Breaking up Mindfully 

by Daniel A. Linder, MFT 

Breaking up Mindfully is an outgrowth of The Relationship Model of Addiction (TRMA™). TRMA™ introduces a new paradigm for understanding addiction and recovery, one that shines a light on the emotional, psychological, and relationship aspects of addiction.   

TRMA™ defines addiction as a relationship with a means of relief from the pain of unmet emotional needs. The word, relationship implies an emotional involvement, investment or attachment. A means of relief of pain establishes the function of this relationship – to relieve pain - and the greater the pain is, the greater the need for relief will be. Unmet emotional needs refer to two basic human needs; (a) our need for love and (b) the need to relieve the pain when our emotional needs go unmet.   

TRMA™ views recovery as a three-stage transitional journey -- out of unhealthy relationships and into healthy, emotionally nourishing ones.  Stage I -- breaking-up with the means of relief is the first leg of the journey. Stage II is developing the relationship with one’s Self; and stage III is  creating emotionally nourishing relationships with others, also known as “relationship training” or “relationship building.” 

The three stages of recovery are sequential. Breaking up with the means of relief opens the space for a newly developing relationship – with one’s Self, which can fill the void left by the break up. You must get through stage I to crack open the door of stage II. This is where the relationship with one’s Self begins.  There is a natural bridge between stage II and stage III that extends from the relationship with one’s Self to relationships with others. Having a relationship with one’s Self is a pre-requisite to being able to make a deep and meaningful connection and to conceive a healthy, emotionally nourishing and intimate relationship. 

The word mindfully implies that you go through the process of “breaking up” (with the means of relief) consciously, with intention and action. An underlying premise here is that self-awareness – the act and practice of being consciously connected to your inner experience - is inherently empowering and ignites creativity and connectivity.  

To be clear, TRMA™ lumps all relationships with means of relief (whether with substances, activities like sex, porn, gambling, people, etc.) into categories of addictive, dependent or need-based relationships, and are therefore, unhealthy.  

Breaking up Mindfully takes you through a five-step process of breaking up the unhealthy relationship (with the means of relief), and the fifth and last step is, “good-bye.” By the end of stage I, after closing the door on the relationship with a means of relief, you’ll be saying, “hello” to your new best friend (stage II). This begins the relationship with one’s Self, the most important relationship of all. 

Step I:  Recognition

As is the case with any unhealthy relationship (with a means of relief), you must “break up” in order for you to have a shred of hope of turning your life around and having healthier, more nourishing relationships.    

Recognition is about seeing the relationship for what it is – a bad one or one that is harmful to your overall health and wellbeing, as well as understanding what makes it bad or harmful. It’s when you begin seeing all the ways in which the relationship is bringing you down that you naturally become more motivated to “break up.” You realize more clearly than ever the kind of relationships you no longer want in your life, which opens the space to begin exploring how you want your relationships to be.  

Recognition is how you learn about the underlying driving forces of this relationship.   

  • You were in a great deal of pain from unmet needs and were starving emotionally, and on some level, the relationship served as an relief valve that made you feel better.  
  • Despite deriving no real nourishment from this relationship, you remained highly invested and attached or “all in,” awhile remaining blind to how consumed you’ve become in this relationship. Perceptual distortion, otherwise known as denial operates under the radar. You had no idea that you’d lost objectivity, your judgment was impaired and that it became impossible to assess the progressive impact and intangible effects of being in this relationship. As you move out of this relationship, you will see that you are upholding some kind of rationale or illusion that justifies or legitimizes it.   
  • You were driven by desperation to relieve pain from unmet emotional needs and that desperation compromises your objectivity and decision-making abilities, while also getting in the way of making deep intimate connections. When desperation is looming and you are gasping for air, you’re not going to have the conscious emotional and energetic presence that is necessary to connect with others. 
  • (Unconscious) objectification occurs, that is, you are relating (to another person) as if they served solely as a “means” relied upon for relief. Your discriminating capacity ceased its operation. If you’re starving, you’ll eat indiscriminately, and remain oblivious to the nutritional value of what you’re consuming.    
  • Your life revolved around this relationship, and you lost track of what matters most to you. You become isolated and removed from life and relationships.  

Step II:  Connecting Your Pain with a Relationship that Provides Relief   

TRMA™ was founded on the principle that there are two basic human needs: the need for love and the need to relieve pain. When our relationships provide an ample supply of nourishment, our need for love gets met and our lives and relationships flourish. We will be fed and we will grow. We will feel more creative, connected and alive. “The quality of our relationships is the quality of our lives.”  

However, when our need for love is not met, we experience pain, and depending on the level of this pain, the stronger the need for relief will be. Our lives will revolve around looking for and finding a means of relief. This makes us feel better and removes the pain from our conscious experience. It depends on how much pain we are in and how desperate we are for relief, while remaining unconscious of our pain and need to relieve that pain, as well as the underlying desperation. 

 Connecting your pain with a relationship that provides relief is the next step in the process of “breaking up.” By going back to what was going on emotionally at the time the relationship took hold, you will likely be able to make the connection between the pain from unmet emotional needs and the relationship with a means of relief that served primarily to relieve that pain. The more pain you were in at the time, the more involved or dependent you became.  

