I’m often the first to say that the things that hurt us can be deeply healing.
At the very least, they can provide us with a growth opportunity that allows us to begin the process of healing. This is true in relationships, particularly when they end.
In that time of brokenness, we often see through to the cracks in ourselves and in the relationships we’ve fostered. We get a glimpse of our hurt inner child, our maladaptive coping strategies, and the patterns of behavior we might be engaging in that lead us directly into toxic relationships. While we may not be to blame for many of the harmful behaviors that we’ve experienced, we’re still responsible for making healthy choices going forward.
One behavioral pattern we often fall into is trying to go back to the source of our pain to get healing. We might be seeking comfort or closure or even answers when we do this. The source of our pain is unlikely to be able or willing to provide us with comfort or closure. They may have answers for us, but those answers don’t always equate to the healing we seek. When we realize that this can be an unhealthy pattern, we have to learn a way to disentangle ourselves from trying to go back to the source of the pain when the hurt is at its worst.
I told myself this recently when I was feeling lonely and discouraged. I am an introvert- so much so that I rarely experience loneliness. But I had a difficult day, one that shocked me with the strength of the wave of loneliness and isolation that I felt. I didn’t necessarily miss one person. I simply missed a certain feeling that I couldn’t find a way to create myself. To be held, to feel cared about, to have the comfort of another person’s presence. That sort of thing wasn’t available to me on that day, and I had that impulse to reach out to someone who was the source of much of my pain.
When we have that impulse and find ourselves wrapped up in a particularly difficult feeling, it’s important that we hold on and hold out against it. I didn’t deny that I felt lonely, but I refused to allow myself to reach out to someone who would only disappoint me, leaving me feeling far lonelier than if I hadn’t reached out at all.
Sure, there might have been a temporary comfort in hearing his voice on the line and imagining that he cared even a little. But that comfort would be brief. The pain it would cause, on the other hand, when he broke another promise or managed to make our entire relationship my fault, would not be worth that small, cold comfort.
And so, I held on. I read books and watched movies and tidied the house. I took a long bath and went to bed early. I did all of the things I could do that didn’t involve reaching back to the source to heal myself. I told myself not to call, not to reach out, and not to in any way make my problem worse by complicating it.
The next day dawned, and I felt better, if not wholly healed. I knew that if I could get through one day, I could make it through the next. And all the others to come. I reached out, instead, to friends and communicated how difficult the day had been. I made time to rest and practice self-care. I gave myself permission to not feel at my best for the day. But I didn’t give myself permission to fall back into a pattern of behavior that would only hurt me.
The things that break us often hold inside them beautiful learning experiences, if we allow ourselves to open to them.
The job loss. The relationship ending. The unexpected curve ball thrown to us by life. We don’t have to enjoy the learning experience to benefit from it. But if we’re open to it, we learn about who we are and what we’re capable of. We find out what our priorities are and what kind of life we want to live. We learn to survive more than we ever thought we could and to build beautiful lives from the fallout of the ones we’d planned.
The process rarely feels beautiful. It feels raw and sharp and tastes bitter much of the time. It requires us to have grit and patience and the kind of tenacity we didn’t realize we were capable of possessing. That process of becoming hurts, and it’s hard, but we do it because the only other choice is so entirely unacceptable- not to grow at all, to stay stuck, or to regress.
We keep going. And we’ll be tempted, when we do, to look back and to reach out for the lives we once lived, hoping that they will help us move forward when they truly can only hold us back.
The familiar is a comfort we can’t afford, not if we ever want our lives to change.
I know now that I won’t have healthy relationships if the only thing I ever do is repeat my past patterns. I can’t reach back to the source of my hurt and ask for him to help me when I struggle. That’s not how it works. A helping hand might be extended, but it’s more likely to pull me back into unhealthy cycles that I just can’t afford.
I can have all the love in the world for who I was then and for those relationships and still move ahead knowing that my healing is internal. It won’t ever come from that past or that source. It will only ever come from me when I take the lessons I learn and show that I’ve understood them.
Singles Swag posted the quote, “Sometimes God sends an ex back into your life to see if you’re still stupid” and I laughed harder than maybe I should have.
But I do believe that the Universe often tests us to see if we’ve learned what we were supposed to out of our experiences. We’ll be faced with new challenges that give us the opportunity to apply what we’ve learned, and we’ll either show that we’ve learned from it, or we’ll end up right back in the same situations we’ve just escaped.
It’s how someone in one toxic relationship keeps bouncing right back into another. Or how one bad job experience is repeated again and again. We either learn from those difficult times, or we don’t. It’s that simple.
We have to recognize that our patterns of behavior must change if we’re ever to have the lives we want.
And we have to stop asking the past to bring us the closure or comfort we need.
Originally published on Medium
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