Breaking up suuucks. Even if the relationship was bad, even if you saw it coming a mile away, even if you know it's the right thing, it hurts. In the psychotherapy world, we see this stinging truth over and over again: each ending brings up every ending, meaning that when humans experience heartbreak, there is often a depth of emotion that opens up — both about the current loss as well as other "unrelated" losses from the past. Grief often has this kind of cumulative effect, at least for a while. Here are a few ideas to carry with you as you move through some really tough stuff.
- Be gentle with yourself.
Remind yourself that the staggering pain that comes with breaking up is universal and normal and that you are not crazy (even if the process is sometimes crazy-making).
- Remember that you are not "overreacting" and that your pain is valid.
There is a ton of recent research out there confirming that heartbreak actually physically hurts and that breaking up can cause feelings of loss, obsession, and withdrawal not unlike the effects of drug addiction. You will get through this, but anyone who's in your ear saying, "Just get over it," "There are other fish in the sea," etc., is probably missing just how intense this type of transition can be.
- Give yourself a grace period for freaking out.
You get one week for drinking and Quentin Tarantino-level revenge strategy. Go ahead, if you want to: drink six cocktails at a time and craft artisanal dartboards out of you ex's left-behind t-shirts. One week. Not because there's anything wrong with these activities, but because in the long term, they won't make you feel much better. (Unless you can find a slice of Etsy for monetising those dartboards! In which case, let me know, because these decade-old "love letters" are not going to burn themselves!)
- Try a social media detox.
Work on distinguishing between true self-care and compulsive gratification that actually makes you feel worse. For example: bubble baths are a self-love cliché for a reason, and please don't underestimate the power of Pixar! Conversely, it is practically scientifically proven that prowling her Snapchat will make you feel like a microwaved, and perhaps furious, turd.
- Acknowledge that breakups cause real grief.
You are likely going through your own grief process and it's not necessarily going to be linear. Just know that it is normal for you to feel a lot, and for a while.
- Make space for your sadness.
If that one slicing-onions song comes on the radio smack in the middle of your commute, CRY. Squashing or shaming your feelings is a great way to a) postpone the inevitable and b) "should all over yourself" when all you really need is some self-compassion and some Kleenex.
- Do what you know feels good, even if it doesn't feel good yet.
This is easier said than done, as one of the tell-tale features of depression often comes up in the loss process: anhedonia. Basically, this is the experience of a lack of pleasure while doing things you previously/normally enjoyed. I am not saying that you should ignore your physical or emotional cues — if you're not feeling it and recharging through hibernation feels right, then yes to that! But if you know that a good book in the sunshine fills you up, trust that it's worth at least stepping out onto your front stoop to check it out. Not for the sake of faux silver-lining anything, or faking it till you make it, but entertaining the possibility for moments of relief and contentment even in a season of deep ouch.
- Talk it out, but not with your ex. It may be time to bring in a professional.
If you're a verbal-emotional processor, find someone you can obsessively vent with. Hopefully you have several great peeps in your corner, but not everyone is cut out for this task. One quick tip: find a good listener who is not inclined to fix or problem solve, and bonus points if they're also someone who can find humour in the dark stuff! Additionally: getting counselling or support from a professional is pretty much always a good idea.
- Learn from it.
When you feel ready, you may want to get into some of the great resources out there — from emotional intelligence info to tried and true research on relationships — not from a place of regret or self-punishment, and certainly not to rehash every twisty moment, but to ground yourself with more know-how moving forward.
- Take your own advice.
I recognise the irony in writing this, but for real: when it comes to heartbreak, eeeeeveryone thinks they're an expert. Feel free to remind those close to you that you'd probably benefit most from general emotional support rather than anyone else's agenda about what's "best for you." Trust yourself. You know what you need.