Shining a light on what lies in darkness can be revelatory. When you actually register the connection between your pain and the relationship that served to relieve it, you understand in a way you never did before why you got involved in the relationship in the first place and why you’ve been hanging onto it for dear life. 

Pain has the most power when it is buried in your unconscious. Making pain conscious has a diffusing effect. When your blinders come off, you can for the first time acknowledge the presence of pain without expending more energy to keep it out of your consciousness. You have to confront the feelings, come to terms with them, and allow them to be there.  

You will discover an array of options that are at your disposal and you can decide on the best course of action for yourself. You will also begin to see yourself differently, appreciate all that you’ve been through in life, and will feel more gratitude. You will get to see the contrast between the past and present: “That was then. That was me then.” This is in contrast to the emerging Self in the present moment: “This is now. This is me now.” 

The implication is that as the level of pain lessons, you become more conscious of your need for love and connection. When you do, you will seek relationships in which your needs are met. Love is what we are ultimately after. However, the need for relief from pain often trumps our need for love.   

Step III:  Good-bye 

Saying goodbye is the verbal affirmation that you are officially “breaking up.” It’s a curtain call, your bid adieu. When you are at the point of considering “breaking up,” or you have decided to move in that direction, whether to yourself or the ”other,” a shift occurs from hanging on to wanting out and actually letting go.   

Saying goodbye creates some space and separation that allows you to see the relationship from a more objective vantage point at which you are no longer blinded by your unconscious investment in its preservation. Again, seeing the relationship for what it is often sparks the motivation start divesting emotionally and walk away. Before you were ready to say, goodbye, there was no room for another primary relationship,    

The word “goodbye” implies action or communication, (e.g., pulling back, disengaging, re-directing, or saying, “We’re done. I’m out.”) You’ve made a decision to leave the relationship, let go and walk away proactively.   

Consider a journal type exercise to accelerate the break up process. Write a Goodbye Letter to the substance, activity or person you were involved with and include your rationale, challenges and rewards. You are saying “Goodbye” to what you no longer want while identifying what it is you are ultimately after. 

Step IV:  Withdrawal

In any addictive, dependent, or need-based relationship, it’s not possible to pull back, disengage or take any action step toward “breaking up” without there being an emotional fallout. There are no free rides. You’re not going to “break up” a relationship of this magnitude without at least a modicum of pain, which is known as emotional withdrawal. The severity of emotional withdrawal is relative to the extent to the strength of the dependency as well as the duration of the relationship.   

The process of weaning yourself out of an addiction can often be devastatingly difficult. There is going to be a huge void that must be crossed. At some point it will hit you that you are all alone in the face of an overwhelming reality and torrents of emotion, with nothing to fall back on. Your desperate calls for an infusion of guidance and courage from above will go unanswered.   

Conscious aloneness is always an adjustment, but it’s more difficult when “breaking up.” You will doubt your ability to live and cope on your own two feet often come bubbling up. Sometimes the only thing that keeps you going is blind faith and trust in the process, and the idea that you’ll land on your feet. Perhaps a spiritual confidence will eventually pay off, but you have no idea at the time how close you are to making the hugest discovery of your life… your Self. 

Step V:  Discovery  

“Breaking up” marks the end of a ‘bad’ relationship and the beginning of a new one - with one’s Self, which is the most important relationship of all. You will discover in your Self a treasure trove of rich and abundant resources that you never utilized because you were never aware of their presence.  As you continue developing the relationship with your Self, you will awaken to what matters most in your life and relationships–love, connection and intimacy. You will no longer be driven by the need for relief.  

Recovery is a natural progression. You must “break up” before you can begin developing the relationship with your Self. It’s only when you are of and in tune with yourself that you are able to get your needs met-to love and be loved.  

Breaking up Mindfully is intended to be a road map that takes you out of your dependency or need-based relationship and leads you to stage II,  where you discover your Self. The ultimate goal is to replace one primary, unhealthy, non-emotionally nourishing relationship with another primary, healthy and emotionally nourishing one.  

You’ll have the best chance of getting through this five-step process if you prepare yourself before you start. It’s up to you to understand what it is you are doing and why you are doing it. Getting acquainted with TRMA™ and its theoretical framework will help you prepare. You must also be fully committed and engaged in the process the whole time. Keep going until you get there, and you will get there. I ended two relationships with a means of relief in my life (pornography and gambling). If I can do it, I know you can do it. Anyone can. It just takes time, focus and fire in your belly. Remember to keep a therapy journal to document your travels.  

As a relationship-based therapist, I find that there is a running theme in all of the work that I do, which includes addiction and recovery with individuals, couples and families. My work is always about developing the relationship with Self. Self is your higher power, your highest power, your guiding light and home. It is the key to a fulfilling life, deeper connections and emotionally nourishing relationships.  

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About Daniel Linder, MFT

Daniel Linder

Relationships. I was born with a keen sense about relationships, was always assessing how close and intimate people are with each other. I had a knack for relationships. The importance of relationships cuts to the core of who I am. The combination of clinical training, 25 years of professional experience treating dysfunctional, non-intimate couples and families, as well as rigorous self analysis has given me a lot to work with. I put what seemed to come naturally to me under a microscope in an effort to break the process of building healthy relationships down to concrete essentials: Understanding of Basic Principles, Communication Skills, Self-realization and Intimacy.

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