When thinking about life, remember this: no amount of guilt can solve the past and no amount of anxiety can change the future. Breakups are similar. Relationships end for many reasons. But the feeling of being responsible for your partner’s well-being makes it difficult for you to get over the breakup anxiety and move on.
When your head says you need to break up a relationship or you have broken up a relationship but your heart is pulling you back and flooding you with guilt over it.
I hear this a lot, especially from people who have been in relationships that are dysfunctional and/or abusive relationships. Their head tells them this relationship is not good for them, but they just can’t shake off the feelings of guilt.
It may be guilt over the fact that “I’ve failed”.
I failed to fix that relationship.
I did everything I could but nothing fixed that relationship.
It’s guilt over: I couldn’t rescue my partner.
Often in relationships like this, the emotionally abusive or dysfunctional partner has deep childhood wounds and difficult past relationships or whatever it is they tell you is the cause of their pain and insecurity.
You see them and feel: I can be enough for both of us. If I love them enough, I can show them they’re worthy of love. I can love them more than anyone has ever loved them ever before.
So when it breaks down, you feel guilt over the fact you’ve failed. Your love wasn’t enough to save them. You also feel guilt you’ve failed your children because you couldn’t keep the family together.
Anxiety Over A Breakup And Guilt
There is a lot of deep-seated anxiety over leaving that relationship. But it goes even deeper than that. Often when we’re in these dysfunctional relationships, we’re spending most of the time trying to fix them and save the relationship.
We are so full of empathy and care for their needs at the expense of our own. We take on more responsibility for that relationship than we should. We become their mother, their therapist, and their shoulder to cry on.
And that’s not what a healthy relationship is about.
A narcissist will manipulate this too in a codependent relationship. It’s convenient for them to have you take on most of the burden of the relationship. That way they can blame you when things go wrong.
They tell you they’re going to get help and change as a means to get you back and once they have, it all goes out the window. You’ll get blamed for not being ‘supportive enough’. If you’re their therapist and that therapy doesn’t work, then it’s your fault.
You just can’t win.
So, quite often this breakup guilt is tied up with the role you’ve been playing. This feeling of guilt you’ve failed to make that relationship work.
Why are you a failure?
You’re not responsible for another adult’s moods and behavior or for their happiness.
You are not their parent.
They are an adult.
You are not their therapist.
You are not responsible.
Neither are you to blame even if it’s convenient for them to put that responsibility onto you so they don’t have to take action or be accountable for their behavior.
Now it goes even deeper than this.
We often go into dysfunctional relationships so that we can play the role of rescuer, fixer, and savior. We deny all our own needs in favor of theirs. But this can be an avoidance technique.
A way to numb ourselves from seeing that actually, it’s us that needs rescuing and saving.
Bear with me here … I’ll try to explain this.
While I thought my ex was needier and more damaged than I even realized I was, I was able to convince myself there was nothing wrong with me. But I was codependent and my happiness depended on him and that relationship. When I couldn’t fix him, save our relationship, or keep our family together, I felt a huge sense of guilt.
If your self-worth and sense of self-esteem are tied up to that relationship and the rescue of it, then there’s a deep sense of shame and failure attached to when you can’t. But by going into a relationship with a very damaged, needy, and emotionally unavailable person, from the beginning you’re setting yourself up to fail.
So, it’s worth looking at your role in dysfunctional relationships as well. I promise I’m not victim-blaming here. Yes, they’re to blame if there’s coercive control and abuse involved. Yes, you are a victim if there is. But there are also things about us that we can take responsibility for.
I found that quite liberating because once I realized I couldn’t change him or save the relationship, it followed that what was within my grasp was that I could change me.
That was far less exhausting. And also possible.
I had to look hard at the role I had played. There was a part of me that went into that relationship with someone needy and damaged because I felt I could have some control. When I was playing the role of his therapist and savior it made me feel wanted, needed, and loved. I felt secure.
But the more this revealed weakness in him, the more insecure he would feel. He needed to gain control over me again. The more he suppressed and controlled me, the more powerful he’d feel. But then it would tip over the edge into abuse and physical violence and he’d fear he was about to lose me.
