Before you call blasphemy, hear this one out. Michael J. Russer makes a case for the revolutionary idea that there’s no such things as a broken heart.
—See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World—
A young female friend of mine who is helping me with one of my book projects came to me for some relationship advice. She told me she was scared to tell her boyfriend how she really felt about him—to open up and be authentic and vulnerable.
“What are you afraid of happening if you tell him how you really feel?” I asked her.
“Maybe he doesn’t feel the same way.”
“What would happen if he didn’t?”
“I’d be so hurt. Devastated.”
Who hasn’t been in this precarious position: afraid to share the depth of our feelings or desires with a special someone, for fear of rejection or of not being met with the same depth? The subtext is usually some variation on the theme of not wanting to have our hearts broken.
Brokenhearted: this is the cultural vernacular that sums up all the exhilarating drama and devastation of relationships ending. Sometimes, the fear of a broken heart prevents us from even beginning the relationships that might bring us the greatest joy we’ve ever known!
Consider this possibility. What if there were really no such thing as a “broken heart?” What if it were a myth—and what if the thing that actually does get broken in these situations is the ego?
The ego is just a construct that was created in an attempt to understand the workings of the human psyche. It is a relative newcomer into human awareness, having been defined early in the 20th century by a very bright fellow who was not exactly a paragon of emotional intelligence (Sigmund Freud).
Although it can certainly hurt to have one’s ego broken, that experience does not have to do any permanent harm. Seeing the end of a relationship as a matter of a broken ego—not a broken heart—helps us fear authenticity less and to be less likely to hesitate when entering new relationships.
So I asked my friend, “If your boyfriend didn’t return your feelings, what would be hurt and devastated —your ego…or your heart?”
“Huh?” she replied after a confused pause.
“What if the true essence of who you are, your heart, cannot be hurt or broken? What if it is your ego that experiences all the pain and suffering? Within this context, the worst that could happen is that he trashes your ego, but he cannot, in any way, hurt your heart.”
She considered this.“You mean if my ego gets trashed, I should just shut my heart down?”
Not a surprising question, considering our culture’s habit of shutting down to avoid intense emotions.
“Quite the opposite,” I answered. “Should he not reciprocate, imagine quietly observing the devastation of your ego from the perspective of your very big, beautiful, and fully open heart. Think of it as an out-of-body experience, as though you were watching serenely as your body, which you suddenly realize is not who you really are, being mangled in a slow-motion car crash.”
“I never thought of it this way before,” she said.
“The essence of who you really are, your heart, is not part of the crash and can’t be hurt, yet it is fully alive and available. It merely observes the drama unfolding. Imagine seeing it that way if he doesn’t reciprocate your feelings. Does it change anything?”
“I guess I’m not so afraid anymore,” she answered.
The next day, my friend reported to me that this one simple distinction completely transformed how she saw her relationship. It freed her up to be fully authentic with her boyfriend. She became a big fan of my intimacy coaching work as a result of the immediate impact this simple shift of context provided for her.
A few weeks ago, I had a chance to experience this empowering shift of perspective for myself. For a few days, I thought the relationship with the love of my life was ending. I adore this woman, and my relationship with her has been instrumental in the launch of my career helping men, women, and couples achieve extraordinary intimacy. My ego was terrified. My state of shock registered prominently in the white pallor of my face. I was dealing with issues of abandonment, loss, and even hopelessness.
Yet, despite all that, I was able to fully accept the possibility that the relationship was ending, from the perspective of the quiet, detached, heart-based observer. In so doing, I was genuinely able to feel and know that my heart would always love her without reservation, whether we stayed together or not. That my heart was ready, willing, and able to let her go, if that was what was needed. At that level, I was at peace. My ego kept on having major anxiety attacks past the point of this realization, but they eventually quieted down, too, as it reluctantly surrendered to my heart.
In my experience, the heart loves unconditionally, is never needy, and can never be hurt or broken. The ego is always seeking reciprocation to fuel its sense of false identity; it is extremely vulnerable to anything that threatens its sense of self-importance. As relationships come and go, the heart is constant and unwavering. The ego is on an endless rollercoaster ride where thrill and terror are just two sides of the same coin.
At this point you might be thinking, “This is all bullshit!” Is any of this true? Is it true that the heart is the essence of who we are, and that the only thing in life that can be hurt (emotionally speaking) is the ego?
This different perspective is just a context or lens through which to see the world of significant relationships. This new context is no more or less true than the traditional perspective of brokenheartedness—also a context.
Now: ask yourself which context empowers you to love fully without reservation and handle any relationship upset? Which context frees you to explore new relationships fearlessly, and which one enslaves you to the less-than-lofty goal of avoiding pain?
If you want to gain this empowering context, all you have to do is choose it.
All human beings have the power to do that, just as my friend did. Be ready for your ego to put up a huge fight, though, because it will find this new perspective to be extremely threatening. It will try to convince you that this is all crap.
My hope is that your heart will win this argument.
This article was originally published with the Good Men Project; republished with the author’s full (and kindest) permission.