How to (really) get over a break up
If you’re reading this you are likely in the throes of grief and struggling to move on from an ex. Perhaps they’re always on your mind. Perhaps your days are clouded by their absence. Maybe you can’t stop yourself from scrolling through their social media, or messaging them. Possibly you still dissolve into tears. Maybe you are still trying to punish them. Being rejected and the ensuing heartbreak can sometimes feel absolutely unbearable.
But it’s ok.
You’ll take it step by step, day by day. And you’ll come out the other side. Here’s how:
Why is this so fricking hard?!
There are multiple reasons why this feels like the end of everything.
You’re grieving the future. AND the life you planned together. You’re grieving the loss of a best friend and companion. The loss of your routine. The loss of security. You’re having trouble accepting the finality of it all. You’re even grieving the version of the person you thought you’d grow into with them.
You’re experiencing physiological shock. The emotional shock from a breakup causes acute stress, fear and anxiety (thanks to the stress hormones norepinephrine and cortisol being released). This causes symptoms such as having trouble sleeping, digestive issues, headaches and more. In fact it’s been shown that when we’re going through a heartbreak it activates the same regions of the brain that are responsible for processing physical pain.
You’re going through withdrawal. Without the oxytocin hits from our exes, our brains can experience a withdrawal effect similar to people who are going through drug withdrawal. No wonder we feel it emotionally and physiologically.
You think you’re an unloveable – a failure. It’s easy to think that being rejected means you meant nothing. That your ex’s decision means your entire relationship was worthless to them. This is a powerfully destructive story we tell ourselves, and we end up convinced we are unloveable and hold no value. The happy truth is that of course we are loveable and valuable, and people can and will love us. We can be absolutely worthwhile and still have our partner leave us. That’s life, it sucks and that’s ok.
You’re holding onto false hope. If only that one (or two or three) problem would resolve! If only one little thing about them or you could change! If only they could see the potential you see! We’re convinced we can persuade them to try one more time. We torture ourselves with hope and the illusion of possibility.
You have nothing else. Breakups are particularly tough on those who feel they have lost everything, instead of just losing a lover. Those who lack purpose, strong social connections, hobbies, a community and (or) financial security tend to struggle the most.
Counselling can help.
If you find your feelings of sadness, hopelessness and apathy are overwhelming you then counselling will be beneficial. For example, if these feelings start disrupting your daily life (cancelling plans, withdrawing from friends, calling in sick to work) or if you cannot see a way past this (feelings of hopelessness and/or helplessness).
If you also realise your emotional, intellectual, physical and social needs were mostly dependent on your partner, counselling would help you lead a more fulfilling life by building your self-esteem and mapping out how to build a social support network.
The good news
You won’t grieve on just one occasion. You’ll grieve every time you notice the loss. But processing that pain will bring you closer to healing. Every morning you will wake up with a little less heaviness in your heart.
The good news is you don’t need your ex to recover from this. You don’t need them to give you closure. In fact you may have to accept that they might not give you closure (and you can’t make them). Your healing has nothing to do with your ex. It has everything to do with you, your perspective, your actions, and of course the passage of time.
How to get yourself out of the hole
Accept the breakup and feel everything!
Cry, scream, sulk and laugh your way through this. It’s proven that talking through a breakup can help expedite the grieving process as long as self-reflection is involved, instead of just pure wallowing. Not accepting a breakup is also not only unhelpful for you, but also disrespectful towards your ex who has every right to do what they choose. As do you.
Next, do the internal work.
There is an increasing amount of evidence that states self reflection, and a process known as self re-organisation can help with getting over a breakup. Difficult breakups are usually because we go from feeling the loss of our ex, to believing that their rejection means we and the relationship we shared are now worthless to them. It’s time to let that ruinous story go with some inner work.
Why did the relationship end? How did you contribute to the issues in this relationship? What destructive or negative patterns kept repeating throughout? Take control of your thoughts and use them to identify where you went wrong. Maybe you need to look at your attachment style and love language. Maybe you need to reflect on why some of your destructive patterns keep popping up.
Analyse your relationship truthfully.
Following on from point #2, ask yourself if your needs were actually met with your ex. Did you feel free to share your needs, thoughts and feelings? Did you have shared values? Did you feel lonely? Unheard? Misunderstood? Did you tread on eggshells? Did you unfairly put all of your needs on them?
Figure out your ideal relationship.
Map out what a healthy and loving relationship looks like to you. How do you resolve conflict? What do you do together on the weekends? What are your relationship needs? What are your deal breakers?
Look at your post-break up behaviour.
It is unhealthy to obsess over your ex. This could look like constantly calling or messaging them, continuing to ask to meet and cannot stop contacting them and habitually viewing their social media. It can even look like trying to sabotage their life. If this sounds familiar then this is your cue to look at your life and decide to make some changes. You need to respect your ex’s right to make this decision. You cannot make someone love you or want to stay with you. Secondly this obsessive behaviour is often indicative of a life that is empty. Your ex cannot save you from your life. You need to honestly ask yourself if you are lacking purpose, meaningful friendships and community. Obsession is a way to distract yourself from the agony of accepting the end, but it is destructive and can cause shameful thoughts further down the road.
Create distance from them, and make space for yourself.
Stay busy. Date yourself!
Take yourself out. Try new things. Fill your calendar with fun things to do with your friends or by yourself. Don’t have a self-care routine? Make one and do it. Make space in your life for the things you enjoy such as returning to old hobbies or starting new ones, or prioritising heading to the gym for the endorphin hit and community atmosphere.
Delete or archive emails, photos, messages and phone numbers. Use an external hard drive if you need to. Put all of this somewhere you cannot easily access. In this same vein, block their socials and return or throw out physical reminders. If you can’t stand the thought of this then temporarily move physical reminders into a storage box and put it away. If you have to contact them, use a mediator.
Ask for help.
Your friends aren’t mind readers. Ask them for help if you need it. Be the one to text first, call or suggest a meetup. Make space for your support system to actually be there. Spread the net wide so as to not overwhelm one person.
Go on an adventure.
An adventure not only provides an exciting break in your routine, but it removes you from the world where your ex is missing. It can do absolute wonders. Have you ever dreamed of getting to Everest base camp? Doing a wine tour in France? Going on safari in Kenya? Doing a local camping trip you never made time for? Spoiling yourself at the spa for a full weekend? Now’s the time to do it.
You and your ex could only do the best you could at the time, with the tools you have, at the stage of life you were in. A rejection is not a sentence or a judgment on you, it is more so a reflection on where your ex is at.
Ultimately you do not want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you. You deserve far more than that. You deserve someone who chooses you as their life partner and teammate. And who needs no persuasion to do so. When you believe these words you will know you’ve healed.
Step by step. Day by day. You’ll be ok.
Contact the Red Door reception to set up an appointment with Kirsteen – firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog was also posted at the REDDOOR blog