Archive for the ‘De-Cluttering Your Life’ Category

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Burnout Pt.3: Prevention and Cure

December 3, 2010

In the final part of our series on burnout, we explore some of the methods you can employ if you have recognised yourself in parts one and two, and feel that you may be suffering from this syndrome.

In order to recover from burnout, it’s important for you to commit fully to healing. There is no instant cure and you need to be aware that the healing process will take some time, depending on how far down the burnout path you’ve travelled. Clearly, the sooner you are able to spot these symptoms developing, the sooner you can turn your life and your general wellbeing around.

Be selfish!

This is the first and possibly the most important message to take on board if you are suffering from burnout. A good analogy is the advice given to parents during air travel, to put the oxygen mask on themselves first in an emergency so that they are then in the best position to help their child. In the same way, it’s vital for you to realise that you will not be fit to take care of anyone unless you first take care of yourself. So until you have recovered, it’s time to put you first for a change, beginning with your physical wellbeing.

Rest

In our busy and stressful society, so many of us believe it’s acceptable to operate on five or six hours sleep. However, if you are showing early signs of burnout, then it’s important to commit to getting a minimum of eight hours sleep a night and preferably at least 10. Going to bed early may feel like a drag, but is surely preferable to the alternative of running yourself so far into the ground that you’re unable to get out of bed at all.

Relaxation

Though it’s healthy to spend some of your leisure time enjoying your hobbies and pastimes, it’s also vital that you make time to practise specific relaxation techniques, such as meditation. Meditation doesn’t have to be complicated – try this simple breathing exercise. Take long slow breaths in and out, focusing solely on your breathing and saying silently to yourself  ‘in-two-three-four’ on the in breath, and ‘out-two-three-four’ on the out breath.

You could also try this simple relaxation exercise. Work your way down your body from head to toe, focussing on each body part. Tense that part for a few seconds, then release all the tension until it is completely relaxed, before moving onto the next part. You’ll probably be surprised at how much tension you’re already holding in your body.

Complementary therapies can also be very effective – I’ve found reflexology and reiki to be particularly beneficial. Massage of any kind, be it Indian Head massage, Swedish massage or aromatherapy with oils is also a wonderful way to relax and will help release any knots in those tense muscles.

Nourishment

When we’re heading towards burnout, we often find our diet suffers as we snack on fast foods or overdo the stimulants in an attempt to boost our energy levels. However our body is crying out for nourishment, so the best thing you can do for yourself is to give in to its demands. The best nutrition you can give your body at this time is vegetables, protein and unprocessed foods, as well as fibrous foods and healthy carbohydrates such as jacket potatoes, wholemeal bread and pasta and brown rice. Warm foods such as nutritious soups and stews are ideal in the winter months and salads are great for the summer.

You can also supplement your diet with a select range of vitamins and minerals. Particularly good ones are: multivitamins, B vitamins (especially B12), vitamin C, vitamin D, magnesium, calcium and zinc. Omega 3, co-enzymes and amino acids such as lysine are also good and a DHEA supplement (DHEA is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands) can also be beneficial. However, if you take prescribed medication, do consult your doctor first before taking any of these supplements.

As well as considering what we do ingest, it’s also worth being more vigilant about what we don’t. Sugar, salt and fats should be limited, and it’s best to avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and recreational drugs whilst suffering from burnout.

Exercise

As mentioned in part two, too much exercise can be counterproductive, particularly if you’re already on the path to burnout. The key is gentle exercise – a short walk everyday or a few light chores would be more than adequate at this stage, beginning with maybe five minutes a day and increasing the time as your energy levels rise.

Back to nature

You can of course combine this with your daily exercise, particularly if you live in a rural area – a walk outside every day will do you the power of good. Alternatively, if you live or work in a more urban setting, a lunchtime stroll through a park can be just as effective.

