Overcoming the Anxiety of a Breakup

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Doctor Neha: Welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. Today, I have a special guest, Anne. Anne has become a friend of mine, and when I come to San Diego, she’s my body worker, so she gives me massage and keeps me sane and connected to my body, so thank you.

Anne: You’re welcome.

Doctor Neha: I was so excited when you said that you would come and work in the communication realm with me. Tell me, what communication question do you have, or what have you been thinking about?

Anne: I’ve been in a long-term relationship for over 28 years, and it has just come to an end. It’s been very painful and yet very necessary. My question is how do I have communication with my ex-husband (or a partner, a friendship, or a lover, it could be a variety of long-term invested relationships), when one is feeling pain, anxiety, anger, amongst other feelings. How do I speak with that individual, grounding and clearing myself, so that I can clearly communicate in that conversation without being unshelved, so to speak?

Doctor Neha: This is a big one. First of all, I want to say I’m sorry, certainly. It sounds like you have worked through the part that was the devastation and the big heartbreak, and you’ve come to the place of knowing this was necessary.

Anne: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Even though you’re disappointed, I can hear that you can hold how important this was, and it’s the right path for your future. Right?

Anne: Absolutely.

Doctor Neha: That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a family of emotions. You said it feels painful, angry, anxiety, fearful. How do you hold this family of emotions? It’s a great question, because you work with the physical body so I know you have many practices. Whenever I come to do my massage, you’re busy stretching, and doing all your rituals to ground yourself so you can give.

Anne: Yes and be present in the moment.

Doctor Neha: Now with this relationship experience, it doesn’t feel that way for you. It’s now on an emotional realm, and you feel less grounded?

Anne: Yes.

Doctor Neha: Let’s talk a little bit about those emotions. Anger is not anger. Anger is a masking emotion that’s covering up pain or fear or both. Which one do you think it’s covering up for you? Anger expresses either pain or fear, or both.

Anne: Probably more pain and some fear. Yes, both. I would say pain, but also fear is definitely a component in there for me.

Doctor Neha: What would you be afraid of?

Anne: I left a relationship that was verbally inappropriate and had become physically inappropriate and hurtful.

Doctor Neha: You’re talking about your actual safety.

Anne: Yes, safety.

Doctor Neha: You’re talking about at a core level that you don’t trust that you’re safe. If there’s ever been a time that you have feared for your safety, when you are in a room or in a conversation, your biology will take over and protect you. There’s good news to that. Everything’s working good there because your body remembers that there was danger here. It’s saying, “Brace.” There’s also anxiety—”How do I trust myself in order to handle this situation?” even if there’s no imminent threat of danger.

I want you to befriend your body and thank it for that: “Wow, thank you for reminding me. I know that you got me covered. You’re going to make sure I’m safe. Now, I’m moving into trusting myself here. Now it’s time to have a conversation. I don’t need to protect myself anymore in the sense of physical threat.” Is that true? You’re now moving into needing to have conversations?

Anne: Yes. Absolutely.

Doctor Neha: You’re not currently in physical threat?

Anne: No.

Doctor Neha: I want to make sure anyone who’s watching knows that if you are ever feeling physically threatened or unsafe, that is not the time to start coming up with clear communication. That is the time to remove yourself from that situation. Anne, it sounds like you’ve removed yourself from that. But when you are in the presence of your ex, fear is still present.

Anne: Some of the history resurfaces, like a memory chip. I am in a much safer and more trusting place, but when I come into the realm and contact, that history does resurface. That’s the component that I would like to address with you.

Doctor Neha: Great. I’m going to grab my book here, so we can go through an exercise. In chapter 15, I have an exercise on anxiety. Let’s see how this works. It’s called the “Back from the Future” tool. Anxiety is usually worrying about the future: What if this happened? What if this happened? What if this happened? Now, we’re going to bring you back from the future. First, this is what you teach me, take a nice, deep, grounding breath. Soft-belly breath in and out. Name the fearful story in your head. What if…? What I’m most afraid of is…? What would you be afraid of in that moment?

Anne: What if, in the moment of fear, what if there’s screaming?

Doctor Neha: What if this gets out of control?

Anne: Yeah, what if there’s screaming?

Doctor Neha: What if I can’t handle it?

Anne: What if I can’t handle it? What if I just shut down?

Doctor Neha: What if I’m paralyzed?

Anne: Yes, the feeling of being paralyzed.

Doctor Neha: What about in the future? What are you worried about?

Anne: What am I worried about the future? Reconnecting in relationship. Maybe having a new relationship in my life.

