It is possible to affirm that there are some characteristics that are constant and general of emotional and psychic states characteristic of moments of separation, particularly painful and difficult to overcome, even though each individual is unique and each life experience is never repeated in its specificity. The pain of separation is often felt physically.
Chest pain and the feeling of heaviness, suffocation and shortness of breath are common (Maldonado, 1995).
Caruso (1981) states that studying separation in love means studying the presence of death in life. Referring to the French saying to parte c’est mourrir un peu (to leave is to die a little), Caruso (1981, p.12) states that, in separation, there is a reciprocal death sentence: “the other dies in life within me and I also die in the conscience of the other”.
Each separation has a history and, almost always, causes an emotional shock that, according to Giusti (1987), on the scale of causes of stress, comes immediately after the death of a relative or the shock of being arrested, and which can be considered equivalent trauma caused by the loss of the only source of livelihood. When the relationship breaks down, the work needed to restore emotional and existential balance requires an expenditure of psychic energy, and this expenditure often causes physical and nervous deterioration, as occurs during severe grief.
In addition, inability to work effectively, poor health, changes in weight, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, and other sleep disorders are also frequent (Carter & Mcgoldrick, 1995).
According to Freud (1974), deep mourning, as a reaction to the loss of someone you love, can be summarized as a painful state of mind, in the cessation of interest in the external world, in the loss of the ability to adopt a new object of love ( which means to replace it) and to withdraw from any and all activities that are not linked to thoughts about it. The grieving individual often experiences a desire to make amends for the loss and destroy the object that has been internalized as “good” (Baker, 2001). It is impossible to predict how long the “great period” will last, just as it is difficult to determine when it actually begins (Giusti, 1987). According to Féres-Carneiro (1998), the time of elaboration of mourning for separation may be longer than that of mourning for death.
As the separation constitutes the so desired solution to a problem that could not be solved otherwise, it should, then, be experienced as a feeling of relief, but the post-separation emotional mobilization, as perceived by Maldonado (1995 ), is intense, as the person is faced with fear, uncertainty, insecurity, which characterize the change of important aspects of oneself. Irrational, illogical and impulsive attitudes are common.
Separation is not only the end of a material union, but also the breaking of bonds, emotional, sexual and affective ties, created, according to Giusti (1987), both by love and hate, by fights and reconciliations. Depending on who is responsible for ending the relationship, different types of pain are felt. Although it is considered bad for both, the one who is perceived as left usually suffers the most. Not because the separation does not hurt the person who ended it, but, according to Colasanti (1986), because the latter, in order to alleviate their pain, is stimulated by the impulse that led them to act and the sense of renewal. For those who want to separate, what predominates, initially, is relief, sometimes euphoria, at being freed from the weight and tension of the unhappy situation. The sense of relief cushions the impact. There is the novelty, the changes, the passage from a known past to an unpredictable future. Then there is usually guilt and sadness. There come, with all force, the good moments, broken dreams, the sadness for what could have been, but wasn’t, for what it was not possible to keep.
The feelings of hate and coldness, at these times, arise to soften or neutralize the feelings of grief and guilt, which perhaps hurt much more. Just thinking about bad things with anger numbs the pain of regretting what didn’t work. Amidst the hatred, resentment, and pain, comes the tendency to denigrate, defame, and demean the former partner to convince himself that he hasn’t lost much. If, in the eyes of the person, the other becomes despicable, it will be easier to finish. Defects stand out, qualities take a back seat in the effort to feel the losses less or not to regret the decision to separate (Maldonado, 1995). The longer and more intimate the union, the more desolate the moment of separation is likely to be, even if the intimacy was the product of suffering, misunderstandings and offenses (Giusti, 1987).
Faced with the perception that the other’s decision is irreversible, depression usually occurs, almost always accompanied by feelings of self-depreciation, self-pity, low self-esteem. The stages mix, mainly depression with self-devaluation and anger with the attack on the partner, revenge and hostility (Maldonado, 1995; Mearns, 1991). Depreciation of the loved person, according to Klein and Rivière (1975), can be a useful mechanism with wide application that allows us to withstand disappointment without becoming wild. A certain degree of belittling of any person or thing dear one has given up is probably unavoidable, even if it amounts to little more than the discovery of the fact that the person or thing desired has been overly idealized.
It’s hard not to think about our former partner’s life and current feelings: if he misses us, if he needs us, or if he’s rebuilding his own life. The possible new relationships of the partner can trigger jealousy, even in those who have never felt it. “It is possible that an individual wishes to be – or even, at the level of fantasy, feel – committed to a loved one without the reciprocal being true, and in this case, the interference of a rival can generate jealousy, presenting the same characteristics of a real triangular situation” (Ramos, 2000, p. 32).
Jealousy and a sense of ownership emerge especially when all rights are lost: if we previously had “the exclusive right to love” over a person, when he ceases to exist, a deep sense of frustration and powerlessness arises. Sometimes it happens that, after separation, while the desire to possess and control the other is sharpened, all motivation to live is lost and the painful sensation of being adrift is experienced (Giusti, 1987 ). For Wilson (2000), the end of a romance, even the first one, can trigger a lifetime depression, especially in people who have a predetermined vulnerability to romantic vicissitudes and to become depressed during such difficult periods.
There are people who protect themselves from the emotional impact of separation by defending “total affective anesthesia” (Maldonado, 1995, p.122): “I’m so strange, I can’t feel either joy or sadness”. There are those who isolate themselves, preferring to be alone or in contact with few people in order to feel a sense of peace and relief. Vilhena (1991), referring to separation, emphasizes the issue of the subjects’ “ability to be alone” and distinguishes different forms of loneliness.
Loneliness can represent a possibility of staying with oneself or an inability to tolerate the other’s indifference, manifesting itself both in voluntary isolation and in the compulsive search for companionship. Little by little, however, the emotions that keep us unable to react are being re-elaborated and lived in a more direct and less disruptive way. “We are individuals repressed by the forbidden and the impossible, who seek to adapt to their extremely imperfect relationships. We live by losing and abandoning, and giving up. And, sooner or later, with greater or lesser suffering, we all understand that loss is, without a doubt, a permanent condition of human life” (Viorst, 1988, p. 243).
68 people were surveyed, 31 women and 37 men, aged between 17 and 44 years old, with an average age of 21 years old, during the months of June and September 2002. As a prerequisite for participating in the research, it was necessary that the subject had already experienced an end of love relationship.
Material and procedure
A scale of attitudes entitled Predominant Feelings After the End of Love Relationships (Appendix 1) was built, containing 7 questions to characterize the participants and the end of the love relationship and 37 affirmatives, 8 of which related to positive attitudes and the remaining 29 related to attitudes negative. According to Cruz (2002) and Medeiros (1999), the attitudinal measure aims to reveal relatively stable and typical general provisions for perceiving facts, people or objects and reacting to them, in a posture that reveals beliefs and values.
Feelings related to well-being and improvement in the person’s general condition were considered positive, and feelings related to unhappiness and malaise were considered negative. The affirmatives were answered objectively, marking one of the five answers referring to the degree of intensity – never, little, moderately, frequently, extremely – of the attitude scale. For each scale proposition, a value between 0 and 4 was assigned, according to the intensity of the feeling experienced by the person.
First, a Likert-type pre-test was carried out (Baquero, 1968), with 40 statements built from the assessment of the attributes of the phenomenon investigated. This preliminary version was submitted to 10 subjects, and later underwent changes aimed at better measuring the results and avoiding ambiguity in the interpretation of the questions.
The scale was applied to university students and professionals in the city of Florianópolis, taking care to ensure that people responded individually and were not identified.