Dealing With a Breakup: How to Heal Properly and Love Yourself Again?
After a breakup, you’ll find yourself with three options.
The first is to spend all your time and effort trying to get back with your ex.
The second option is to pretend that nothing has happened and go on into the same path that led you into unsuccessful relationships.
The third option is to heal properly, examine what happened, and learn how to build a healthier life. Doing this will help you become a better person and find someone who is good for you and to you.
Even though the last option is the one that will assure sustained long-term happiness, most people choose the first, and when that doesn’t work, they go on with the second option.
Because they don’t know how to do the third and take charge of their lives.
In this article, you’re going to learn how to heal properly from your heartbreak and start loving yourself again.
Ready? Let’s get started!
It’s Not Just Your Heart That Breaks
Heartbreaks come in different forms, but today we’re going to explore romantic heartbreaks.
Romantic heartbreaks aren’t deemed as important by society as a divorce or the loss of a family member. They tend to be deprived of any recognition or support from those around them.
As a result, we start criticizing ourselves for hurting in the first place. We falsely believe that we should forget about it and carry on.
But studies tell us otherwise: heartbreaks can impact our brain and behavior in significant ways and regardless of our age.
Heartbreak affects us more than our emotions. It affects our brain and body functions in surprising ways.
Kross and his colleagues at the University of Michigan compared the brain scans, of physical pain and emotional pain of volunteers and what they saw was remarkable.
The exact same areas of the brain became activated when subjects relived their heartbreak as when they experienced a level of physical pain that was only a little below “unbearable.”
This makes it even more devastating. Not only are we in severe emotional pain, but also the effects can be severely debilitating on our brain and body functions.
Time alone can’t heal all wounds. If it did, no one would have unresolved grief that still upset him every now and then.
In fact, pain that is not faced will never go away. And if every time to have a loss you don’t face it, you’re going to end up with a heart full of unresolved grief. This is going to make each loss harder to cope with and prevent you from living up to your fullest potential.
With unresolved grieve, it’s hard to get close to people and trust them. Life becomes narrower and fear becomes greater.
This is why you need to allow yourself to grieve your loss properly.
But if you take the time to heal and learn the lessons you need to learn, you’ll be able to break the pattern and become able to love fully and give freely.
The Three Phases of Grieve
Grieve happens in phases: the first phase is shock or disbelief; the second one is a review and great emotion, and the final phase is acceptance.
These phases aren’t a straight line. People can go back and forth between them until one finally move to the last phase “acceptance.”
Phase One: Shock and Disbelief
In the beginning, a breakup might feel like a shock to you. You might find it hard to believe that this is really a loss.
You’re in pain but you want to suppress it and ignore it. Many people do that, but it’s healthier to simply recognize your loss and allow yourself to feel the pain of the loss.
Even when the breakup was for the best, you still had a loss. At the very least, you’ve lost the time and emotional and physical energy you put into the relationship. You’ve also lost the identity of the couple and maybe some mutual friends and your ex’s family members.
When the breakup is sudden, you find yourself in a state of shock. Your mind might go numb, and for a while, refuse to face the reality. This shock is a protective mechanism that keeps you from the pain of the overwhelming array of emotions.
While the effect should wear off by itself, it’s important to acknowledge the pain if you want to move out of the shock phase sooner and not remain stuck.
Phase Two: Review and Great Emotion
After the initial shock wears off, you find yourself left with great grieve along with a great array of emotions:
You feel devastated that the person you are in love with and who told you he loved you, says it’s over. Even if things weren’t going well and the breakup was expected, the loss is devastating. It’s even more devastating if you didn’t see it coming or your ex had been cheating on you or abusing you in some way.
A breakup might leave you overwhelmed by feelings. You feel mentally and physically incapacitated in some way. You doubt your ability to function and maybe even your sanity. You either have trouble sleeping, or you find yourself sleeping too much.