Being out in the sunshine also helps, though I am aware that we don’t see much of that in the UK! However the best time of day to be outdoors in the colder months is still around midday, so that lunchtime stroll is well worth the effort.

Another positive thing you can do for yourself is to take a break in nature – perhaps an afternoon in the countryside or by the sea, relaxing in the natural world away from the hurly burly of modern life.

Time Management

Burnt out people often have way too much on their plate, so basic time management skills can really make a difference in your life. You could try: making lists to organise your time more effectively; delegating, by passing on some of your tasks to others (too many burnt out people are perfectionists who erroneously believe that no-one else can manage to do the job quite as effectively as they can); and taking regular breaks, e.g. for every hour of work, take a 10-15 minute break.

Eliminate EMFs

As mentioned in part two, and in particular for highly sensitive people, EMFS (as well as other forms of geopathic stress) can be a huge issue when it comes to burn out. If you feel these are affecting your health, try some of the following: turn off and unplug appliances when not in use; minimise computer and mobile phone usage; switch to an analogue phone (cordless ones are available); and if you live near mobile phone masts or pylons, consider moving if at all possible. (You can read more about this and about the effects of geopathic stress in the book You Can Heal Yourself: Bio-Energy and the Power of Self-Healing by Seka Nikolic.)

Find support

As we saw in part two, negative relationships of any kind can contribute to burnout. Shun those energy vampires and naysayers and spend some time with positive and supportive people who appreciate you. It can be tempting to withdraw from others when you’re burnt out, and whilst time spent alone can be beneficial (see my article on solitude), when you’re feeling low, you can easily lose perspective and become overly critical of yourself. Sharing a cuppa with a true friend can help you bring much needed clarity and levity into your life.

Dump your baggage

Whether it’s emotional, psychological, mental or physical baggage, clearing out the stuff in your life which is holding you back and dragging you down is always a positive move and extremely revitalising. For more on this, check out my articles on de-cluttering here and learn how to let go of those unwanted elements which belong firmly in the past.

Personal Development

Burning out can be the precursor to a time of positive transformation in our lives. One of the ways that we can facilitate this is by focussing on our personal development and learning new, more functional ways of being. Perhaps a lack of assertiveness has been an issue for you or maybe you’ve struggled with low self esteem. Take the time to explore who you really are and find out what you need to grow and transform yourself in a positive way. Reading through some of the entries in this blog could be a good place to start and there are many other resources similar to this which can be found across the internet and in libraries.

Learn the lesson

Finally, as I mentioned in part two, look for the lesson which your burnout is trying to teach you. Regaining your physical wellbeing, freeing yourself of your baggage, discovering your authentic self through personal development work and making the most of your supportive friends are all positive steps towards transforming your life by clearing the way for the voice of your intuition. By listening to this voice we can find out what it is our soul really needs and make our way back to our true path and our life purpose.

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New Year, New Start

December 29, 2009

It’s the time of year when many of us start thinking about how we can improve our lives and make positive changes. ‘Change’ is a word I don’t always feel is appropriate to employ regarding our selves, though – the implication is that there is perhaps something wrong with us which needs to be radically altered to make it acceptable. Our core self is already totally acceptable as it is and all we need to do is cut away the extraneous stuff – physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically – to reveal that self in all its glory.

So with this in mind, I thought I’d post a reminder of my previous blogs on de-cluttering your life.

Part one discusses ways to de-clutter your physical surroundings – time for a spring clean!

Part two talks about getting organised in order to reduce your mental clutter – why waste your brain power worrying about whether or not you paid that bill?

Part three continues the mental de-cluttering theme with a look at how we can make our lives easier by clearing out our wardrobes and finishing projects.

Part four moves on to the deeper aspects of your world with a look at emotional de-cluttering.

Part five delves even deeper by dealing with your psychological clutter.

And if you’d like to check out all the blog entries with links to this subject, then click here.

Here’s wishing you all a year filled with compassion and contentment.

