As I walk this land of broken dreams,
I have visions of many things.
Love’s happiness is just an illusion,
Filled with sadness and confusion.
What becomes of the broken hearted
Who had love that’s now departed?
I know I’ve got to find
Some kind of peace of mind
The fruits of love grow all around
But for me they come a tumblin’ down.
Every day heartaches grow a little stronger,
I can’t stand this pain much longer!
I hope you took time to hear the great Jimmy Ruffin singing this
timeless hit. The brokenhearted represent a very special type of client we’ll see from time to time, and a special kind of frozen grief. We know that most people will progress through several relationships in life, even marriage and divorce, and painful though the endings are, they recover, move on and eventually meet someone who fits for them. But we know as therapists there are some for whom the end of relationship is a
kind of trauma. They get lost and seem stuck. As Ruffin sings, “Always moving, and goin’nowhere.” They show some of the markers of trauma: numbing and derailment of life direction, dysphoria, intrusive thoughts, repeated flooding of sensory data at triggers connected with the relationship; but unlike the avoidance we see in other types of trauma, we see rounds of painful rumination and replay; gravitation back toward the relationship even as it remains a source of pain. A tremendous pain keeps roiling around under the surface of everyday life. I’ve seen the brokenhearted keep texting, calling, emailing, like songbirds throwing their call into the air for the lost mate.
Without lengthy explanation, I want to round up a list some of the main principles from RRT and hit some of the life-changing conversational tactics used in transcripts with actual participants. This will both focus and improve our practice.
Ghost bust seminal events the participant’s mind will bring. Especially harsh endings and rejections. I recall a woman who remembered trying to rescue her alcoholic dad from a dangerous situation as a child, only to be decimated by his withering criticism when she told her mother, the only adult in a position to act. She had been daddy’s little girl, but that special relationship came to an abrupt halt. She veered away from her dad in fear, and remained fearful, over-conciliatory and accommodating to the men in her life from that point forward. She entered new relationships in a fog and didn’t get over them easily when they ended. She came wanting to break out of this pattern.
Clear distorted meanings. Especially the idea that one needs someone else to complete them, and can only be okay if with someone else. There are several transcripts in which Jon shows the way to be okay with someone is to be okay without them. He demonstrates the effect of clutching on the arm in a needy way. People instinctively back off from this. He points out the reaction of the other is not even a conscious choice. You can’t hold the attitude that your life can’t work without the other in it and not produce that effect on someone.
Enroll people throughout the session in the view that transitions are a normal part of life. The amount of conncection and closeness with people shifts, comes and goes like the tide. Construct a model that is at peace with this, able to go with the flow of it. It’s no more personal than rain on some days or sun on others. It’s not about them.
Instill acceptance of the expiration date on some relationships. Here we have the story of the guy forcing down sour milk and then vomiting it back up. He has to make it work. When asked why, he pines for former times when the milk tasted so sweet. A simple fact of life is this: sometimes relationships can’t work between two people, no matter how hard they try. The relationship comes apart in time. The answer is to get more milk.
Get the participant to see that missing the person is a misfire. When something seems threatened or in jeopardy our inner mind attaches great value, indeed, makes it seem exceedingly valuable to get us to do something to protect it, even to the point of causing incredible anguish. The mind is working hard to get the person to move toward something when it would serve no purpose. Now the mind bringing something to awareness that it would be good to avoid is useful even when unpleasant–say like keying up fear when the house is on fire. But it sometimes turns on emotion when it’s worse than useless and doesn’t elicit any useful behavior–like the guy going into a panic because the lady next to him in the elevator sneezes. Missing someone is the mind dysfunctioning like that. The question becomes, does all the obsessing, missing, ruminating lead to any useful behavior? If not, it’s a misfire. What’s more useful and positive is for the participant to be moving toward being close with someone when it’s interesting, meaning, the conditions of it being beneficial and possible are both fulfilled and reciprocated.
For a treat, and as a contrast to Ruffin’s song, check out To Whom it May Concern, by Sixto Rodriguez (aka Sugarman).
When treating the heartbroken in the context of addiction recovery, get them to look at the impracticality of getting into a romantic relationship at this time. It’s sort of like white water rafting where every move needs maximum attention and commitment to navigate the course and the person paddling starts musing, “Gee, I guess right about now would be the time to fall in love.” The only thing crazier would be if another person in early recovery started thinking and acting in tandem with this, as so often happens.
There are many things in our oral and written materials that can assist in guiding the
brokenhearted to being present rather than grief-stricken, tuned-up rather than needy, and enlightened rather than opening to more heartache or expoitation. I hope you look through them and develop your own repertoire.