by Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT
Even if the writing is on the wall, many of us have found ourselves in a state of denial that the relationship is ending or has ended. And then, we will spend a lot of time trying to sort through how it could possibly be true.
I’ve been there!
We brainstorm ways to fix ourselves to save the relationship. We consider apologies, life coaching, getting skinnier, revisiting an old conversation, etc
From asking to meet for coffee to phoning all day and night there can be a huge spectrum of the protest phase. Sometimes it can even verge on stalking or become dangerous. But for most people it’s an innocent reaction to trying your very best not to let something go that you’ve loved very much.
During this protest response you seek any hope. You look for signs, you pass your favorite hangouts hoping to revive a feeling, you try to look your best in case you see them again.
Sometimes, you think, that if anyone knew that you were thinking this way they’d think you’re pathetic. But you think and act this way anyway. Because, hey, you’re protesting abandonment.
The protest response has been studied in psychology and been found to be a very basic mammal behavior that activates when an important social bond is ruptured.
Consider what your puppy does when you leave the room.
In brain scans, researchers found that abandonment elevates levels of norepinephrine and dopamine which increases alertness. This means it’s harder to get your mind off of whatever the focus is. Our stress chemical, cortisol, also elevates. The cortisol then works to encourage “fighting” abandonment.
So, next time you’re feeling “pathetic” just remember that your body is desperately attempting to save you from one of the biggest human pains: abandonment. This is evolutionary. We need each other for survival. If it starts to feel like your protest response is in overdrive and you’re having trouble letting go in a healthy manner, therapy can help.
You’ll learn to self soothe, grieve, and learn about why the issue is so painful for you. Ultimately you’ll be preparing for whatever is next – and I promise there is something better for YOU out there!
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT is a licensed marriage therapist in Philadelphia. Elizabeth supports individuals and couples improve the relationship they have with themselves and others through better communication, self soothing, and a clear understanding of what a successful marriage looks like. She believes that any committed couples who is willing to do the work can walk away from therapy with more clarity and connection in their relationship.