This is normal. It’s the grief’s way to call attention to itself. But it’s also the mind’s attempt to reorganize your life again.
Give yourself permission to feel confused. Take care of yourself during this time. Be extra cautious when driving. Make lists and keep a calendar. Recognize that your memory isn’t working properly, but don’t worry it’ll come back. In the meantime, write things down and stay as organized as you can.
Anger is an appropriate reaction after a breakup. But while feeling anger is okay, action on it is not. Own your anger, talk, and write about it but you should not lash out in anger. Remind yourself that, eventually, your anger will dissipate.
Unexpressed anger that people refuse to acknowledge, will manifest itself in other ways. People take it out on other people, become prone to bad moods, go through their day irritated, etc.
Below are some ways to help you manage your anger:
- Write a letter that you don’t send to the people you are angry with.
- Talk to a therapist
- Talk to a supportive friend. If you can’t think of a supportive friend who’s going to listen, try 7cups of tea it is an online service with thousands of volunteer listeners stepping up to lend a friendly ear.
- Breathe deeply
Guilt is a normal reaction to grieving. There will always be things you wish you said or didn’t say. Done or not done.
Guilt stems from the inability to accept what happened and falsely believing that you can go back and fix it. But guilt and blaming yourself for the breakup aren’t going to change anything. What happened has happened.
If things went wrong in the relationship, you need to accept it, learn from it, and move on.
Phase Three: Acceptance
Reaching this phase doesn’t mean you’ve moved on; it means you are ready to move on and find some peace. It’s about understanding what happened and accepting that it cannot be changed.
During this phase, you might start setting new priorities and values for yourself. You’re learning from your mistakes and learning more about yourself.
This is when people tend to make major changes (moving to another state, changing jobs, returning to school, etc) or become serious about their goals in life. They start enjoying life again without unresolved grief.
Understanding Emotions: 3 Truths About Emotions
- Emotions are an evolutionary protective mechanism.
- Emotions are just passing through.
- Emotions are great tools but don’t let them control you.
1. Emotions Are an Evolutionary Protective Mechanism
Emotions help protect you.
For example, when you touch fire and get burned, the fear of getting burned again helps you avoid that danger in the future.
Anger and the accompanying adrenaline could help you stand up for yourself.
The problem today is when emotions, such as fear or anger are triggered in situations that are not threatening, such as giving a presentation, receiving feedback at work, or being stuck in traffic.
2. Emotions Are Just Passing Through
The root of the word emotion is from the word emovere, which means e —out and movere—move.
No matter how bad or good you feel in the moment, your emotions will not last forever.
Emotions may come and go so quickly it’s hard to recognize yourself from minute to minute.
This means that when making decisions, you need to be aware of your emotions and how they can affect your decision.
If you feel angry, you probably need to wait until you calm down before you confront the other person.
If you feel excited, you may want to give purchasing an item a thought before you go and buy it.
3. Emotions Are Great Tools But Don’t Let Them Control You
Emotions help us navigate life. They help you understand what you —and others—really want and need.
But you need to be aware not to let them take charge and run your life.
Acknowledge and allow yourself to feel your emotions, but when making decisions, take into consideration your rationale reasoning.
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How to Move On From Heartbreak?
Unfortunately, when it comes to moving on, our “natural” responses are doing us more harm than good. Many people adopt behaviors and habits that are likely to deepen our emotional pain and delay our recovery.
Recovering from heartbreak takes time, but there are several techniques that will make that time shorter.
#1. Acknowledge Your Addiction to Love
One of the reasons that make people unable to move on and constantly reviving their old memory with their former lover, is their addiction to love.
This is of course is done in an indirect way. You might find yourself hurt and confused about how things turned this way. So what you do is keep going back to your memories in an attempt to find explanations.
Since you can’t get the joy of being with your ex, at least, you could get the satisfaction that comes from reviving the memories you shared with him.
You might even find yourself coming up with sophisticated excuses to contact that person whether face-to-face or electronically.
