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Mike Riley on Breaking Up
Mike Riley is the co-author of How To Heal A Broken Heart In 30 Days; A Day-By-Day Guide To Saying Goodbye And Getting On With Your Life. The book is one of the best-selling books on love and loss and is available in seven languages. His expertise is hard-won: he is a father who has suffered the sting of divorce. A successful inventor and entrepreneur, his success in business has taught him that readers need proven, practical ways to deal with the pain resulting from a breakup. Here, Riley shares how a couple of key coping exercises can help you get past the pain of a breakup.
What is the biggest challenge people face in the month following a breakup?
When you’re in such agony the risk of dumb behavior is highest. It feels like you’re in a big, dark room with no light. Grab a flashlight—in this case, fast remedial action. These remedies include calling good and trusted friends with a degree of wisdom, a physician or reading inspirational books. At those moments when you might be tempted toward self-destructive actions, such as stalking your ex or making anonymous phone calls, try one of these tactics. These same resources should be utilized if you’re drawn toward indulging in excessive drinking, doing drugs—anything to numb the pain. Later in your recovery you’ll be better equipped to deal with these impulses. When you’re on shaky ground, don’t hesitate to reach out.
What is your best piece of advice for people who are going through the first 30 days of breaking up?
You are not alone. This is an extremely common human experience. You have the ability to recover and you will. One of the most important things that can help keep you from slumping into depression is to develop an action plan. Make a list of positive measures you will regularly attempt, ranging from diet and exercise changes to crying, using humor or going to church—whatever provides you with emotional and spiritual comfort. Keep this list at your bedside and another copy at your office. Don’t worry if you don’t do everything on the list everyday. Do the best you can. The important point is knowing you have a series of remedies aimed at improving your state of mind.
What strategies can people employ to lessen the stress of a breakup?
At a time like this you’re most susceptible to anxiety and stress. And one of the most stressful things is noise. Studies have documented that noise above 85 decibels—just above conversational levels—leads to a rise in blood pressure, heart rate [and] the sweat on your skin increases. Therefore one sound strategy to limit stress is to soundproof or at least reduce the amount of noise you are exposed to everyday. Remedies include everything from noise-canceling headphones to thick draperies and carpeting to acoustic panels mounted on walls and in corners.
Touch is a sensory experience that can be used to reduce stress. In the bins of your local garden supply shop are “river washed rocks”—palm-able oval black rocks, preferably one to two inches in diameter. If you carry one around and reach into your pocket or purse to touch it in stressful moments, it will be extremely soothing.
Why should recent breakup sufferers cry for at least 15 minutes a day, and what should they do if the tears don’t come easily?
Studies have found there is a chemical difference between tears resulting from being sad versus tears induced from, say, wind blowing in your face. The former contain trace elements regarded as toxic, meaning that these tears are ridding you of byproducts of stress and depression.
To do a proper job of “flushing” your feelings of loss, set aside 15 minutes daily. Here’s an exercise to help stimulate tears: stand erect, place your hand above your heart, close your eyes and take short, sharp breaths while listening to music that brings on sorrowful feelings. Just be careful not to hyperventilate. If you start feeling dizzy, pause between your series of sharp breaths.
If someone in the first 30 days of a breakup suddenly starts feeling better, does that mean the worst has passed?
Unfortunately no. The first 30 days is a time of wild emotional swings—from extreme hopelessness to enormous relief to giddy excitement. It’s very unpredictable. Again, the best way to combat this is by having an action plan.
What is the one factor that is crucial for recovery to begin?
You must be able to let go. There are addictive qualities that make it extremely difficult for people to recognize that human relationships have a finite period of time, whether determined by death or a decision by one or both partners. This difficulty often leads people to construct fantasies in their heads rather than accept the reality.
What can someone learn from the pain caused by breaking up?
The acquired wisdom that suffering brings can help you use that suffering more intelligently. The idea is not to be afraid of love and to hold back, but to be mature and better gauge the next person you meet, as well as to better understand yourself. You are the one who creates your relationships. Your life and the love in it are up to you!
How can one transform the inevitable self-pity that comes with a breakup into something more transcendent?
Try this compassion exercise. Sit on a park bench and simply observe the strangers around you. Settle on one person. Feel your consciousness open around your heart and open your heart toward that person. This can be uncomfortable if you haven’t done it before, but if you do this you will experience empathy and compassion toward this stranger and an awareness of his or her sadness. Do not talk or interact with the person. Try to be unobtrusive as you gaze at him or her.
It’s easiest to initially do this exercise with a stranger, but you can then try this with people with whom you’re closer. Once you’re accepting and loving of others you can direct your empathy and compassion toward yourself.
Ironically, the best time to practice compassion toward others is when you’re wrapped in self-pity. This helps to restore a sense of trust, openness and optimism in yourself.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
When confronted with a change, I tell myself this situation is part of the flow of life. In managing to find the positive value in difficult circumstances, there is the possibility for tremendous growth.
The best thing about change is…
…it provides for maturation and growth.
What’s the best change you ever made?
I realized the corrosive nature of the negative feelings I felt toward my ex-wife was self-destructive, so I surrendered the bitterness.
For more information on Mike Riley's book, visit www.amazon.com