In the post-relationship phase of romantic attachments, it is highly likely that you might experience separation anxiety or stress due to the absence of your former flame. Even within the most troubled relationships, the soul connection between individuals longs to reunite with the possibilities of what “used to be.” What might you feel?
- a sense of restlessness that exceeds your normative state;
- inability to sleep or a drastic change in sleeping patterns;
- compulsive thoughts regarding the person with whom you are splitting;
- an overwhelming sense anxiousness at the potential of “forever” feeling that anxious;
- physical agitation or need for movement/sleep;
- change in attitudes or behaviors that are driven by your need to see/avoid the individual.
Separation anxiety is your awareness of the vacancy a person leaves within your life and soul when they are no longer part of your active life. This form of anxiety often begins preceding the event – in the ending days or months before a breakup. Anxiety about ending a relationship can in all probability be the cause of “lingering” or staying in a situation that is unfulfilled, accounts for doubts for ending a connection that has died of its own natural causes. The first healthy step is to be aware that it is natural to feel anxious about major changes in life, and natural to feel the need to effectively navigate your anxious thoughts and feelings to a place of centering and peace.*
- Recognize the attachment. Why do we experience separation anxiety in a relationship that is not healthy for us overall? We form emotional and physical attachments to that which we see daily, even if the daily interaction is strained or filled with chaos. Not all attachments are human to human. I have close attachments to my historical house with it’s many varied nuances and random issues, and refer to it as though it has human qualities and value in my life. I am attached specific music and movies that hold meaning for me, and feel a sense of kinship and community with the individuals who represent them. Attachments can be fickle as well: you may find yourself inexplicably attached to a person or thing that is unhealthy for you. How do you recognize the attachment? First, consider what removing that person or thing from your life would feel like today, in a year and in a decade? Do you feel anxious when you consider it? Is your feeling driven by need, fulfillment, routine or constancy?
- Name the Feeling. You find yourself newly single and anxious over your loss. What do you actually feel? What is it telling you? Don’t just jump to “I love him/her” or “I’m hurt” and stop there – each feeling has something concrete to say to you. Perhaps the individual brought out feelings of passion that you had not known prior to the relationship. You may fear that you will never experience that fulfillment again. Your feelings are telling you first that you need physical intimacy on that level, and second, that you associate it with this individual. It is not likely, however, that this is the only person in the whole of the world that can offer such an experience in a relationship. Once you know what the feelings are telling you (you have a need) it does provide you with a rough framework for what you’re looking for in a relationship. The same thing follows for communication, community, common likes and past times, interests and all things physical – what you “miss” about the person that you miss is a road map to what you really want in life.
- Disassociate Feelings from the Individual. When I experienced drastic separation anxiety from my former flame, I had to reassess what I wanted in my own life and how willing I was to move on. My identification with “happiness” was absolutely tied into my feelings for this individual. Happiness is not dependent on another person. If you are waiting for another person to “make you happy” you are ultimately going t be disappointed. It is the intensity and ignition of your relationship that engages the couple and creates a climate in which happiness is bred. An intense individual mated to a person with no energy may love that individual but will ultimately feel unfulfilled because they cannot share or grow the part of their soul that drives their personality. A truly passionate sensual person cannot successfully mate with a person that has little self identification with their own sexuality. Here is a simple question that you may not like to answer just now, but is important. Can you live without that person you are anxious over with relatively little effort? If you take away the life issues of housing, children, obligations…what is actually holding you in your present or past relationship? Are you experiencing feelings of “being trapped” or used? Are you feeling betrayed after giving your all? How do you feel about the actual relationship, not the peripheral of life issues. Try to disassociate how you feel with the person and instead focus on what your feelings are telling you about your own needs, desires and what is both right and wrong with your relational approaches. Is your anxiety driven by deeper issues with rejection or loss from your family of origin? Do you see a life long pattern of attachment or relationship failures?
- Habit or Addiction, Convenience or Love? In the decade scenario, once the emotions have worn off, do you feel that removing yourself from the attachment would be beneficial or detrimental? The individual who is afraid or unable to imagine life outside of the chaos that often marks unhealthy relationships may crave the anxiety with which life is sustained; the individual who is subjected to repeated verbal abuse may feel guilty for considering healthy choices or actions that are not normative to their common living state. It may be that one partner, unknowingly, manipulates the other through life issues or “giving” until it is more passive aggressively controlling than apparent. I recently spoke with a person that made a stronger commitment to a girl he isn’t in love with (moving in together) for economic reasons by sharing living space, utility and rent. What she sees as the next step in relationship is actually a financial concern on his part. Again, communication is the key. Healthy relationships are marked by equal giving, trust and open dialogue that includes full self disclosure. Longevity, unfortunately, is not an indication of health in a relationship. I recently provided a listening ear for a woman who, married for 25 years and having 8 children, was divorcing her husband and asking one question: “Who am I?” Her dreams and need for fulfillment had been on the back burner for so long that her now strained relationship with the husband of her youth was both filled with resentment and anger. He, likewise, felt a lifetime of unmet need. Together they represent a failure in honest communication for neither one was honest enough to admit a lack of durable love toward their spouse as an individual. Presented with an empty house after the children had grown and left, they found they had little in common and even less to talk about.
In the second half of this article we will talk about step five, which is taking control of our thought life and assigning meaning to our suffering. I urge you to coherently visualize a life of healthy and happy living in the future, breathe deeply and take head on the ideas of “never feeling this way again” and “I love you” with the glaring, unblinking stare of clarity and reality. The truth of separation anxiety lay in this one life key: you truly have everything within yourself to live a fulfilled, meaningful life. It is within you to dream and imagine, and to make good on all of the promise and potential that you possess as gifts from a benevolent Creator.
The journey is the point.
*This article is intended only for general reading, and will not take the place of medical advice. It is important to note that symptoms of anxiety which include a desire for self/other harm, stalking, suicide – all of those are well beyond the norms of separation anxiety and truly need to be addressed by a therapist or medical doctor as soon as possible. If you feel that you need help coping with your relationship issues, it is important to contact a qualified medical/counseling individual that can help you with skills and a safe space for your recovery.