Many people would skip the excuses alltogether and simply indulge these powerful cravings. They might call and send texts, or hang out where they hope to run into their ex.
But the most common way people satisfy their craving for their ex is to stalk them from the comfort of their phones.
#2. Journal – Externalize Your Pain
Strength is facing your feelings and confronting the pain with compassion and curiosity, even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.
Grief is about letting your feelings and thoughts out. Journaling allows you to do that and keeps your thoughts organized allowing you to observe your feelings and thoughts and bring awareness to them.
It can also help you plan and set goals. It allows you to see where you’ve been, where you’re going, and where you want to go, make adjustments and figure out the next step to take.
#3. Be Wary of Cyberstalking
What makes cyberstalking so common is the ease with which we can satisfy our romantic cravings even when we don’t recognize them as such.
Whether it was through social media, Google searches, or personal blogs, cyberstalking can feel as real as having actual contact.
You need to realize that by cyberstalking someone, you’re playing with an old wound – or a fresh one.
If you want to avoid deepening your pain, you’ll have to eliminate your options to do so.
Try erasing your former lover’s contact information, blocking or deleting him from social media. Doing this will help you control your cravings and make it easier to prevent yourself from stalking them again.
#4. Get Closure
Without a proper closure, you might find yourself spending countless hours analyzing every conversation, convinced that something must have happened to cause the breakup, even when your ex already explained their reasons.
Despite the pain the breakup might have caused to you, you might even find yourself idealizing your former lover, believing that you won’t find someone as great as him.
Studies of romantic breakups have identified that one of the main factors that predict healthy emotional adjustment and timely psychological healing, is having certainty about why the breakup occurred.
Having a clear understanding of why the breakup happened helps us reach closure much sooner than we might otherwise.
This is why you need to simply accept your former lover’s reason, even if they don’t seem to you convincing enough. Doing this will help you avoid months of needless mental analysis and intense and prolonged emotional anguish.
#5. Don’t Assume That You Are to Blame
Assuming that you are somehow to blame for the breakup can delay your recovery and keep you stuck in debilitating feelings of loss.
These kinds of negative beliefs and inaccurate thoughts might make your grieving complicated and prevent you from resuming your life in a productive way.
Self-blame in itself isn’t responsible for delaying your recovery. In fact, it is quite common for us to blame ourselves and focus on our shortcomings when our heart is broken. The problem is how long we allow these feelings to linger. Some of us struggle to let go of guilt and regret.
The key to move on is to acknowledge these false beliefs and inaccurate thoughts and question them.
A rule of thumb to live by is that if two different objective people make the same point (e.g., that people find us needy), about something we resist, we should pause and give it strong consideration. It could be indicative that our resistance is being fueled by an underlying issue (e.g., we have low self-esteem)
#6. Avoid Idealizing Them
Our perceptions of the person who broke up with us can become distorted. Our “cravings” for them make us focus on their best qualities. We replay the wonderful moments we shared or daydream about those we would have shared.
At the same time, we don’t focus much, if at all, on their flaws, arguments, the times they treated us badly or made us feel terrible about ourselves.
The best way to avoid idealizing your former lover is to deliberately force a balanced image in your mind. Remind yourself of his flaws and the things you didn’t like about him, their different taste in books, sports, or entertainment, etc. The goal is not to hate him but to be able to see his flaws and those of the relationship and not focus exclusively on the good stuff.
Doing so will help you move on sooner and let go of your worries about never finding someone “as perfect” again.
#7. Create New Associations
In an attempt to spare ourselves pain in the short term and limit our emotional distress, we withdraw from people and activities that remind us of the person who broke our hearts.
However, your list of people and places that remind you of your loss can be long and significant, especially if the relationship has lasted for years.
Some of these people and places could be meaningful and important aspects of our lives and avoiding them can have a huge impact, like quitting workout because you associate the gym with your ex, or refusing to go to restaurants you had been to with your ex, which might cover a huge swath of your city, especially if you frequently dined out with him.
