Skip to content

Dealing with the intrusive thoughts of a long passed relationship.

  • by

It had been 6 months since the break up, since I had talked to her.  I was starting to get memories popping back in.  She used to play piano, so conveniently; every time I saw a piano, I was reminded of her.  Then it got worse.  Every time I heard a piano I was reminded of her.  I got exceptionally skilled at cycling through the usual wistful reminder, the “oh send her a message”, the “maybe it could have gone differently”, the absent “what if…”, the frustrated sentiment, “why does this keep popping back in”.

Eventually I realised I could label them as “intrusive thoughts”. A strategy that worked for a grand total of about a week.  It’s great that I finally acknowledged the struggle that I was having, enough to put a label on it, but a label alone does not help.  I was still having intrusive thoughts.  So after about a week of, “there it is again”, I needed a new method for responding to the problem that I was having.

But what exactly was my problem?  I looked at my thoughts and I realised that I liked the reminiscence.  There’s a sense of sadness and grief that was brought up by the failure of the relationship, one that I needed to work through and be with.  So I sat with it and started to wonder why the memories kept coming back.

I started picking apart the details that were coming up.  I started deconstructing the details.  Every relationship has good elements and bad elements.  I was being compelled to look!  Look at the details of the relationship.  And specifically, here were the details of the way that the relationship worked!  Or didn’t work!  And my mistakes, and her mistakes, and our mistakes.  

When I looked at the details, I started organising the good and the bad into a polarity.  One detail is that she was overworked and she didn’t take enough breaks.  And I didn’t like that.  On the flipside she was creative and had a creative way of seeing the world, and I liked that.  Organising, organising.  Cognitive details, emotional details, memories, and more.

I distilled parts of the old relationship into qualities.  That’s an important step that helped me map out what I do and don’t want.  Then I took these qualities and I put them into the future.  Instead of reminders of what I hated about the past relationship, and what I longed to have back, these qualities were now my new indicators of what I was looking to find and avoid in a future relationship.

This meant that the next time I heard a piano, I was momentarily reminded how much I missed her and her creative side, and then quickly reminded to look to enjoy these qualities in my next relationship.  And how I shouldn’t settle for a relationship where she works too much.  Instead of dwelling on the past, I was now focused on the future.  

After a bit more reflection on the memories, I was free.  Free to find a new relationship with the good qualities and without the bad qualities.

The guide to work through an intrusive memory or thought: 

0. Go about your life as usual, doing what you normally do.  Or if you already know which memory you want to work with, go ahead.

  1. Wait for an arising memory from the past.
  2. Ask yourself “how is this here to help?” or “what do I like or dislike about this memory coming up?”
  3. Identify the qualities of the memory.  Qualities can be any quality you associate with the person, for example – responsible, demanding, patient, beautiful, conservative, smart, resourceful and more.  Qualities can be qualities that you like or dislike or feel neutral about.  As long as you know how you relate to those qualities.
  4. Look all over your body and notice any emotions in about the memory, and stay with them, there could be quite a few.  If the emotions want to move, let them move through and around your body, but stay with your attention on them.  It’s this emotional process that will reorient your intrusive memories to change how they behave.  Try to stay out of the cognitive story about the memories while you do it.  You can get to the cognitive story at the end but in the middle it will slow down the emotional processing.
  5. Consider these qualities and what you want from them in the future.  With two main directions:
    1. Qualities that I want to include in my future
    2. Qualities that I want to avoid in my future
  6. Soak into the new attitude towards the future.  Sit in it and feel the way you want things to be.  Think of the new attitude as a new operating system or a new outlook.  Sit in the sense of seeing the world in this new way, and wearing this as your way of being.  Does it fit?  Is there resistance?  Can you try it out for a few days?  Does this attitude need an adjustment or does it fit already.  The soak step is an integration process.  Without it, attitudes don’t stick as well.
  7. With the new operating system in mind, are there any extra actions you want to take?  Otherwise enjoy the benefits of now being motivated rather than demotivated by the visitation of the past to the present.

If this type of work calls to you, reach out on my Contact page.