Do you know why heartbreak hits us as hard as it does? In today’s video, I found the answer in an interview with the world-leading expert on grief, David Kessler.
It turns out, a lot of us are carrying around “unattended grief” that affects us in ways we don’t even realize. We often don’t give ourselves the space to fully feel what we need to in order to break free.
This new video is an important one. Even I wasn’t prepared for what I’d feel during the conversation, so I hope you’ll join me and watch it (and let me know your thoughts afterward!)
Your heartbreak will get better the moment you hear what I’m about to say.
Yesterday, I sat down with David Kessler, the world’s foremost expert on grief, to talk about the subject of heartbreak and how to find happiness again after we have had our heart broken.
One of the things that became eminently clear, if it wasn’t clear to me before, was that heartbreak and grief are intertwined.
“People always want to know from me: ‘Which grief is the worst? Is it this kind of death? Is it a divorce where they’re still rejecting you every day on this planet? Like, what’s the worst?’ And I always go, ‘Yours. Your grief is always the worst. It’s always the worst. Forget everyone else’s. It’s just you.’”
Grief, David said, is a change you didn’t want. And what is heartbreak but a change you didn’t want? When someone leaves us, when someone betrays us, when someone decides that they no longer want us, that is a change that we did not want.
And the result we typically call “heartbreak,” but that heartbreak is a kind of grief. It’s a grieving over a person we have lost that we’ll likely never have back again. It’s a grieving over a future that we thought we would live out but is no longer our reality. It’s the unwelcome arrival of a reality, a new future, that we did not plan to begin today and are probably not ready to start today.
But the heartbreak I wanted to talk with David about was not simply the heartbreak of a romantic partner who had left us, but heartbreak in general that can occur in all different forms in our life—because we can be heartbroken in love, we can be heartbroken in life. Heartbreak is a certainty of life and we are all going to experience it.
Now, when I was talking to David, something interesting happened. The truth is that as part of something I’m creating for you in the next couple of weeks—I haven’t told you about it yet, but I will at the end of this video—I was speaking to David on your behalf, but he said something at the beginning of the conversation that quickly brought me into the frame in a way I never expected.
David said something that, the moment he said it, I felt my own emotions coming up:
“We go into comparisons in our own minds. ‘Oh, my grief, my heartbreaks are not as much as theirs, or because of this time element, all that.’ And I always tell people, when you’re in your “comparing state,” you’re in your mind. And you don’t have a broken mind, you have a broken heart. And we have to go into our heart.”
And of course, we do this sometimes, don’t we? We may have dated someone for a month, and when that person decides they don’t want us or ghosts us or it fizzles out, we may feel heartbroken but not feel entitled to feel heartbroken in the way that someone who has been dating someone for two years and it breaks up is heartbroken, or someone who’s been in a 30-year marriage and is now going through a divorce is heartbroken. But what David said is that this is all very logical reasoning; and it’s not your mind that is broken, it’s your heart.
And when David said that, I thought of my own heartbreak. Not a heartbreak in my romantic life, but some of the great heartbreaks of my life in general. I felt myself starting to tear up, and I actually tried to carry on as if nothing was happening in the middle of this conversation. I thought, “I don’t know if David can see right now that I’m getting upset, but I’m going to keep going because I want to . . . I have lots of questions I want to ask David and I don’t want to get derailed.
But David was happy enough to derail it for me:
“But I also want to say, what I saw on your face—and you and I don’t know each other that well yet, hopefully—there was something that hit inside of you, and I can tell you it’s a little unattended grief. And we all live with some unattended grief. I mean, right now, that sadness in your eye, there is something there and we all have it.
And I then had to consider, while I was helping all of you, what grief I had not attended to in my own life. And I’d love to invite you now, with me, to think about what grief, what disappointments in life, what heartbreak in your life, have you not attended to?
And why don’t we attend to these things? You know, why is it that my instinct—aside from being live on camera helping you guys—why is it that my instinct was to move on from that and not sit with it with David, but to speed right past it? It’s because the pain that’s behind it is so difficult to confront.
David said to me, “I am the only grief expert who has studied buffalo.” And you may think, “What do buffalo have to do with grief and heartbreak?” He said, “Well, buffalo, when they sense a storm coming, they start heading toward the storm because they know that by heading toward the storm, they will be in the storm for less time. The storm will be over for them faster.”
But what we humans do is we constantly try to stay a few feet away from the storm. And by doing so, we remain in this storm’s orbit indefinitely.
And we have all sorts of mechanisms for keeping the storm a few feet away. We may numb ourselves, we may move on anytime the situation gets close, we may try to avoid any potential trigger for our heartbreak anytime it comes up, we may go to an emotion that’s more comfortable for us to go to.
I know that there have been certain situations in my life—and I’m not speaking past tense, I’m not talking about five years ago, I’m talking about right now—there are certain situations in my life that have been easier for me to be angry about. And one of the things that David said that floored me was: “Anger is a bodyguard for pain.
And so I had to explore: What pain is underneath that anger? What pain is underneath your anger? Maybe if you think back to a relationship, that the way it ended or the betrayal you experienced, that thing that person did to you or made you feel—that anger it brought up for you that maybe stayed around for a long time, what was underneath that anger? Because I know what was underneath my anger—what is underneath my anger—is sadness. It’s that grief.
