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The Daily Vulnerable by Chude Jideonwo: How to Handle a Breakup

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Till this day, I have PTSD over the word ‘resignation’. In fact, it’s so bad, that my breathe stopped for about a second now just as I typed that word. Yeah, it’s that bad.

These days I celebrate 100 percent employee retention, and team members coming to tell me when they are offered jobs. But this trauma comes from the days when people were leaving the company almost everyday.

And because it was so often, I learned to be very sad when people left. I would think of all the plans I had with them at the center of it, all the capacity I had built for the future, all the teaching and training and patience – an ex explained to me what the concept is “emotional labour”.

I learned to be civil and supportive, to send them off with goodwill and good faith, but it hurt still. It sometimes felt like I had been cheated.

Then it hit me, on the day when an ex team member came to me in tears explaining the turmoil that led to her leaving, the pressure from family, and how miserable she was where she now was. That’s when it hit me: wait, I had been processing this selfishly all along. Every human being is on a peculiar journey with its own contours. I had been so consumed by the unfairness done me, by the wasted emotional labour.

But this was not about me. This should never have been about me.

This was about her. This was about each of them, and their journeys through the world. All trying to find their way, even if they were making a mistake.

I have an aunty who left her kids one day, left everything behind, and just went away. She didn’t re-marry. Wasn’t wealthy. She just upped an left For more than a decade. None of us understood it. No one knew where she was. No one knew why she left. But we all felt bitter towards her. Who leaves her kids and just goes away? We all judged her.

It just occurred to me the other day: No one ever thought to ask her, even once: “Why did you leave?” “What happened?” “What became too much for you to bear?”

A mentee asked his mother this same question last year, and he shared with me in a haunting personal narrative.

“Why did you leave us mummy?”

“I am sorry,” she told him. “I was completely, completely shattered. Your father destroyed me. I had nothing to give anyone. You were better off with him, than with me.”

I have found myself breaking up – very sadly – with people once or twice. And every once in a while, you find the person who just can’t handle it. The one who stops talking to you, who ignores you at a party. It doesn’t matter if the break up was civil and respectful, and you were not caught doing anything wrong. The pain is too much. The “rejection” is taken very close to heart. I understand it now. It’s emotional labour. If a person had imagined a life with you, the rupture can, as we say, break one’s heart.

When you fire a person, however well intentioned, often the person enters survival mode. Nothing you say breaks through. The person feels rejected, taken apart, all alone. And the person suddenly looks at everything you did to them, with them – with another eye.

The same thing happens when you break up. The person wonders if your words were true. If it truly mattered. If they mattered to you. How could you break up with them if you truly loved them? They enter survival mode, they build walls to protect themselves, they lock you out. I have done that too in the past.

It’s understand. It’s legitimate. And it’s valid.

But valid doesn’t mean right. And valid certainly doesn’t mean proper, does it?

Sometimes when a person breaks up with you. Sometimes when a person says no. Sometime when a person moved on… it’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about their journey. It’s about them finding their way in the world, same as you. Making mistakes, losing their way, picking up their own pieces.

It’s natural for you to make it about yourself. It’s easy to tell yourself a story of hurt, and pain, and betrayal and the wickedness of others.

But it’s wise to know when making it about you (alone) just isn’t the wise thing to do.

Photo:© Igor Golubov Dreamstime.com

Jideonwo is a storyteller, using the research and evidence on human flourishing to inspire new narratives about politics, markets, faith, identity and society in Africa.He is a co-founder of RED, which he ran for 13 years before stepping down in December 2017. One of its companies, StateCraft Inc. handled communication for the Muhammadu Buhari campaign in 2015 and has worked in elections in Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

11 Comments

  1. Mo

    February 14, 2018 at 8:04 am

    Wow, This message was actually meant for me . Thank you Chude for sharing

  2. Tutu

    February 14, 2018 at 9:07 am

    Entrepreneurship is so hard! you’re building a winning team and then someone you have high hopes for just ups and leaves. Thank you for the reminder that it’s not about me, they are on a journey too. Sigh. So tell us how you managed to get 100% retention and your staff telling you when they get offers. What did you do different?

  3. Amara

    February 14, 2018 at 10:18 am

    Thank you very much for this.

  4. Asa

    February 14, 2018 at 11:00 am

    I disagree totally! “Sometimes when a person breaks up with you, it is about them” that’s fluff jare.