See you in 2010!

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The benefits of a stress-free life

October 28, 2009

Binbag

They say that moving house is one of the most stressful events in life and I’m now inclined to agree with them. This wasn’t always the case. I’ve moved a lot since I left my parents’ home back in 1985 and I used to find it fun and easy. Packing and unpacking never bothered me – I quite enjoy it as I find it strangely therapeutic (see ‘decluttering’ blogs) – and the admin side of things used to be really simple – fire off a few letters informing everyone of your new address and Bob’s your uncle.

When I moved three years ago, however, it was a very different story. The rise of corporate culture at the expense of customer service (i.e. profits before people) combined with the rapid increase in the use of computer systems – ironically supposed to increase efficiency – meant that tasks which should have been very simple became an absolute nightmare. It took me six months to sort everything out, over which time I spent hours either on the phone (mostly on hold or being passed round from department to department) or firing off letters.  I also became increasingly frustrated and distressed as my actions invariably failed to produce any results other than unfulfilled promises and more wasted hours for me. This kind of thing would be stressful for anyone but as a HSP, it practically sent me round the bend and made me quite ill in the process.

As I’m currently moving house again, the memories of this time have loomed horribly to the forefront of my mind, though thankfully as I’m moving in with my partner this time, I have someone to share the load with. However, it has got me thinking about stress and the effect it has on our bodies (something I wrote about in my very first blogs on here) and how our attitude to those minor irritations can make a huge difference in our wellbeing and overall quality of life.

I’ve shared most of my adult life with two cats, Pyewackett and Binbag. Pyewackett (see pic below) was extremely highly strung – for him, just being alive was stressful. He constantly had hissy fits and was extremely possessive of me – wherever I sat, you could guarantee Pyewackett would be there too. This also meant that he was jealous of Binbag and would attack him at any given opportunity – until Binbag started to lash out when he came anywhere near him, at which point he started giving him a very wide berth.

I always used to joke that if Pyewackett was a human, he would probably be sitting in group therapy, clutching his forehead whilst bemoaning his terrible existance and all the minor stresses he had to deal with on a daily basis. He had problems with his digestive system all his life and when he caught cat flu aged 2, he became very ill, prompting two hasty visits to the vet in a week. No surprise, then, that he died suddenly having just turned 14 – I assume his heart just gave out in the night, as we came downstairs one morning and found him lying dead in the hallway. That was two and a half years ago and I still miss him now.

Binbag (see pic above) was a rescue cat who I got from the RSPCA. I should have known what he was like as he had to be woken up in his cage for me to get a proper look at him. He was so sweet and affectionate that I knew he was the one immediately. As for his bizarre moniker, it was his laidback nature that earned him that as well. I was struggling to settle on a name for him – I tried a few out but nothing seemed to fit. One day some friends were round and as we were discussing how my new black cat barely moved and had done nothing but sleep in the same armchair since I got him, one of them commented ‘I don’t know why you bothered getting a cat at all – you might as well have got a binbag and put that on the chair instead.’ Cue laughter all round plus years of embarrassment for me,  standing at the back door apparently shouting for a ‘Binbag’.

Binbag has continued to be a laidback sleepyhead throughout his life. If he had been human, he’d have been the friendly old bloke propping up the bar who doesn’t really contribute much, but who everyone likes as he always has a kind word and a smile for everyone. He had the same flu as Pyewackett and shook it off with a couple of sneezes and overall, has been in fine health for most of his life (barring his barrel of a belly). Recently we had a bit of a scare when he started sneezing blood and his eye became really swollen. In view of his age, I thought he might have a tumour, but it was just an infection and once again, with the aid of a few eye drops and an injection of antibiotics, he shook it off. Even the vet commented on what good shape he was in for a cat of his age. He’s now over 16 years old and still going strong.

