The Liminal Space Between Heartbreak And Healing: 7 Steps To Get Out Of Emotional Limbo
A liminal space is a transitional space, a threshold between two different states.
A liminal space is a transitional or transformative space — a state between two clearly defined boundaries. The word liminal is derived from the Latin word limens which means “threshold.” When you are in a liminal space, you’re floating in between, in an ambiguous purgatory of sorts. You are neither here nor there, you just are. You might be hanging in between two different decisions, or two different identities. You may be en route to a new life path but still have a foothold in your old one.
Psychologically, liminal spaces often occur after the ending of a significant relationship or a loss of some kind. Heartbreak comes in many forms — the ending of a romantic relationship, a friendship, a partnership, or even the abrupt end to the existence of a loved one. Yet your psyche is still reeling. It is still in purgatory. It is still caught in self-doubt, terror, grief.
This is the numbness you feel right after a breakup. It’s the frozen terror you feel when you receive bad news. It’s the shock that hasn’t worn off a tragedy. The liminal space is the unprocessed aftermath of trauma. It is emotional limbo. It’s the pause between pain and progress, between epiphany and evolution.
It demands some sort of movement, yet to move forward feels achingly wrong. To be in this sort of transitional space can potentially be transformative, if you know how to make use of your journey before you step over the threshold.
Here are seven steps to make the most out of this liminal space and prepare yourself for transformative growth:
There’s no way around it. You cannot heal without grieving. Cry if you need to. Rage if you want to (safely and non-destructively). Breathe through the pain. Give yourself permission to question everything. Forget what you’re “supposed” to feel. Just feel. Acknowledge that this is a loss, even if you want to feel like it is anything but.
Validate your emotions, even if they are mixed. You have every right to all of them. The more you allow yourself to grieve, the more you permit yourself to be vulnerable, the more cathartic this process can be. Your heart will break wide open, yes, but in its brokenness is where the light can enter.
2. Be self-compassionate.
Curb the urge to blame yourself, especially for the things that are not your fault. Avoid triggers that might escalate your emotional state. Speak to yourself gently as if you were someone you dearly loved. If you are in limbo, let yourself be in limbo. Accept wherever it is you are right now and accept that this is okay.
3. Pay attention to your body and restore your physical state.
When we’re in a psychological liminal space, we tend to lose awareness of our body. We may even dissociate. Get reconnected to your surroundings and your physical state. Have you eaten? Have you slept? How tired are you feeling? What small thing right now could you do physically that would help to soothe you?
4. Process what’s happened with a validating person or group of people.
Reach out to someone (or a group) who is validating and supportive — someone who will provide a nonjudgmental listening ear. Processing what has happened often means telling our story, again and again. But it’s helpful to do so with someone who genuinely cares — such as a trusted friend or a counselor.
Explain what you’ve been through. It doesn’t matter if you repeat yourself or go into a lengthy monologue — just know that you deserve to have your story heard. You deserve to be listened to. You deserve caring feedback and validation. You deserve to have your pain acknowledged.
5. Take small, proactive steps back to your sense of agency.
When we’re stuck in emotional limbo, we often feel paralyzed and helpless. It’s helpful to know that we’re not alone and that there are ways of moving forward, even if it’s just in baby steps. What can you do right now that would help you reclaim your sense of power? Who can you reach out to? What decisions, no matter how tiny, can you make that would help remind you of how much agency you do have?
6. Practice radical self-care.
Think of the liminal space as an emergency — one in which you need to pull out your psychological first-aid kit. What self-care tools do you have at your disposal? Can you take a walk outside in nature, attend a yoga class, do a meditation, or even just take a restorative nap? Can you watch something funny or write to express your feelings? Do anything and everything possible to regain a sense of emotional balance.
7. Step over.
Once you’ve gotten hold of a support system, engaged in self-care and begun the healing journey, there will come a time when it is time to step over the threshold and onto your new life. Even if you don’t feel quite ready, have the courage to embody your new state. Have the bravery to step forward, even if you have to crawl out of purgatory and into resurrection.
Consider this a rebirth. The loss may still sting from time to time, but you will have gained so much for being willing to transform — and for having the courage to heal.
Shahida Arabi is the author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and the poetry book She Who Destroys the Light.