And I feel like there have been plenty of storms I’ve headed right into very bravely, and there are other storms in my life where it’s felt too scary to get close to that emotion. And as David put it, we have this fear that if we start crying about something, we’ll never stop, so we avoid it altogether.
But in my life and what this conversation with David proved to me, was I want to go toward those storms, every single one of them that I have been avoiding. Because I’ve done a lot of healing with myself in the last few years and I’ve had the help of some amazing people, but I want to go further and I want to go into those storms that I’ve been ignoring or staying a few feet away from.
You may want to do the same, because the truth is none of these emotions can stick around forever if we actually head into the storm, if we act like the buffalo do, as David says. And allowing ourselves to feel these emotions—deeply feel them, engage with them—is a form of showing up for ourselves and tending to ourselves.
If we really feel our own sadness—the disappointment of what has happened to us in our lives—then we have an opportunity to be there for ourselves. We have an opportunity to exercise self-compassion, but we can’t exercise that compassion for things that we’re ignoring.
In order to have compassion for ourselves, we have to come to terms with the loss that we have experienced. And the loss might be something that came and went, or it might be the feeling of loss that comes with something we never had. The coming to terms with something that we never had and the pain of that—that self-compassion is a form of showing up for ourselves.
We live in a culture today that sort of demonizes the idea of feeling sorry for oneself, especially where I’m from in England. The idea of feeling sorry for yourself is about the worst thing you can do. But what we have to do is look at “feeling sorry for yourself” in a different light, as feeling for yourself, for what you have been through.
The only time that feeling sorry for yourself is a problem is when it goes hand in hand with a lack of accountability and ownership. If I spend my whole life feeling sorry for myself and I never do anything about it, that’s when we can waste our lives.
But what if feeling for yourself was doing something about it? What if feeling for yourself was the root to doing something about it? Haven’t you ever had a conversation with someone where they felt for you—they saw you and they understood you and they showed up for you in a certain way; and by doing that, it was healing for you. And from that place, you were more empowered, you were able to do more because you felt seen. That was a basis, a foundation, on which you could actually start to move again. Well, what if you could do that for yourself?
I know that in various parts of my life, for a long time, I never showed up for myself in that way.
One of the things David said was, he realized about himself: “No one ever abandoned me as badly as I abandoned myself.”
And how do we abandon ourselves? We abandon ourselves emotionally in all sorts of ways—by judging ourselves, shaming ourselves, constantly criticizing everything we do, telling ourselves we’re bad, telling ourselves we’re unworthy, not sticking up for ourselves. And like I’ve been saying, one of the ways we abandon ourselves is not recognizing our own pain, not actually sitting with our own pain and exploring it and showing up for ourselves and exercising compassion for ourselves in that department.
One of the things that struck me about my conversation with David was the voice that he spoke to me in. It was actually one of the things that made me most emotional was just his voice because there was such a kindness to his voice. It was so soft and loving and compassionate, and it was in such direct contrast to the kind of voice that I have used with myself so much in my life.
And just having the kind of voice that I want to get better at internally, externalized in the form of David, was . . . it modeled how self-kindness can feel, and that is a really beautiful thing.
“There’s a real you in there that’s so kind and loving, but oh my gosh, that’s the hardest voice to find, but that’s your voice. And so, that’s the voice you’ve got to keep turning up. And it’s scary to change and it’s scary to grow. But we know what staying the same feels like.”
“Yeah, it’s scary because it’s a whole new way of being, and you don’t know how to move through the world like that yet.”
This video, alongside inviting you to look at the areas where you have unattended grief, alongside being an invitation to head toward the storm, can also be an invitation to start to adopt a different, kinder, softer voice for yourself. And maybe in some small way, I can be that voice for you in this video.
If you want me—and David—to be that voice for you, well, there are so many more things he said in that interview that I’d love to share with you, and you may be wondering how to watch it or what this thing is that I’ve been working on.
I wanted to put together a kind of “ultimate heartbreak expert series” where I had some of the people that I trust the most, some of the people who are the best in the world at what they do, who have the most experience, and point them like a laser at how to find happiness after heartbreak.
And I didn’t just sit with David. I sat with my dear friend Dr. Ramani, the world-leading expert on narcissism. I sat with Dr. Nicole LePera. Many of you know her as the Holistic Psychologist. I sat with Lewis Howes. I sat with Tom and Lisa Bilyeu and several more people who you will already, many of you, know and love.
I think of this as like the Avengers of overcoming heartbreak, and I have assembled them to help you in your heartbreak.
It’s been a stunning mini journey for me to speak to all of these people. It has healed me in a number of ways as I have gone through this process, and I want to invite you to go through this process as well.
You’re probably waiting for the moment where I tell you that this is a big, expensive program. It’s not. I wanted to do something special for everyone who had supported me by purchasing a copy of my new book, Love Life.
So, if you have purchased a copy of the book, you are going to get the expert series completely free. The whole thing. I will be sending it to you. You’ll be getting an email shortly with all of the information about how you can access it.
And if you haven’t bought a book, it’s not too late. You can grab a copy of the book, and for the price of a book, you can have the entire expert series, which of course, includes all of the interviews I’ve mentioned and the one that I’ve just talked about with David Kessler.
I believe this is going to be an incredibly healing experience for so many people, and I cannot wait for you to see them. So, head on over to heartbreakseries.com, where you’ll be able to pre-order a copy of the book and sign up to the expert series while you’re there. I’ll see you there. Head over to heartbreakseries.com now and let’s do some healing together.