Although it might seem wise to avoid that which evokes pain, avoiding things does not lessen their emotional impact on you – it supersizes it.
Instead, create new associations and reclaim the people and places you once shared with the one who broke your heart. Try revising these places under different circumstances with different people.
Be careful not to reinforce your old associations. Avoid mentioning your ex at the brunch place with your friends.
#8. Let Go of Reminders
It’s understandable that when we lose someone we might hold on to the objects we associate with him because removing them feels like we’re forgoing an important aspect of our lives.
But holding on to vivid reminders can make your loss feel perpetually fresh and painful. Living with your ex’s things around you will prevent your emotional wounds from healing.
Some people prefer to dispose of all reminders as soon as possible and erase every trace of their exes and of their time with them. But this isn’t the healthiest option either.
Reminders represent our emotional attachment to the person who broke our hearts. As you move through your grief, this attachment should weaken and you should be willing to let go of the reminders and move on.
But if months later you find yourself keeping too many of them, it can be a sign that you feel stuck.
#9. Make a Decision to Move On
Healing starts in the mind.
There is a huge difference between wishing our emotional pain to stop and making a firm decision to make it stop.
To move on, you have to look in the mirror – metaphorically or perhaps literally – and tell yourself it’s time to let go.
That can be tough.
What makes letting go extremely difficult is that there is more than mere emotional pain to let go of.
You also need to let go of the psychological presence of the person in your daily thoughts – and your life. You need to let go of a part of yourself – the person you were when you were in love.
This is why you need to be ready to deal with the powerful cravings that might break your resolve.
Anticipate the excuses and justifications your mind would concoct to entice you back into your old habit and be ready to argue against them.
#10. Practice Self-Compassion
To heal and move on, you’ll have to be willing to let go of your self-criticism and adopt a new mental habit that will build your confidence – self-compassion.
Self-compassion requires you to develop a nonjudgmental inner voice that is going to respond to your suffering with kindness instead of self-blame.
Instead of criticizing yourself for your mistakes, recognize that your shortcomings are part of being human.
Numerous studies have proved that self-compassion helps increase self-esteem and confidence, lower depression and anxiety, and enhance emotional health.
Scientists also found that one way to cultivate self-compassion is to be compassionate toward others.
In one study, participants who wrote a comforting message to a heartbroken stranger experienced an increase in self-compassion when they regarded a negative incident from their past.
An excellent technique to practice self-compassion is to imagine yourself talking to a friend in distress.
Usually, people would try to comfort that friend and talk to him positively. Do the same for yourself.
#11. Increase Your Self-Esteem
No one can love us more than we love ourselves. Healthy relationships with others start with a healthy relationship with yourself. If your self-esteem is not high, especially after the breakup, you can still increase it.
A breakup can leave you, not just feeling lonely, but painfully aware of your shortcomings. Maybe you start thinking back on all the mistakes you’ve done, or maybe your ex started dating again and you’re comparing yourself to his new partner.
It’s time to change that with positive self-talk and affirmation:
Through self-talk, we control what we’re doing, saying, and feeling. But self-talk can be brutal at times. For example, when you forget something, you might tell yourself “I’m so stupid! How can I forget something like that?”
But the truth is, forgetting never means that you’re stupid. People forget things all the time. By changing to positive self-talk, your self-esteem will increase. You become more confident, happier and you start attracting healthy relationships.
The best way to start talking to yourself positively is to stop yourself when you’re tempted to say something negative and instead affirm yourself. So when you forget something, tell yourself “I’m smart!”
Affirmations are powerful tools – when they’re done correctly. They are the best way to change your self-image and challenge your negative deeply-held beliefs.
The subconscious mind is simple, takes statements literally, only knows the present, doesn’t understand negative phrasing, and responds well to visualization. This is why it’s important to choose your affirmations in a way that your subconscious mind will understand.
