How to Get Over The End of a Relationship | Antonio Pascual-Leone | TEDxUniversityofWindsor

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my name is Antonio Pasquale Leone I'm a

clinical psychologist and I do research

on psychotherapy and especially on how

emotion changes I'm gonna talk today

about how to get over the end of a

relationship if you've had an important

relationship and you felt a bit stuck on

how to move on maybe you have some

lingering bad feelings all right some

emotional baggage let's call it

unfinished business right if that's

going on this talk is for you okay so

sometimes you know it could be grieving

the death of a person close to you

sometimes it's moving on when there's

been a betrayal or abuse it could be

with a friend a co-worker a parent and

of course romantic breakups basically

cover the whole range right from pretty

straightforward but painful to very

complicated most people think that

moving on is just a matter of time

people come to therapy and they they ask

me so how long is this gonna take how

much time needs to passed I was speaking

with a guy who was getting divorced for

the second time and and he says to me so

I say how are you doing and he says well

you know I I wish it was two years from

now why because that's how long it took

me last time to get over it and that

idea is fairly common people think that

the bad feeling will just sort of run

its course but if you feel devastated

and there's or there's being a betrayal

then yeah not so much right it's not

gonna be as simple as sleeping off a bad

hangover right for some people this

process is really frozen in time there's

actually a lot of research on this now

but it's an odd thing to study because

it's hard to know what to call this in

an early treatment study led by les

Greenberg at York University they

actually just put up signs

saying do you have emotional baggage

related to a relationship right do you

need help with your unfinished business

and then they just sort of sat patiently

by the phone wondering if anyone would

call because because it's not even a

diagnosis right it's just a metaphor

well it turns out the phone started

ringing off the hook so it's a very

intuitive and common problem when we do

research like this we usually offer free

therapy for people who agree to being

studied and then you spend a lot of time

looking at what people do that seems to

predict getting better some people are

skeptical at the research right often I

get isn't it totally different for

everyone and the answer is well no not

not as different as you might think

it turns out people who resolve these

issues often go through three distinct

steps and they actually unfold in an

order although it's sort of a messy

nonlinear two steps forward one step

backward process I'm saying there seems

to be a universal pattern there is a map

when people have unfinished business

there are three things that must happen

a sequence of steps and the thing is you

can get stuck anywhere in that pipeline

the good news the good news is we also

know a bit about how to get people

unstuck from each of those spots so the

first step is something like this for

example a businesswoman takes on a

junior partner and she really invests a

lot in mentoring her they work well

together it's productive and then for

some reason the junior partner cuts out

ditches the projects she wants to work

more independently so it's a business

scenario right but the point is that it

was a close relationship and

collaborative relationship that ended

abruptly and if you've invested a lot

personally it can feel a bit like

getting dumped the business woman tells

me about industry conventions things

like that and she and she says

I just cringe like what if she's there

it'll be so awkward

I don't know and when she says I don't

know that's pretty important so the

issue is we don't go there we just avoid

the issue it's like the person thinks

they can wait it out as if there was a

storm passing overhead but while you're

avoiding the issue not too much can

change so get in there

keep breathing tolerate some exposure to

the feelings until you start to feel

okay with this new normal of course I

mean the reason why we avoid the person

or reminders is because it's upsetting

there's usually a sense of very global

distress right it's like I'm so upset

and I don't know why it's so awful but

but what's it what's the worst part of

it and the person usually doesn't know

typically people have a lot of sadness

and anger except it's all fused together

like a big ugly ball of children's

plasticine right except where all the

colors are just mashed together huh

anger anger makes you push your chest

out right like this while sadness you

kind of withdraw you pull back so when

you're trying to do both at the same

time that's what stuck looks like

usually it comes out in a sort of

whining complaint like right that sort

of thing you need to take some time to

tease these apart find the right words

and describe what's so awful or awkward

or hard about it

some people get much more stuck on

blaming right they get angry and it's

all about rejecting the other person

it's like I'm disgusted I hate him for

what he did to me she's so terrible and

that's all about what you don't want

it's not about what you do want it's

it's just not that that's it's get away

which actually could be a good start

particularly when there's been abuse or

when your boundaries have been violated

but you can't stay there forever you

still have to move on to the next step

and in

since you haven't even arrived at the

deeper issue yet so what to do slow down

where where does it hurt maybe at the

end of a romantic relationship it's the

way she looked down her nose at me okay

so what did that make you feel right

someone who described the last time she

ever saw her father tells me he threw a

pack of cigarettes across the table at

me and said there that's the last thing

you'll ever get from me Wow okay so

what's the message being implied here

yeah it hurts but what hurts is still

implicit if you want to get past feeling

upset empty lonely in these very general

ways then you have to take the time to

focus on your feelings the feelings that

you have and figure out what hurts the

most that takes us to the second step

and it might you know this might not

apply to everyone but for some people

the end of a relationship leaves them a

bit bent out of shape hmm and this

second step you get stuck because

whatever happened jabbed you right in

your soft spot right your Achilles heel

the end of the relationship rocked you

in some sort of way it stirred up some

deeper older uglier feelings I remember

I remember the first time I really had

my heart broken I was young and I

couldn't figure out why the relationship

was ending and then she says like a

mercy killing right you just you just

aren't good at getting stuff done

because I also already had my own

insecurities about that in it stirred up

those those self doubts I felt like it

was a bit true and so that left a mark