I think you can probably see what the moral of the story is but I’ll spell it out anyway. If you too would like to live a long, peaceful and healthy life, don’t cry and sigh like the Pye  – life is too short to spend your days making yourself ill through fretting and getting wound up over trivialities.  Let’s all follow the wise example of the Binners – and let it be. 🙂

Pyewackett

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Wabi-sabi (part two)

October 8, 2009

In part one, we looked at the original definition of wabi-sabi, which can perhaps be summed up by William Morris’ statement: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’

In part two, we’ll explore how wabi-sabi can be applied to the rest of your life and how it relates to the ethos of Inner Simplicity.

Wabi-sabi is non-materialist and anti-consumerist

Daisetz T. Suzuki, one of the first scholars to interpret Japanese culture for Westerners, described wabi-sabi as an ‘active aesthetical appreciation of poverty’. In other words, it’s about removing the huge weight of material concerns from our lives and and instead living a simple and modest lifestyle, free from greed and its companions, envy and anger.

Losing your pre-occupation with the trappings of material success – wealth, status, power and luxury – will bring you a joyous freedom which fills your heart and soul. As the Japanese hermits and monks discovered, opting for material poverty can result in a life of spiritual richness and a deep serenity. When you are no longer desperately pursuing superficial goals, you will find yourself able to step out of the rat-race and live your life at a slower pace, resulting in a peaceful and more balanced way of being for both you and for those around you.

By living wabi-sabi and slowing your life down, you will also be able to re-establish your relationship with nature, taking the time to appreciate its many beauties and learning to tread more lightly on the planet. Being content with very little means that you learn to treat the Earth’s resources with respect and no longer squander them for the sake of temporarily fulfilling your ego.

Wabi-sabi means acceptance – of yourself, of others and of the way things are

One of the definitions of wabi-sabi which I found was this:  nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect.

Isn’t that a wonderfully liberating concept? Accepting these notions means that we can simply let go and let be.

For instance, when we accept that nothing is perfect, we can let go of our pursuit of perfection and appreciate the simple, unaffected beauty of things as they are – including ourselves. We are beautiful simply because we exist, and we learn to appreciate the beauty of our quirks and flaws – our scars, our stretchmarks and the signs of aging – rather than buying into our culture’s worship of ‘flawless’ (i.e. airbrushed and cosmetically enhanced) youth.

As well as ceasing to beating ourselves up for not achieving that unreachable goal of perfection, we also stop berating others for not being what we expect or demand them to be. We can let go of the fear which triggers our need to control everything and everyone and instead allow people and things to be as they are and love them for their ‘perfect imperfections’.

Accepting that nothing lasts also makes accepting our aging process easier and allows us to focus instead on enjoying the freedom which comes from the wisdom of age. This concept also helps us understand that adapting to the inevitable changes in our lives is a far healthier approach than fighting them. Flexibility is key to the wabi-sabi lifestyle.

Finally, when we accept that nothing is finished, we learn to live in the moment (the well-known concept of ‘living in the now’), rather than constantly regretting the past and hankering after an elusive future, resulting in us wasting our present by wallowing in ‘if onlys’ – ‘If only I had that car/body/partner, then my life would be complete’.

Wabi-sabi means being true to you

Living wabi-sabi allows us to discover our authentic self – the real person who exists beneath our desperate attempts to conform to society’s ideals, and who exists beneath all of the insecurities we’ve amassed due to our failure to live up to that ‘ideal’.

Being true to yourself and being happy with who you are helps you connect with that place within you where peace, serenity and harmony reside. By living within, rather than living without, you learn to trust your intuition and follow the promptings of your inner voice, and in doing so, you begin to express your deeper feelings and live, love and work in alignment with your true values.

And so you take the time to enjoy what is most important to you in life. A wabi-sabi life does not need to be constantly filled with stimulation and activities which sap your inner self – rather, it gives you the space to indulge your natural talents and abilities. Being creative is all part of wabi-sabi, which allows you the freedom to make mistakes and see it as part of the process, and to celebrate the imperfections of your unique creations. Or as Leonard Cohen said in his song Anthem :

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There’s a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.


