Separation and Opportunity for a Journey Towards Self- Love
“Most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved, rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love. Hence the problem to them is how to be loved, how to be lovable.” ― Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving
Romantic relationships for most individuals are incredibly intense experiences, especially the ending of a relationship. Relationships are often mirrors that reflect precisely the wounds that have injured us in the past. The ability of self-love is often also reflected by the relationship and the love we received from our primary caregivers.
In psychoanalysis, the object-relations theory broadens our perspective about the capacity of mature love in adulthood and the reasons behind why the loss of a partner can open wounds of the past. Melanie Klein suggests that “At the start, this object is represented through the mother, which is replaced by an object that can sustain life.” The object becomes an internal representation of the baby’s psychological inner world. The good object takes care, provides love and becomes idealized, while the bad object conceptualizes frustration, lack of gratification and destructiveness.
Consequently, in the second stage of development, the child experiences the object as a whole with both the good and the negative aspects, which leads to mature idealization. According to the object-relations theory, for an individual’s psychological structure to develop, the child interacts with an external, emotionally significant object through love, and internalizes an inner world based on object representations. The inner representation, hence, becomes the object or the mirror in which we have the capacity to self-love.
A separation in adulthood works in a similar way, by which an individual does not differentiate between individual needs and the needs of the partner. Often the result is a symbiosis of the ‘idealised object’ or partner. In this instance the partner is experienced as a part of the person, the needs of the partner are seen as the needs of the self, without differentiation. In this type of symbiosis, we identify with the partner in question by which we experience the loss of the relationship as a loss of ourselves, which leads to more difficult separations.
As a result, a break-up or separation might sometimes feel more like a grieving process than a change of circumstances. A key aspect of experiencing a break up as a change of circumstance rather than a loss of ourselves is to our focus, precisely, on this “temporary“ element. Although it is true that a break-up might be in most cases a harrowing situation to live, it also means the beginning of a new process of our lives. It is a sign of development and change. With this experience, we can also gain a lot of wisdom about ourselves and enrich our perspective for the emerging new period of our lives.
A separation means an opportunity to focus your awareness back to yourself, to overcome this false identification. It might well mean the beginning of a journey towards self-love. Below are a few suggestions of things you can do to overcome a separation with this constructive approach:
1. Spend alone time with yourself: Spending alone time with yourself can be a valuable thing; learning to enjoy your own company and solitude can be healing. Take yourself on a date: this can be to your favorite movie cinema or your favorite restaurant. Try to enjoy your own company and observe your thoughts coming and going without judgment. If your thoughts feel uncomfortable, take a deep breath and focus on the surroundings: What colors do you see? What does the food taste like? Try to return to the present moment.
2. Find Something that stimulates you mentally: Even when you are feeling so depressed that you barely can get out of bed in the morning, find ways to motivate yourself to get up and start activities that give you joy.
3. Start a new hobby or activity such as theatre, pilates, yoga, playing an instrument, reading a book, learning a new language or exploring art. Stimulating your mind enhances you as a person and makes you feel worthy, which can increase self-esteem.
4. Feel the pain: Break-ups are accompanied by very intense emotions of denial, sadness, anger, resentment or frustration. It is essential to allow yourself to go through this process since otherwise, it will most likely prolong the grieving process.
5. Finding ways to express your emotions through writing, art or talking to a friend can be healing. Writing letters to your ex-partner (without sending them) can also be a very efficient way to go through the painful emotions.
6. Reflect & Take Responsibility: It is important to take the time to reflect on the relationship and what went wrong. How did your behavior contribute to the break- up? What could you do differently next time? Why did you choose a partner who treated you in a certain way? Learning from relationships involves taking responsibility for your behaviors and thoughts which lead to the end of the relationship. Remember that there are always two individuals in a relationship and therefore both played their parts in ending the relationship. Learning about this experience promotes self-worth while blaming yourself for the break-up promotes suffering.
7. Letting go: Letting go also means allowing yourself to detach from your emotional bond with this person. Understanding that the meaningful moments will remain within you, however creating space for new possibilities or a new partner.
For closure to be possible, it might be helpful to perform a closing ritual. This can be for example burning a picture of you and your ex-partner or burying a gift from your ex-partner in the ground. While you do this symbolic act, say your goodbyes to them and to the bond you have shared. Imagine this bond disintegrating in the fire or being buried in the soil. One can also share any feelings that have remained unsaid and imagine the ex-partner is present.
8. Self-Love: Moreover, the suggestions above are based on the actions of self-love. Many individuals confuse self-love with selfishness or narcissism. However, this kind of attitude is entirely different. Erich Fromm quotes “genuine love is an expression of productiveness and implies care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge. It is an active striving for growth and happiness of the loved person, rooted in one's own capacity to love.”
Significantly, this phrase goes by the premise that we must first learn to love and respect ourselves to provide this for another person. To love yourself includes honoring your independence, your uniqueness, and your strengths. Honoring yourself starts with authentic living, honoring yourself means “taking care” of your needs. It means doing the activities you love, having the food that you need to feel healthy and full of energy. It means having people around you who value and cherish you for who you are and knowing in your heart that you’re worthy of these gifts.
Productiveness, on the other hand, is a significant part of feeling self-love. It means doing an activity or work that gives your life meaning and purpose. Productiveness implies seeing yourself with your qualities, abilities and unique gifts. Fromm describes this through the example that an artist unites himself with the “material” of work which represents the world outside of the individual, yet at the same time the inspiration comes from within. In a sense, the creator and the object become one simultaneously by uniting the individual and the world through creation. However, the fulfillment doesn’t come from the product created or the world; it comes from within before the material was even created. When self-love within the self occurs, then this integrated whole can be manifested as a productive “material” (work) in the world. The fulfillment of creation and inspiration, therefore, comes from being in togetherness with yourself as the result of self-love. Having the capacity of self-love means healing the wounds which are filled by someone who completes you, it means finding a home within you, finding a path back to yourself.
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Kwawer, J. S. (1981). Object Relations and Interpersonal Theories. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 17(2), 276-289. doi:10.1080/00107530.1981.10745664
Croatian Medical Journal, 45(1), 18-24. (2004). Retrieved February 14, 2019, from http://neuron.mefst.hr/docs/CMJ/issues/2004/45/1/14968447.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2HyP8o96L5qSYEV2iXIte78zBMsJTv0YiMbwrQYwL2GYAa5wX-nKom49M
Fromm, E. (1956). The Art of Loving. New York: Harper & Row.
About the Author
Originally from Hamburg Germany, Ms. Stephanie Sattkowski moved around a lot as a child and is familiar with confronting changes and transformation in life. All of the obstacles she's been through made a positive impact on her attitude towards life and her work as a psychotherapist in training. Ms.Sattkowski speaks English, Spanish and German.
Gestalt Therapy helps clients focus on the present and understand what is really happening in their lives right now, rather than what they may perceive to be happening based on past experience. Instead of simply talking about past situations, clients are encouraged to experience them, perhaps through re-enactment. Through the gestalt process, clients learn to become more aware of how their own negative thought patterns and behaviors are blocking true self-awareness and making them unhappy.
Stephanie offers a free consultation to interested people.
For more information visit sattkowski-praxis.com