QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Men

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

I can't get my confidence back after my partner dumped me for another guy. I feel so unattractive, and I can't see things changing. What shall I do?

Answer

You don't mention your partner's gender, but either way, you are feeling rejected, right? As a first step, be aware that you are not alone. Many others are in this situation around you, or have been. Most of us, if not all, have to deal with the experience of rejection at some point.

Relationships fail for all sorts of reasons. We often attribute blame either to ourselves -- why did I do this? why didn't I do that? -- or our ex-partner -- how could they have been so cruel, so unfeeling? and so on. And it's normal to respond to the hurt by feeling you need to prove to yourself you are still attractive and lovable. You may wonder if you will be alone for the indefinite future. However, rebound relationships are rarely either long lasting or comfortable.

Rather than give in to the feeling of panic and rushing into what could prove a compounding disaster, it may be wise to take this opportunity to "reframe" your situation. OK, your source of love and affection has gone for the present, and it's frightening. But you are emotionally raw; your recent partner is still in the forefront of your thinking. Give yourself some healing time. Before cruising the bars in desperation, realize you're unlikely to be able to offer a prospective future partner a good deal just yet.

Pause, take stock. Presently, you have the chance to make some changes. Usually, relationships show signs of strain before they collapse. Were there warning signs? How did you respond to them, and can you make sense of what happened, to help you in the future? You may benefit from counselling in depth to recognize and work through your feelings; this could be a helpful investment in your future happiness. Meanwhile, here are some practical steps you can take.

1. Intend to forgive your partner for the hurt. Easy forgiveness is no forgiveness, it's going to take time, but at least orient yourself to achieving it. It's a cliche, but a true one, that "forgiveness is the best gift you can give yourself."

2. Respond positively to your anger. Recognize its power, then work to channel that power to help yourself. If you are not taking regular physical exercise, consider starting a progressive program. Exercise releases anger, reduces anxiety and lifts depression -- it actually changes your brain chemistry for the better. Naturally, your doctor is best placed to advise you regarding a safe and suitable schedule for your age and health; the object is not to punish your body but to help it function better! Swimming is a good all round exercise, whilst walking and jogging are as close as your front door. Variety is the key to sustaining the program -- a chance to do what YOU want.

3. Consciously remember how you loved your partner, recalling the good times. Yes, whilst grieving, you'll cry -- often -- but work to avoid feelings of hatred. Reassure yourself, because the fact you feel so bad now is evidence of the truth that you are capable of loving and being loved. Draw on the people close to you, and remind yourself that you had a life, friends, and hopes BEFORE the relationship. Remind yourself that you WILL be happy again, though it will take time.

Believe in the future you are going to create. In that future, you will be a stronger, more experienced person, having grown in depth and self-knowledge. The day will come when you will be more truly useful to others who, sure enough, will detect your life skills and draw on you in turn.

4. Be alert to clinical depression. Every significant loss in life leads to a process of grieving. Along the way, you'll pass through denial, anger, fear, guilt and sadness amongst other experiences and often in a confusing, jumbled way. Sometimes, though, loss of a partner can lead to a prolonged period of depression-related symptoms. It is normal to experience the emotional pain loss brings, but this should be proportional to the cause. The steps already outlined, such as counselling, exercise and reframing, will help, but consult your doctor if you feel suicidal or uncontrollably angry, or experience persistent problems with panic, sleep difficulties, appetite increase or decrease, or altered thought patterns, such as impulsive, obsessional or blocked thoughts. Crying is a healthy release -- it tends to come suddenly, but you may notice a pattern emerges at particular times of day. Many men might benefit from crying more than they do. Don't be ashamed to cry. It really does help you to heal!

5. You will feel better if you can regain control over events, rather than being controlled by them. The suggestions above can all help you gain control over your thoughts and feelings, your body's reactions, and your life generally -- which is presently likely to be more solitary than you are used to. Accept that this is a time of change in your life. Remember, reframing will mean you decide to look at things in the most positive way you can find. Don't confuse this with denial, which is an avoidance mechanism.

Give yourself the time and space to come to terms with your loss, and pace yourself to match your inner resources.

3/5/98

Trevor Harvey, M.Ed combines lecturing in the School of Health at the University of East Anglia, with writing and counselling, and is based in Norwich, England. After a 12 year naval career, including the Falklands War, he became editorial board member/series advisor with The British Journal of Health Care Management and founder of the men's group AMICUS. He focused on health-related men's issues, particularly the way men negotiate personal transition through relationship crises, and is currently studying the management of information overload. Whenever possible, he combines his passion for photography with hill walking, and piloting his boat on the local lakes and rivers of eastern England.

 

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