 

Wabi-sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Designers by Leonard Koren

Practical Wabi Sabiby Simon G Brown
Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanenceby Andrew Juniper

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Wabi-sabi (part one)

September 26, 2009

wabisabi

I’m sure most of you will have experienced the phenomenon of being followed around by a particular word or phrase. For example, I remember a couple of years ago the phrase ‘cut of his jib’ leaping out at me from a newspaper – and from that point on it seemed to be everywhere I looked for weeks. More recently I found myself being stalked by the word ‘labyrinth’, prompting me to buy a book on the spiritual practice of ‘walking the labyrinth’ in a bid to establish if it had any particular significance for me, as yet to no avail. (I’ll keep you posted.)

Even more recently, however, I’ve found myself being shadowed by an unusual pairing of words – the Japanese phrase ‘wabi-sabi’. Glimpses of wabi-sabi seemed to creep up on me in both written and spoken word, from a number of sources including the internet, books, newspapers and magazines so with my curiosity piqued, I decided to explore what this strange expression meant. And this time there was no doubting the significance of the words for me, as followers of my blog will soon see…

So what is wabi-sabi?

It’s a Japanese term which is said to be difficult to explain adequately to Westerners, and in my research I found a few differing stories about the origins of the expression – in particular there seemed to be confusion around dates – but here are some definitions and a description of the main principles of the concept as I understand it.

Wabi originally meant sad, desolate and lonely – ‘the misery of living alone in nature away from society – a cheerless emotional state’. However, towards the middle of the last millennium, wabi had evolved to mean simple, non-materialistic, ‘humble by choice’ and in tune with nature.  It also meant ‘the aesthetic of the people’, referring to the simple lifestyle of the ordinary samurai who lacked material comforts, as opposed to the warlord rulers who lived an ostentatious consumerist lifestyle. Another possibility is that this more positive definition evolved because the Japanese held the spiritual asceticism of the monks and hermits in high esteem.

Sabi also originally meant ‘to be desolate’ but its definition evolved to mean ‘to grow old’, and by the middle of the last millennium, it was regarded as meaning ‘the beauty of the natural progression of time’ or ‘the bloom of time’. Sabi is about taking pleasure in the beauty of an object which has aged or weathered, and about carrying the burden of years with dignity and grace.

The expression Wabi-sabi finally came into being in the 16th century, thanks to the style and beliefs of the Tea Master Sen no Rikyu. Rikyu rejected the formal practice of tea ceremonies which he felt had become too ostentatious, exclusive and complex, allowing only a privileged few to participate. He decided it was time to bring the ceremonies to the masses so he built tea rooms like farmers’ huts with rough mud walls, thatched roofs and misshapen exposed-wood structural elements. He also made it an art to use handmade cups, pots and tea bowls, and utensils hewn from unlacquered bamboo.

Aesthetically, then, wabi-sabi offers an alternative to the poor designs, mass production  and disposable extravagance of our commercial world and instead embraces the simple, the well-used, the earthy and the unpretentious. Wabi-sabi is ‘perfect imperfection’, appreciating the beauty of things modest and humble or unconventional and finding perfection in the flaws. It’s about treasuring the old and well-loved objects you already possess rather than discarding them for new bland ones. It’s about keeping only the items which are necessary to us for their utility and/or beauty. It’s about working with natural products and celebrating the handmade – objects made by humans rather than by machine – and the soulful – music and art which comes from the soul rather than slick corporate soulless stuff. And it’s about warmth and comfort and creating a cosy welcoming sanctuary – spending time with loved ones in a quaint rural tearoom instead of an anodyne Starbucks; relaxing at home in a battered old armchair instead of an Ikea special; and snuggling up in a well-worn cardigan instead of the latest throwaway fashion from Primark.

