with your parents, and how your home life is like.

    Please feel free to not answer any or all of my questions. Share only what you feel comfortable sharing. I will be glad to continue to communicate with you whether you answer my questions, or not.

    anita

    #350736
    Joe
    Participant

    I’m not sure I’m comfortable answering everything in detail, but I will say a couple things:

    The bullying wasn’t entirely from people my age. Many of the perpetrators were much older than me. It was in a church environment, so it not only had an emotional impact, but also a spiritual one. And yet, I find it odd that I’ve made a lot of progress in making peace with that experience, whereas the relationship has proven much more difficult in that regard. I sometimes wonder if it has to do with the fact that I haven’t been able to find much closure for that situation, nor do I really know where to look to find it.

    The PTSD didn’t appear until I was about 19 or 20. The Asperger’s diagnosis happened when I was little.

    #350740
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Joe:

    “With Asperger’s, I tend to get ‘stuck’ on things. I often have temporary obsessions, which occupy my mind for.. could be hours, days, months, etc.”-it makes sense then that you got stuck on this woman, that she has become your obsession.

    And because the experience with her was emotionally charged (you being very happy with her, then very upset by her confusing behavior before the breakup and the breakup itself), that negative emotional charged added to your previous PTSD negative emotional charge, and overall, it upset you very much.

    Keep experimenting with the meditation and update me again, or otherwise post anytime you want to, and I will be glad to read from you and reply.

    anita

     

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