    How do you suddenly turn your back on someone you professed to love and expect the person to understand that it’s about you not about them? That’s taking maturity to extremely hurtful levels. If we promised to love each other and shared our best days as well as our body parts, if I spent months investing in us and building the foundations of a home, if I spent hours holding you in my heart, carrying your burden and planning to make your life easy, you CANNOT walk away and break up with me and expect me to understand that it’s about you. If we shared so much, you have to take the pains to explain to me exactly what is wrong with you that I missed in all the years of dating you. You have to tell me, what is so wrong with you that you cannot live with yourself when I have planned my life to live with you. You have to explain to me, what you mean when you say you love me but you have to be selfish.

    You may try to sugarcoat it. To explain that the love may have been real but you just couldn’t keep going at it but you would be lying. You would be trying to justify a bad situation. You are doubly wrong to seek a relationship with the one whose heart you have broken, if you would like them to understand why you left them, you should be able to understand when they don’t want to have anything to do with you again. If you have decided to stop loving for your sanity sake, accept to be cut off as well for the other person’s sanity sake. We all have legitimate rights to be selfish about our happiness, when you have made the decision to guard yours, don’t expect to be forgiven and welcome into the other person’s life on the terms that you have chosen.

    For romantic relationships, when you have called it quits for whatever reason you cannot explain, keep walking. Don’t deepen the hurt by demanding acceptance because you feel the other person should give it. Don’t be mean!

    • Mywifeisfiiiiiiiiiiine

      February 14, 2018 at 1:27 pm

      Please read through again

    • Diamond

      February 15, 2018 at 10:57 am

      I couldn’t agree more with you, Asa. It is even more annoying when I asked why the break up, and you refuse to talk or sugarcoat it with lies. Yet, you want to be friends. Oh, please!

  5. Jay Igweike

    February 14, 2018 at 11:23 am

    Thank you so much for this piece 🙂

  6. Bukkiebay

    February 14, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    You are right and he is also right. That is the problem with perspectives!

  7. whocares

    February 14, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    i don’t know if i like this or not. I agree to the extent that ultimately at some point breakups or not a person has to admit and accept responsibility for their actions.. even if they were the “wronged” one- lets take the classic “she/ he cheated on me, left me high and dry for someone else” example. I agree that after being angry etc, at some point you have to then say right- i knew, a part of me was aware that things weren’t working, a part of me knew overtly or covertly about xyz, but i did nothing. i wasn’t entirely happy and i wasn’t living my truth, but i chose to put my partner above myself and my needs and wasn’t truthful to and with myself- that’s the part you start to accept responsibility for your actions and forgive yourself for not being kinder or more loving to yourself or simply living your truth and that is where change starts to happen.
    Having said that, i don’t think it is for anyone to try to seek absolution after being the heart breaker with the “its not about you, its about me and my journey”. This is true in parts, but it is definitely about the other person too, they were involved in that journey with you as much as you were with them.. to what extent is what differs. I have broken up with people that i am thoroughly and genuinely sorry i hurt with my decisions, and they are angry etc. in as much as i have apologized, and tried to make it better. i let them feel what they feel because it is not for me to look for the person i hurt to understand why i made a decision that hurt them. I can only apologize and give you space to process. If they have reached a level of self actualization and growth enough to understand that they are not the victims they feel, my decision whilst hurtful to them wasn’t reached in a vaccum and they are ready to accept that fact, then fine. If they haven’t that’s ok too. It doesn’t mean i will let them make me feel forever guilty etc because I don’t suffer fools, but it means i respect them and their journey enough to not try to find absolution, or forgiveness or whatever from them until they are good and ready. Hopefully they reach a stage they are able to give all of the above and understand and grow and move on.. until then, it is not for anyone to tell anyone else how to handle their pain especially if you had a part in creating that pain!

  8. whocares

    February 14, 2018 at 1:42 pm

    also i don’t think i would equate a business relationship and breakup with a romantic one. they are NOWHERE near the same- practically, emotionally or mentally! I love my job but at the end of the day, if i find a better job that is more challenging, will build my career further- even if its less pay; i will serve that notice letter so fast the ink wont even dry on it before im at the bar celebrating my leaving do. loool With relationships, its not so clear cut.

  9. Physio Tinu

    February 14, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    “Emotional labour” interesting concept. Never thought about that perspective before. Thanks for letting me know.
    You’re right. As an entrepreneur you are building something with people at the core of it and when they walk away, you feel cheated. So you start to build walls to avoid the scarring in case it happens again. And the next staff you take on feels that barrier and then it can become a cycle.

    Emotional labour…hmmn interesting.

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