And once again, the definition of wabi-sabi has evolved and now embraces the personal – our lifestyle – as well as objects and environments.  In part two, I’ll share with you the key principles for living a wabi-sabi lifestyle.

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Recession is a healer

September 8, 2009

family-having-fun

Following on from my Meaning of Life blogs, here’s an article by psychologist Oliver James which I could have almost written myself. More syncs too – before I stumbled across this article, I was working on a re-write of one of my earlier blogs which coincidentally includes the line mentioned near the end of this article ‘You may say I’m a dreamer’ – and over the last few days I’ve not only watched a number of documentaries about the Beatles, but yesterday (no pun intended) I also read a magazine article about them which mentions the classic song from which that line originated.

If you’re interested in reading more of Oliver James’ work on this topic, I’d recommend Affluenza and the follow-up The Selfish Capitalist: Origins of Affluenza.  I particularly resonate with the article below as it correlates with my intuitive feelings about the current recession –  namely that the economic collapse, rather than being the catastrophe our media would have us believe,  actually has the potential to free us from our increasingly oppressive/depressive state and the meaningless pursuit of ‘stuff’, which in turn will give us the opportunity to rediscover  what is really important and enjoy true meaning and fulfilment.  Here’s hoping…

Recession is a healer

By Oliver James

The implosion of the global financial system was as unexpected and rapid as the collapse of the Soviet Union. The good news is that we may be about to feel as liberated from oppression as the swarming crowds who celebrated in the eastern bloc in 1989.

The past 30 years have been a shop-till-you-drop, credit-fuelled consumer binge. Almost all of us caught what I term the Affluenza Virus — placing too high a value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame. This virus is very bad for mental health. People with the virus are significantly more likely to suffer depression, anxiety and substance abuse (booze and drugs).

But following the collapse of the old financial system in which both individuals and nations lived on the never-never, our Affluenza habit will no longer be affordable. Time for cold turkey. In the short term, as with any addicts cleaning up their act, there will be pain. At the most extreme, as recession bites there will be unemployment, which will be depressing for hundreds of thousands.

For millions of others there will be anxiety about job security. And yet within quite a short time, as our values begin to change, I predict we will start to feel a whole lot better.

When you stop to think about it, you have learnt to confuse real needs with wants: you do not really need an awful lot of what you buy, you want it. A real need is for things like emotional intimacy or to feel emotionally secure; a new flat-screen TV or a conservatory are wants stimulated in us by advertising and the desire to keep up with the Joneses.

Property is at the heart of our confusion of needs and wants. Take kitchens. Many of us have spent tens of thousands on “improving” ours, yet what do we really need from it? A cooker for cooking, a fridge to keep things cold, clean flat surfaces and somewhere to wash up. Likewise, most of us have houses larger than we truly need and have paid beyond what we can afford to live in more prestigious areas.

Enter the credit crunch and a complete reappraisal. Virus-free, we will start counting our blessings. If property prices plummet, we will not care — rather than living in an investment vehicle, homes are vital components of our existence.

We will also rethink our work lives. Nearly all the increase in family income in the past 30 years came from working longer hours and women joining men in the workforce. At last we will see that if you spend less, you do not need to earn so much, so can work less. Those with small children will start thinking twice about working such long hours, or if one partner is made redundant, think: “Actually, let’s just make do with less money and I will enjoy looking after the nippers.”

Affluenza values will be replaced by the pursuit of intrinsic pleasures. Interest, enjoyment and the stimulation of a real challenge will become paramount: things are done for their own sake, not simply to please anyone else. At work you will put promotion prospects and salary rises second to what you find really interesting. You will be like a child absorbed in imaginary play. Wherever possible, you will be looking for work that improves the state of your mind — not just the state of your bank balance or the index of your professional ambitions.