for most people who get stuck they end

up blaming themselves whatever happened

was my fault maybe I deserved to be

mistreated or neglected or as I was

saying you start doubting yourself

it's true I am incompetent unlovable

uninteresting you pick your personal

poison here a woman who discovered she

was being cheated on tells me how she

felt like a naive idiot

she says she felt humiliated people get

stuck in this particular way they're not

avoiding they're not bewildered like in

the first step right you see it's that

they get caught beating themselves up

about something related to the

relationship so how do you know if

you're stuck in this place well you feel

vulnerable and broken but it's also

familiar in a way it's the same old

story you've been here before

the truth is some people will actually

slide right through this they just they

just aren't as vulnerable whereas for

others especially when it's tied to

history of abuse or neglect it feels

like this is the story of their life

this is where people get depressed

anxious they lose sleep what to do what

to do

so to work through this second step you

really have to go through the eye of the

storm right the way out is to get a

sense of what you really need I mean an

existential need they need to feel

valuable to feel loveable obviously it's

hard not to feel like a piece of garbage

when somebody takes you out with a trash

right but as you start to articulate

whatever you most deeply need as a

living being it actually creates it

creates a contradiction in you it's sort

of like I need to feel cared for

valuable I and yeah I can feel it in my

bones right and yet here I am in a pile

of trash on the curb it's a

contradiction right right and that's

where change starts to happen what do

you most deeply need even if you don't

feel entitled to it spell it out here's

an important point it's not what you

need from that specific person right

it's it's not it's what you do need

to flourish as a human so this is for

you it's not about them it's not

I need him to apologize I need who to

hurt her to admit what happened no no

it's it's I need to feel like I matter

I need that somebody has my back that

I'm a priority useful worthy of course

here's the problem

life didn't turn out that way did it you

got hurt you got mistreated maybe

betrayed or or you just lost someone so

the third step is where you actually go

back to how the relationship ended maybe

you were maybe you're pissed off and you

hate him and you want to guess you want

to burn all his stuff okay but what are

you fighting for I'm fighting for my

dignity my value my sense of myself is

someone who's fun funny lovable it goes

back to the need so you often have to

assert yourself in some way and that

usually comes in a healthy anger a woman

who survived a really predatory

relationship an abusive relationship she

says to me she says I got a lot of love

to give and when I love I love hard so

that's worth something even if he didn't

notice it assertion but when it comes to

feeling hurt in relationships anger and

sadness are often two sides of the same

coin one sees this in romantic breakups

all the time right you've been let down

you're disappointed and you're angry but

now that you've created some distance

you kind of kind of miss the person -

right and and then you flip-flop back

and forth between assertive anger and

grieving the loss both are true two

sides of the same coin still it's

important to experience each of these in

their own right grieving a loss is a

healthy process it's hard to move on and

enjoy a new horizon and life if if you

haven't let go

what's behind you and even if you're the

one who ended the relationship right

there's still a loss because when you

started it you were hopeful nobody

planned on the relationship ending when

we work through grief we usually focus

on the good things the things we enjoyed


we'll never get together again for a

first swim for a barbecue no more

Wednesday family dinners yeah you have

to say goodbye to these things and

actually put up little tombstones for

them but one of the reasons people have

trouble finishing the grief process is

because they're actually so many

undeclared losses these are these are

the hopes the dreams right that you had

together when couples split up for

example sometimes sometimes they imagine

what it would be like to have children

together right children that now will

never be born and for the the business

partnership that fell apart these are

all the unfinished projects that will

never materialize when I was doing

therapy with a man an inmate in prison

he knew his partner had already left him

while he was serving time so he was like

well we'll never go on that holiday

together the one we were saving up for

the trip we kept all those brochures for

so goodbye to that similarly when

someone dies there usually are a lot of

things left undone that that will never

be finished what to do in the third step

you just need to follow and express the

healthy need this shoe to explore is

what do you resent and then what do you

miss remember if you don't know what

you're fighting for the specifics then

it's probably not adaptive and grief

it's not just about feeling sad it's

about identifying specific losses so

this third step is about using emotion

to help organize you

in a healthy way going back to how we

started this is where maybe maybe it is

a matter of time right healthy emotion

has a vitality curve it it emerges and

you feel it

and you express it and then you're done

right you say goodbye and life looks

different now you have to finish the

feeling going through that is the last


sometimes we're doing these things even

without knowing it which is great that's

the upside right the downside is that we

get stuck and we don't even know why we

don't know where we're getting stuck but

this is actually part of healthcare

research and it's being studied there is

a unique solution to each sticking point

finally how does it all end right if you

are depressed then treatment should make

you not depressed but if your problem is

unfinished business what does a good

ending look like what counts as a good

outcome there are three viable outcomes

to this whole thing okay number one well

either you forgive someone and you

reconcile basically you get back

together number two

you forgive them but you don't reconcile

right you forgive them meaning you give

up the grudge you had that's what

forgiveness is but you decide not to

reconcile it's like forgive but don't

forget you let go and you move on and

number three you don't forgive you don't

reconcile but it's still a good outcome

it's like holding the other person

accountable right which often comes with

the shift in power and seeing the other

person in a very different light last

thing last thing just like when you get

a bruise or a cut on your skin right

even when you aren't stuck there is a

minimum amount of time it takes to heal

so time is part of it after all

thank you and good luck with your

unfinished business