I stepped back into the role of therapist and tried to help him, as he vowed to change. Subconsciously I thought that if I am with someone who’s needy and damaged and be the one who healed his wounds, he’ll never leave me.
And that felt good. Because, I know now, I secretly had a fear of abandonment. I was terrified of that.
So why not pick a guy who’s got issues of his own? He won’t abandon me because he needs me so much as his rescuer and therapist. But that’s not the path to lasting happiness. I always say that painful emotions are messengers to teach us about ourselves.
So, ask yourself, why are these feelings of guilt stirring inside of me? Could it be that you feel: I’m not good enough. I’m wasn’t lovable enough for them to change for me.
The fact is, they might never change and that has nothing to do with you.
Because they’re like an empty bucket with holes inside. If they’re depending on you, leaning on you to make them happy and fulfill all their needs, you can’t and you never will. The more you try to prove to them, the more your efforts will just keep draining out of those holes.
And if you do the same as I did, which is to focus on fixing them to avoid being still within yourself, you’ll never heal. It might be an uncomfortable truth to face that deep down you don’t feel good enough. You don’t feel worthy or lovable enough to have a relationship with someone who is emotionally available to you. I didn’t.
My fear of abandonment was so great, that when I found a man like this it terrified me. I couldn’t control him. He didn’t have the need for my fixing or rescuing him. I couldn’t cope with that, so I tried to push him away.
Emotional availability revealed my vulnerability.
Subconsciously I thought: what if he sees the real me who is unlovable and unworthy? He’ll run a mile and I will be abandoned, which is my greatest fear. So, I’m gonna push him away first before he breaks up with me and hurts me.
It’s a really complex lot of emotions and feelings that get bundled up in this breakup guilt. Another thing is a desperate need for closure.
You get pulled back because you want closure and for them to admit you are lovable and that everything you did for them was in their best interests and out of love.
But again I ask: why do you need that?
Because chances are you’re looking to outside sources to validate you and give you approval. In a way, you too are like an empty bucket with holes in.
How To Let Go Of Breakup Guilt
You need to find that happiness and sense of security from within instead of looking to them for it. Especially someone who is incapable of giving you this.
Self-esteem, self-worth, and self-acceptance are key. The bottom line is, you haven’t failed. You have nothing to be blamed for or feel guilty about. Sometimes, you just have to accept that you can’t fix another person or a relationship.
And if they’re not willing to put the years of hard work into it well then ask yourself:
Are they good enough for you anyway?
Are you projecting onto them?
Are you stopping yourself from moving forward and on with your life because you’re clinging onto the hope that one day they’re going to mean it when they say I’m going to change?
If that’s the case I’d ask yourself this: what does unconditional love mean? It means loving somebody for exactly who they are right now.
Do you love them AND like them just the way they are?
Are you happy to be in that relationship if they never, ever change?
Will you accept them for who they are and one day look back on that relationship with no regrets?
If you’re wasting your life waiting and hoping for the day this fantasy person might come. You know, not the one they are now, but the person they might one day become in the future if you can just prove to them you love them enough.
You could be waiting for a lifetime. Life’s too short and precious. Don’t waste it hoping for closure that may never come.
Dysfunctional relationships and abusive relationships are not normal healthy relationships. I’m sure you know that deep down. Listen to your gut.
Is this relationship good enough for you or not? If it’s not and you’ve made that decision to leave already then let go of that guilt. It’s a self-limiting belief. You have no need for it.
Replace this with positive affirmations and the belief that you are worthy. You are good enough. You’re more than good enough to deserve a healthy, loving, lasting relationship.
A companionship that enriches you and enhances your life into old age. This is what I have now. Well, not quite into old age yet, but middle-age! And it feels great. If I had clung to that fantasy and guilt for failing to fix my past abusive relationship, I would have missed out on the incredible opportunities, relationship, and life I have now.
Let go of breakup guilt. Forget closure you may never get. Keep moving forward and never look back.
Written by Vivian Mc Grath
Originally appeared on VivianMcGrath.com