Are Goodbyes a Sign of Emotional Health?
Can you say goodbye when a relationship ends?
Years ago I heard John Bradshaw, author of the PBS series on The Family, speak on the importance of saying goodbye. He said that you cannot have a healthy relationship until you learn to say goodbye.
I was floored. I used to think that it was a strength to stay in a relationship no matter what - even if it hurt. But, if you can’t say goodbye, you don't have the choice to leave or stay. The fear of saying goodbye keeps you from making the healthier choice.
This blog talks about practicing the art of saying goodbye and why you should.
Where You Learn About Goodbyes
In my twenties I avoided goodbyes because they were too painful. I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings so I stayed until the bitter end. Growing up I never saw adult relationships end. They just stopped coming around.
Family is where we learn how to do relationships first. Whether you felt close or distant - those primary relationships created a template for future interactions. Doing the exact opposite of what you saw doesn’t help either. For instance, if growing up with a raging parent made you stuff anger that isn’t necessarily a healthier option either.
The truth is that relationships often end. It's an important life lesson but most families don't help the child learn how and when to say goodbye.
Avoiding Goodbyes Has Its Price
When ending a relationship is considered failure you might chose to avoid doing it. You hope that the person will get the hint without having to say the words. But both people feel the distance. Or, you hold on til the bitter end. Both of these are examples of avoiding goodbyes.
Staying in bad relationships because you don't want to rock the boat or be alone has its price. You can't leave when things fall apart. Or, the fear of being alone keeps you in relationships that don't nurture you. Instead, you pull away emotionally and the relationship gets increasingly distant until someone eventually has to leave.
Being able to say goodbye face to face is not the norm. Doing it by email or text is typical but incredibly impersonal. Eventually, not saying goodbye creates a pile up of emotional losses. That's when feeling hopeless and depressed can set in. Unfelt losses often trigger depression.
The Gift of Closure in Relationships
Closure is being able to accept the relationship ending. You may not agree with the outcome especially when you’re the one left but you can eventually learn to accept it. This process can take years.
Not having closure creates unfinished emotions that can spill into the next relationship. You might find yourself getting into another relationship quickly when you can't handle the loss. You wonder if the pain will ever end. You become impatient so you decide to look for someone new instead.
The emotions from losing the previous relationship create an emotional hangover that knocks you off center. It's tough to stay grounded when you're trying to fill the void with someone new.
Recognize When it's Time to Go
To consciously leave a relationship means embracing the power of choice. Listening to your intuition will guide you in when to leave. There are always signs that invite you to pay attention and assess what's happening. When a relationship stops working, do you try to work it out? If nothing changes, do you honor that or stay for the sake of the other person?
Saying goodbye is not an easy decision but sometimes it is the healthier choice. It gives you the chance to acknowledge the good parts of the relationship and move on. Feeling the hurt and the sadness is what helps you heal.
If the person is deceased or unreachable, writing a letter helps to say your peace. Expressing the hurt needs to happen for you to reach acceptance. This takes time and there are no short cuts. Not many people let themselves go through this process because formal goodbyes are not honored in our culture.
Getting the support you need helps to endure the process. A trusted friend can offer encouragement. If you feel stuck, counseling offers the emotional support to grieve and understand what happened.
How to Say GoodBye
Here are some steps to help you in saying goodbye.
- Acknowledge what the relationship means to you.
- Own your part in what didn't work.
- Express gratitude for what they gave to you.
The Gifts in the Grief
I went through this when my dad was dying of cancer. Though I said everything I needed to say to him, closure took years because I was young and fought the loss. The biggest lesson was that letting myself feel the depths of my grief helped me come out on the other side feeling whole. I had faced my greatest fear.
There are many gifts that come when you're willing to say goodbye. You become at choice in your relationships. Instead of feeling obligated to stay in an unhealthy relationship, you have a newfound strength because you know that leaving won't kill you. Because your not avoiding that fear, you can pick healthier people and that's empowering. By saying goodbye you can embrace new beginnings that change your life for the better!
When relationships end do you say goodbye?
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