Doctor Neha: What if I’m never going to have another relationship again? Sit with that, because that’s going to bring up some physical sensations in your body. You just keep breathing. Let your shoulders down. Let gravity do its job. Great. Now, we’re going to expand your perspective. Let’s start with the relationship. Is what you’re afraid of true in this moment? Are you not capable of having a relationship?

Anne: No.

Doctor Neha: No.

Anne: I am very capable.

Doctor Neha: You are very capable. Right here, right now, do you know that there is a part of you that if somebody starts raising their voice or starts escalating and you start to feel anxious, that will know what to do? What are some things you could do if that starts happening?

Anne: I can take deep breaths. Breathe in and out. Manage myself. Actually separate myself a little bit.

Doctor Neha: Yeah, you could even physically…

Anne: Physically remove myself.

Doctor Neha: You could.

Anne: Even say, “This is not a good time to address this. Maybe we’ll revisit it at another time.”

Doctor Neha: You got it. You could hit the pause button. You could also listen to what’s happening for that person: “Wow, I hear how angry and upset you are.” Never do that if you’re feeling physically threatened, but if it’s just you in a conversation and someone is getting upset, “Wow, I must have misunderstood. Help me understand what I’m not getting.” Become curious, and ask them to help you understand better.

Now, it’s time to reprogram your thinking. Turn around your fear, and ask yourself what’s the opposite of these fears. Tell me, if you could turn them around, what would you say? What would you say about you in relationship?

Anne: Well, courage, and connectivity, and nurturing, and sharing, and embracing, and supporting…

Doctor Neha: Here we go. So you would say, “I am courageous, nurturing, supporting, all of those things, I am that way in relationship, and I cannot wait to apply what I’ve learned in this relationship about myself, about being in relationship, to my next relationship.”

Anne: Yes. I am. Yes.

Doctor Neha: What if you were resourceful, even amid anger and somebody escalating. How would you word that? You would say something like, “When I’m in a situation where I feel unsafe, I trust myself to be resourceful and make choices that are good for me.”

Anne: When I am in a situation where I am unsafe, I will be resourceful and do what it best for me.

Doctor Neha: Can you feel it?

Anne: Yes. I’ll do what’s best for myself.

Doctor Neha: I know you; you’re quite nurturing. This is about that importance of making you first.

Anne: Yes. That is a big component for me, within my marriage and my family nest. It’s just human nature for me to care for my children and care for the nest and the family, the whole unit, and often have them come first before myself, and their needs.

Doctor Neha: Now your kids are grown.

Anne: Yes.

Doctor Neha: This is that opportunity for you to say, “What if I did it differently? What if I could love myself and love them?” How amazing would that be?

Anne: That would be wonderful, and it is wonderful.

Doctor Neha: This is the last question—what would self-trust and courage do now?

Anne: Give me the confidence to step into my fears with confidence and know that I can move forward with my life.

Doctor Neha: You can, and you’re going to have love again, absolutely. You’re going to start by loving you.

Anne: Yes.

Doctor Neha: What we just did is the “Back from the Future” tool. It’s on page 194, chapter 15, of Talk Rx. Anne, do you feel the shift?

Anne: Yes. I do. I feel the shift, and I feel that it’s shifting me to continue to work on me. That’s a journey. That takes shifting. That takes work. When we’re in this constant cycle for long periods of time in our lives, that we’re caring for the nest, and the…

Doctor Neha: That I’m caring for…

Anne: That I’m caring for the nest, and I’m caring for my beautiful children, and the house, and the husband, and everything as best as I possibly can, I give up a big part of yourself.

Doctor Neha: There’s something amazing to the ownership of “I gave up a big part of myself.” I know it’s a hard journey to work on yourself, but I can’t think of better work to be doing.

Anne: Especially now.

Doctor Neha: Especially now. Thank you so much. For any of you who are struggling with the end of a relationship, or if you find yourself putting other people ahead of yourself and wondering why you feel so resentful in the end, it’s time to look at how emotions show up for you. What do they mean? How can you get clear and get to the root of your anxiety, your anger, your tears, whatever they are, so that you can shift to confidence. Ask yourself what would courage and self-trust do now? Thanks for joining us, and until next week.

Send me your questions — drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha or write your question and comments down below.

Awareness Prescription

  1. Get present (soft belly breathing + ground your body).
  2. Name that fear:
  3. What I’m most afraid of is…
  4. What if…(your fears)
  5. Expand your perspective:
  6. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m afraid of really true in this moment?”
  7. Right here, right now, what is true is…
  8. Create an affirmation (refer to p. 88 in Talk Rx):
  9. Turn around your fear. Ask yourself, what is the opposite of this?
  10. Create an “I am…” statement that supports an ideal outcome.
  11. Ask yourself, what would self-trust and courage do now?

You are stronger than you know!

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