Thursday, March 17, 2016

Broken Hearts

Someone that I love dearly recently experienced the breakup of a romantic relationship and it is entirely appropriate to say that she has had her "heart broken."  there are many things that break a heart--death, rejection, abandonment, betrayal, a wayward child or spouse, disappointment and loss, to name a few.  Relationship loss is probably one of the most devastating ways a heart can be broken.  The depth of grief felt is a testament to the depth of the love that was lost and to the sense of hopelessness over destroyed dreams.

Not many of us are fortunate enough to get through life without at least one heartbreaking experience.  Have you ever met someone who seems to have no capacity to grieve with those who grieve or to offer compassion to those who are hurting?  Chances are, they have never truly experienced heartbreak, or if they have, they have numbed or denied the pain of the experience.  They remind me of Job's friends when it comes to their inability to tolerate or understand the pain of one whose heart has been broken.  Contrary to what most assume and certainly to what my loved one currently feels, there is great value in experiencing heartbreak; in the grander scheme of things there are some benefits and opportunities the experience offers:

Hearts broken open have a larger capacity to love than those that have never been broken.  It is through heartbreak that we more thoroughly open ourselves to the hurts and pain of another.  We develop more empathy and are less black and white, which makes us more accepting and open to others.  And that openness and compassion increases our capacity for love in a profound way.  When a glass breaks, it loses its capacity to hold a liquid.  When a heart breaks, its capacity to hold another, to love and to empathize increases rather than diminishes.  It becomes a more useful container than it was before it broke.

Hearts that have been broken open offer an opportunity for deeper self-reflection, transformation and growth.  Heartbreak offers us a glimpse of the contents of our internal world.  When a full container is broken, the contents of the container spill out.  When one's heart is broken open, we can more clearly see the "stuff" that is inside--maybe "stuff" we were not aware of or had forgotten about.  Prior losses that have not been fully grieved, insecurities, distorted thought processes, coping mechanisms that are no longer adaptive are just some of the "stuff" that may flow out of a broken heart.  Heartbreak creates a mechanism and motivation to once more undertake the work of healing and transformation but at a deeper level.

Broken hearts do heal but on their own timetable; there is no rushing the process.  When a heart heals after having been broken wide open, it has an enlarged capacity to give and to receive love, a deeper self-awareness, and greater compassion and empathy for others who similarly hurt.  Healing a broken heart is not easy work, however.
  • Healing involves choice--not all who experience a broken heart choose to allow the pain to transform them but rather transmit that pain to all they come into contact with.
  • Healing requires a change in perspective--rather than focusing on the specifics of the breaking, the healing heart focuses on the growth potential the breaking offers.
  • Healing demands surrender--surrendering the right to exact revenge, demand justice or hold onto bitterness.  Surrender involves accepting those things we cannot change and holding it all--the circumstances and pain surrounding the heartbreak and the future--with open hands rather than clenched fists or tight death grips.
  • Healing becomes redemptive when the heartbroken seek to reach out to others in compassion, kindness and love.  The heartbroken become the very best of healers--wounded healers
No one would voluntarily sign up for the experience but when heartbreak inevitably happens, a unique opportunity presents itself.  Maybe we all need a bit more heartbreak?  Maybe the world would be a kinder, gentler place if we allowed pain to transform and change us into channels of peace and compassion for others?  Maybe heartbreak is the solution rather than the problem?  Maybe, just maybe?