The Mysteries of the Broken Heart

The heart broken in love opens like an archaeological dig into the past. The velocity of the fracturing draws you down, down, down through layers of feelings, strategies and beliefs that have been protecting your heart from a primeval pain.

The grief and longing of betrayed love come not from this particular loss alone, but from events much further back—from infancy and childhood, from our lineage, from the collective experiences of humanity, and perhaps beyond, from lifetimes or dimensions we can hardly comprehend.

Sitting with my distress after my partner left me exposed this terrifying ancient injury, a wound recoiled quietly inside, stirred alive by the abandonment. I viscerally began to understand how our earliest relational traumas form the bedrock of our lives. How abandonment may be our deepest fear and earliest wound. And how touching into that wound can open the heart of compassion.

Facing the “Primal Agonies” with Heart

British psychoanalytic D.W. Winnicott called this early pain the “primal agonies” that underlie our surface personalities. Any time we come close to this underground angst, we naturally recoil, as if a raw nerve had been hit by a dentist’s drill without Novocain. Until we are shattered, or deeply loved, we are likely unaware of this underlying suffering. Our defenses grew to protect against it. All kinds of addictions, distractions, illnesses, and preoccupations normally keep us from these feelings.

Betrayed trust touches this infantile core like little else in life. In the regressed state betrayal trauma brings, we may feel like strangers to ourselves. Yet, if we are alert, we can recognize the panic we felt as an infant when mother inevitably was not there when we needed her.

Until something forces us to face this early pain, we barely comprehend the degree of sheer terror we experienced as a dependent infant when we had no capacity to grasp that a frustrated need does not necessarily threaten our existence. Nor, do we realize how much our lives are organized to not feel these unbearable feelings.

Grace Enters through the Brokenness

What is the point of feeling this suffering now—when it just feels wrong, and we want more than anything for the pain to end? As despairing as I felt, in the darkest times, I also sensed a tenderness for and communion with others who were suffering as I was. I was part of a community.  I was crying the cry of all children who feel abandoned and alone.

As I touched into the grief, in response I sensed something extraordinary and deep moving through me. In that community of tears, I found a tiny seed of grace that opened onto an ocean of tenderness.  In those moments, despite the heartache, with every breath, I felt exquisitely held and loved. The shock revealed not only the ancient pain that held me back from a richer life, but it awakened powerful forces of grace and compassion in my soul.

We need to bring kindness and patience to the despair of losing the one we loved and trusted—partner, mother, friend, or God. The holy mysteries of betrayed trust emerge from the center of the broken heart held in gentleness. Our very brokenness and vulnerability call forth the healing angels of the soul. Through the anguished cracks in the broken heart, from our earliest pains, entirely unexpectedly, they come.