Cutting down on Having, you focus on Being. As you recover from the virus, your brain and body chemistry will rapidly change for the better. You will no longer be jammed in a permanent state of readiness for fight or flight by high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. As you spend more time with your partner, your children and your intimate friends, your levels of the love hormone oxytocin will rise. Levels of the depression chemical serotonin will normalise.

You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I believe there is good reason to believe this version of our future. It is true that the poor are twice as likely to suffer from mental illness as the rich, but a recent British study proved that having a low income or unemployment does not in itself cause psychiatric problems. What was critical was how much a poor person felt themselves to be badly off relative to others — hard proof, as in many other studies, that if you can stop comparing yourself with others, you can be poor and happy.

Long before the credit crisis, downsizing (working fewer hours, seeking less competitive jobs) was already mushrooming among the middle-aged. Surveys reveal that young people are increasingly likely to reject “greed is good” workaholism.

Remember the title of the Christmas No 1 in 2003? It was Mad World. The truth is that we have been living through a crazy time in our history and we always suspected it. We should be grateful that the credit crunch is going to vaccinate us against the consumerist madness and that, nationally and individually, we are going to replace it with authentic personal fulfilment.

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How to have a healthy relationship break-up (part one)

July 6, 2009

break upOver the next couple of weeks,  I’m going to talk about the subject which seems to be everyone’s favourite – relationships.

Right now, it’s beginning to feel like almost everyone I know is going through some kind of relationship breakdown or crisis. Relationships seem to be falling like dominos – every week there’s another break-up. And the ones who haven’t broken up are going through such major issues that in many cases separating seems to be the inevitable conclusion.

Many of these people have been turning to me for an empathic ear and a bit of advice so I thought I would summarise some of the main points here for reference. I will talk about how to have a healthy relationship break-up,  and  how to break the pattern of  negative relationships and attract  a more positive one into your life.

How to have a healthy relationship break-up

Part One: The leaver

Relationship break-ups are never easy, whether you’re the ‘leaver’ or ‘the ‘left’. Usually it’s the one left who is thought to be the most hurt by a separation, but I’ve known people stay in relationships well past their sell-by date simply because they couldn’t bear the pain of hurting someone they once loved, and are most probably still fond of, despite no longer wanting an intimate relationship with them.

Generally, people end relationships for one of two reasons. Either your partner’s behaviour towards you is no longer acceptable or you have some pressing need which cannot be fulfilled within the context of that relationship. This article (in two parts) describes some examples of relationship break-ups, both healthy and unhealthy, seen from the perspective of the leaver and the left, with advice on how to survive the process with your self-respect intact.

The Leaver

Lynn has been married for some years and has three young children with her partner, Lee. At Lee’s suggestion, they decided to move to a new area to improve their quality of life. Lynn moved first with the children whilst Lee stayed in the old place for a few months to tie up loose ends. Unfortunately, Lee took the opportunity to exploit his temporary ‘freedom’ and behave like a single man, including indulging in a number of flirtations and an ongoing sexual liaison. He confessed to this behaviour on one of his visits to Lynn, but his sole purpose for doing so seemed to be to relieve his guilty conscience, and he quickly became angry and impatient when Lynn did not instantly forgive him and continued to be upset, with an understandable need to discuss what had occurred.

Initially Lynn’s reaction was to try to save the marriage. However Lee’s continuing selfish behaviour and evident lack of respect for her feelings became intolerable to her. Lynn decided to make the most of a week away from the children – who were spending some time with Lee – and took herself off on a pamper/relaxation break (at hubby’s expense, of course). With time alone to consider her situation, she decided that she valued herself far too much to continue to be treated this way  – plus she had already proved to herself that she could cope just fine as a single parent. She decided to break off the relationship and wrote Lee a long letter explaining why for her, the marriage was over. Lynn is proud of the strength she has shown through this harrowing time and relieved to finally have some peace of mind, and even though she is faced with one of the biggest changes of her life so far, she feels very positive about her future. In her own words, “Life is good… and I hope I can offer strength to others in the same situation.”

