The Art of Relating: Staying Too Long Really Does A Number On Your Ego

By Christine Kniffen, MSW, LCSW


The pain of a relationship that ends can feel devastating. This is especially true when you ignored nagging thoughts along the way that were telling you to go and that you would not be able to get your needs met by this person. Furthermore, if the other person then does the leaving you are often left “shell-shocked” and in disbelief. It is at this point that clients enter my office seeking help and relief from this all-consuming, heightened pain. To move forward it is important that they understand what is often really going in inside them. I see two big variables that contribute to this level of “shell-shocked”. First, we become focused on trying to figure out “why and what” just happened. Second, we are suffering from a terribly bruised and battered ego.

It can be difficult to try and heal from a broken relationship when we get understandably side-tracked trying to make sense of it all. We play the scenes over and over, endlessly ruminating about the events. We are searching for an understanding that we think will provide the closure we need in order begin to move forward. Unfortunately, most of us want something that we simply cannot get. Break-ups are often not rational. Perhaps you were planning a trip together last week, only to be told this week that it is over. I tell clients that when those types of in congruencies exist, and none of it makes rational sense, that it is more often about the internal emotions of the other person. People often have knee-jerk reactions to internal pressures of not feeling good enough or lovable enough deep down. And, as the relationship gets closer and closer these feelings intensify, leading to the eventual need to relieve the pressure by doing something dramatic such as ending the relationship. However, this is going on at the subconscious level. Therefore, you can’t get any good answers when you keep asking “why” to the other person. The closure does not come because the other person can only give seemingly ridiculous answers to your question.

Another crucial variable that adds to this level of angst has everything to do with our egos. Much has been written about our need to pay attention to our instincts. They are often right and we find in life that we create many avoidable problems for ourselves when we do not listen to what our gut is telling us. I have often said that the amount of pain we feel at the end of a relationship correlates directly to how long we stayed when we knew we should have left. Then, if the other person leaves us first because we didn’t listen to ourselves, we feel the full extent of our bruised ego. We think, “I can’t believe you left me…..I should have left you ages ago”. Their action has really bruised and battered our ego. We are not really pining away for all the terrific, supportive qualities that the other person showed us. In fact, most of the time if we did a quick pro and con list for this person we would feel almost embarrassed that we stayed in a relationship so heavily weighted to the negative side. What rational sense does it make then to be suffering so much over the breakup? This suffering simply comes from our highly bruised ego, as we did not listen to ourselves earlier on and were beaten to the punch so to speak.

If you find yourself stuck trying to make sense of what happened, feel shell-shocked by the experience and can honestly say that you ignored your instincts then you must begin to rethink the whole situation. Understand that you don’t need answers as to “why” because there probably are no rational answers. Stop waiting for something that will probably never come. The break-up most likely had nothing to do with you. Likewise, understand that what you are feeling is more about a bruised ego and much less about what you think you have lost. Try to incorporate these ideas into your understanding of “what happened” and they just may help you begin to heal and move forward with your life.

Christine Kniffen, LCSW is a Relationship Coach and Therapist. For a free consultation call 314-374-8396.