In other words, effective affirmations must be positive, present, personal, corrective, brief, and concise.
#12. Make a Gratitude List
This self-care tool is short, simple but very powerful. Many people report experiencing miracles after they started expressing gratitude.
Because you’re feeling down after your breakup, it’s hard to pay attention to how much you have in your life. This is why you need to start taking time each day to deliberately consider the good things you have. This will help you feel more positive and get you back into balance while you do the hard work of grieving.
#13. Recognize the New Voids and Fill them
If you want to heal and move on, you’ll need to put yourself first and nurture yourself while allowing your emotions to be felt.
You need to keep in mind that nature abhors a vacuum. If you lose something or someone, something else will come along to replace it. But this new thing might not be something you want. For example, when you succeed in breaking a back habit, unless you replace it with a good habit, you most likely will end up with another unhealthy habit.
This is why you need to exert some control over what replaces the things you lose. When you try to work out your hurt and anger, you need to replace it with positive thoughts and self-image.
#14. Hobbies and Interests
A breakup can leave a void in your life that, unless you deliberately fill it with something positive, might create a bad habit. Hobbies and interests are one great way to take control of your life and decide what to come into your life.
Remember: Nature abhors a vacuum, whatever comes out of your life will be replaced with something new.
You choose something soothing like coloring. Or something enjoyable like making a dried-flower arrangement. Or something more elaborate like learning to crochet. Or something that requires concentration like learning a new language or learning computer programming.
#15. Set Goals
Making changes and setting goals for yourself is an important part of moving on. This is the time to connect with who you are and what you want. This could be a major change like going back to school or changing jobs or something fun like traveling or learning a new skill.
To set goals you’re going to successfully achieve, they need to be aligned with your own values.
Share with a trusted friend, or a family member. Let them know you’d like to express your feelings and thoughts.
Sharing can be an emotional release and energetic relief.
If you can’t think of a supportive friend who’s going to listen, try 7cups of tea. It is an online service with thousands of volunteer listeners stepping up to lend a friendly ear.
#17. Take Care of Your Physical Health
You might feel low on energy during this time, but don’t let that come at the expense of taking care of your body.
* Eat right. Avoid binging on your comfort food. Avoid sugar and energy drinks. Eat healthy food and take vitamins.
* Get enough sleep. If you are sleeping too much, try to limit your sleeping hours each day. If you’re not sleeping well, try few techniques to help you sleep better like taking a bath before sleep, reading a novel, and putting down your phone an hour before sleep.
* Exercise. Physical activity helps you look your best, but also releases endorphins, which are “feel good” hormones.
#18. Adopt a routine
A morning routine or evening routine (or both), can boost your emotional and mental well-being. It helps calm the human nervous system, which partly explains why children become cranky when their routine – such as naptime or mealtime – are disrupted.
Make sure to include, in your routine, activities that will boost your mood and give you enough energy for the day, or help you distress at the end of the day.
When you hold a grudge, you’re giving away your power to the person you’re feeling angry toward.
Research shows that forgiving others helps improve, not only your mental health but also your physical health.
Some of the benefits of forgiving include; reducing your stress by lowering your blood pressure and heart rate, as well as increasing pain tolerance and increasing your life expectancy.
The intensity of your pain might frighten you, but remind yourself that it’s normal. You are grieving.
But the pain won’t last forever. You will not always feel this way.
For now, take it a day at a time, an hour at a time, and take care of yourself. Reassure yourself that you’ll heal eventually and move on.
When will I know that I’m emotionally ready to move on?
It is important to spend some time alone to heal your heart, but also reflect on the relationship and what could you learn and use in the future.
While there is no specific period of time you should wait before you are ready to move on, a good sign would be when you feel eager for a new relationship but not desperate or frightened and when you have gotten past much of your anger and are able to wish your ex well.
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Portions of this article were adapted from the book Getting Past Your Breakup, © May 2009 by Susan J. Elliott. All rights reserved.