The poignant experience of heartbreak is common to humanity.
Heartbreak cuts us to the bone, humbling us before the great forces of the Universe. But our tendency to avoid and protect ourselves from pain clouds our vision and prevents us from seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. It alienates us from recognizing the purpose of heartbreak. So often, we remain in denial and ignore the call from our emotions, numbing ourselves to the effects of grief. We fear confronting the new world that now awaits us in our vulnerability. We fear creating our post-heartbreak identity that is more or less a mirage—a distant and attractive mirage but a mirage nonetheless.
We forget, however, that even as it carries a vault of deep pain and suffering, heartbreak also carries within it the seeds for transformation. It implores us to embark upon a journey arising from the transmutation of a broken heart. After all, a heartbreak is also a heart broken open. In the midst of a heartbreak, the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What do I need to do to open my heart again?” This simple question has the potential to restore our freedom of choice, our agency as a wholesome human being. By asking this question, we are sending a message, I am here—a message that Life needs from us to begin our transformation.
Jung has emphasized the relationship with the soul—one must have a relationship with their soul and the soul of the world. Personal crisis, in the form of a heartbreak, can often be a kick-off for the individuation process, which Jung called the process of self-realization and discovering one’s purpose in life. During peaceful circumstances, we don’t have the urgency to pause and reflect upon questions like “What is life about?” “Why am I here?” or “Why is this happening in my life?” We are content with the flow of life and do not intend to upset it. Heartbreak, on the other hand, demands more from us—it forces us to stand naked and defenseless in our vulnerability and demands from us to be true to ourselves and to Life.
Resistance to heartbreak is as natural as the soul’s desire to live its true purpose. We may find ourselves wanting to jump over it or take a side path; however, in the end, we return to the same crossroad albeit through another heartbreak. In the midst of suffering, perhaps even going against our ego’s desire, the only thing we need to do is to pay attention to the suffering. The invitation in heartbreak is to be present, in humble acknowledgment of what is being asked of us and witness what happens.
In her book, Psychologie van een Gebroken Hart (Psychology of Heartbreak), life coach Akke-Jeanne Klerk shares the story of a young Vietnamese woman whose heartbreak originated in her husband’s betrayal of her. Coming from a hardworking family that moved to the Netherlands, this young woman upheld a strong work ethic pressuring herself and her children to achieve more. During the course of her sessions, however, she realized that she was emotionally absent in her relationship with her family—a need that remained unmet for her husband, in particular. She also found herself confronting the intergenerational trauma of the Vietnam War that had remained lodged in her extended family and its memory. Urged by these facts, she began the process of taking care of her soul and the soul of her loved ones. In turn, her soul brought her to her purpose: working with people in war situations and healing war trauma. In this story, we witness the overarching potential of personal heartbreak and the power we hold to give meaning to our painful experiences.
The process of recovering from a heartbreak is not linear and varies for individuals. From her own heartbreaks and her practice, Akke-Jeanne Klerk has found eight psychological tasks that we are called to perform. These include being present to the experience of heartbreak; handling grief; taking responsibility and making a conscious decision to heal as against the impulse to run away from pain; becoming aware of the personal experience and our attitude and perception associated with loss; tending childhood wounds; developing self-compassion and becoming a true friend to ourselves; coming home to the body and its memory; and opening ourselves to transformation. This process, while long and daunting, initiates us into a new phase of our life; and accompanying us on this journey is our soul. This renewed connection to Life heals the illusion of separation and we begin recognizing the common thread that flows between us—we realize, we are part of a greater whole, in its true meaning. We learn that heartbreaks are a rite of initiation of the human collective—that each of us will go through it. Time after time, people emerging from a heartbreak share their stories of how they became accepting and compassionate of themselves and others.
Culture has a strong influence on and dictates the nature and duration of the grieving process. This insinuation ‘it’s enough now, you must now move on’, can be particularly painful if we need more time with our grief. If we succumb to this pressure, we can find ourselves derailed from the path of healing. Unfortunately, this pressure is common and often well-intentioned; prolonged grief can be uncomfortable to watch or perhaps, people do not understand that grief cannot be bound by time. Handling grief, which is one of the most significant tasks following a heartbreak, cannot be hurried, put off, or brushed away. Akke-Jeanne recommends honoring our need for more time by being present to our grief. We can ask ourselves, “What do I need right now?” or tell ourselves, “They need me to be there but I am not there yet and I am okay with not being there yet.”
Much like the invitation of a personal heartbreak, a global crisis can carry a call for awakening. In many ways, we are witnessing our wake-up call in the climate change and social justice crises that are shaking our communities. Here again, we are invited to slow down, reflect upon our role, and take responsibility for our share. If we stand in our courage, we will be able to create a new relationship within societies and restore our connection to the world.
We must remember the journey of healing is slow and long and entreats us to remain patient. The opportunities on this journey are endless—we find renewed strength and become who we truly are, we gain wisdom and profound depth in our conduct of life, and we witness the force of love that guides the Universe and all its manifestations. If we remain patient, all of this abundance is ours to claim.
Enroll in Akke-Jeanne Klerk’s helpful course where she will talk about Heartbreak and Its Invitations. You will explore what we can learn from heartbreak and our personal history, and how we can connect with our soul and learn to love more deeply. You can enroll here.
Rathi is a writer and editor with interests in depth psychology, spiritual ecology, and feminism. She is also an empath and a highly sensitive introvert, learning to accept and apply her gifts of creativity, insight, and emotional sensitivity.More Posts by Rathi Ravi