If, like Lynn, you’ve decided to break up with your partner, here are a few dos and don’ts:

Don’t break up with someone if you don’t mean it. For some people, a relationship break-up is just another part of the elaborate and manipulative game which their relationship has become. If you’re on the receiving end of this kind of game – i.e. someone breaks up with you one week then wants you back the next, only to break up with you again in a fortnight’s time, I would advise you to bring the game to a very swift end by breaking it off yourself. And if you and your partner seem to both thrive on this kind of stress-inducing behaviour, then you may want to examine why you need such high drama and tension within a relationship to keep it interesting.

If you are breaking up with someone because you feel the relationship just isn’t working for you anymore, then be cruel to be kind and make it a clean break. Don’t stay friends – at least, not straightaway – as you will only give the other person hope. And perhaps you should ask yourself – are your motives for staying friends entirely altruistic? After all, even though you no longer want an intimate relationship with this person, there will still probably be aspects of your association you will miss. If you keep the break-up reasonably amicable and you are both decent people, when the dust has finally settled a few months (or possibly years) down the line, there is every chance that you could become good friends. My ex-husband and I were terrible partners and fought like cat and dog, but because we still basically liked each other and dealt with the break up in a mature fashion, fifteen years on we are still great pals.

If you are breaking up with your partner because you feel they have  treated you badly and you want to vent your feelings, do it once (perhaps write it down in a letter, like Lynn did, as that way you can be sure you’ve expressed everything you feel) then move on. Don’t get caught up in revenge and resentment as the only person this hurts ultimately is you.

Don’t play the victim either. The fact that you have broken off the relationship shows strength. Allow yourself time to grieve – even if you’re just mourning the unfulfilled promise which all relationships start out with – but don’t wallow or drive your friends away by continuing to do nothing but weep and wail about your terrible relationship months down the line. Move forward with your head held high, and like Lynn, be proud of yourself for dealing with a negative situation in such a positive and assertive manner, and for respecting yourself enough to give yourself the good life you deserve.

If your former partner was abusive in any way, break off all contact. If you have children, keep contact to the minimum required to deal with any issues relating to the children. Refuse to enter discussions about your former relationship otherwise you are simply prolonging the agony. A clean break and no contact is the only way to send a clear message that for you the relationship is over. If your ex continues to harass you, stalks you, or exhibits any other menacing or violent behaviour in an attempt to goad you into retaliating or worse, to intimidate you into going back, then again, refuse to become involved in any kind of confrontation. When an ex of mine sent me threatening messages telling me to move away from the area ‘or else’, I immediately contacted the police to make sure they had a record of these threats for future reference. It turned out that my ex had a history of this kind of behaviour, so the police paid him a visit. When my ex realised that I was not going to enter this kind of game playing, the threats soon stopped.

Equally, don’t allow yourself to be guilt-tripped into taking someone back when you know in your heart of hearts that the relationship is dead in the water. Seeing someone you once loved sobbing and pleading with you to come back can be very difficult to take, particularly if you are a sensitive and caring person, but if you do return the relationship will continue as it did before,  only this time tinged with resentment on your part due to your partner’s emotional blackmail. Again, no contact is the only answer. Don’t answer the door to them, get caller display and don’t pick up the phone when their number (or for a while, number withheld) comes up,  don’t respond to texts or e-mails  and definitely don’t agree to meet up for a friendly drink – in other words, don’t allow yourself to get engaged in any kind of personal interaction with them. If you refuse to respond, your ex will eventually get the message and give up trying. If they don’t, then this constitutes harassment and you will be justified in taking appropriate measures to stop this. Don’t be swayed by the tears – if they are refusing to respect your wishes then however much they protest, they actually don’t give a damn about you – this kind of behaviour is all about their feelings, not yours. And I’ll talk about this more  in part two – The Left.

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