Your relationship with your significant other is going great. You can’t remember the last time that you felt this happy and comfortable with someone. You build routines and start to merge your lives and interests. You envision a future together and are filled with a deep sense of love and belonging.
Maybe it is a slow unraveling or perhaps you feel blind-sighted, but regardless your relationship has ended. You can feel a giant lump building in your throat and as the tears cascade down your face, you wonder if you will ever be able to stop crying.
Breakups are painful. You are often hit by a freight train of emotions, which may come as a surprise to you. No matter how long you were in the relationship, it is completely normal to go through a grieving period. Not only are you grieving for the relationship itself, but also for the hopes and plans that you had for the future.
Breakups hurt, but it is possible to process the pain in a healthy way and emerge a stronger and more resilient person. The following are some tips for coping with a breakup, and turning it into a solid foundation for growth.
1. Let yourself feel.
When the pain is immeasurable and you are wondering if you will ever feel whole again, it is tempting to want to numb out. Everyone has different numbing strategies of choice, but many will turn to food, drugs, sex, jumping into a new relationship, or workaholism, to try to get rid of their painful feelings.
However, these negative coping strategies are akin to putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. They may make you feel temporarily better, however only put off the inevitable grieving process. Additionally, they will only cause you to feel worse or develop a co-occurring problem in the long-term. It is also impossible to selectively numb emotions. When we numb ourselves from feeling pain and sorrow, we also block ourselves from experiencing happiness and joy.
It’s important to find ways to process the feelings that you are experiencing in a healthy way. Leaning on members of your support system is incredibly important during a breakup. Talking with a friend or loved one who is supportive can be one way to process. Journaling, writing a letter to your ex (that you never send), making art, or writing a song, are all creative ways that you can process your feelings.
If you are struggling intensely after a breakup, it is important to seek support from a mental health professional. Reaching out for help when you are struggling is a sign of strength, not weakness.
2. Be kind to yourself.
Self-compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to a loved one. It is being compassionate with ourselves when we fail or make mistakes and recognizing that this is part of being human.
It is universal to feel deep pain during a breakup and you are not “crazy” or “weak” for needing time to grieve. Additionally, your grief is not necessarily a sign that you were "meant to be," rather it is a normal reaction to a relationship ending. Work to be kind to yourself during this painful period, the same way that you would support a loved one.
You can start by paying attention to your self-talk. Try to be mindful of the things that you are saying to yourself and whether they are helpful or unhelpful. For instance telling yourself, “I messed things up, I always fail at relationships,” is not a helpful statement. Rather than trying to get rid of the thought, simply notice the story that your mind is telling you. You could reframe the thought by saying, “thank you mind for the failure story, but I did the best I could in this situation.”
It is also important to engage in acts of self-care. First make sure you have the basics covered such as, getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night, eating three meals a day and some snacks, and finding some joyful movement throughout your week. Neglecting your basic needs will likely make you feel worse than you already do. Then, you can work on incorporating some other forms of self-care into your day. The following are some ideas for self-care:
- Take a bubble bath while reading a good book.
- Watch a funny movie or video.
- Do an online-guided meditation.
- Take a walk in nature and practice being mindful in the moment.
- Cook yourself a nice dinner, set the table, and light a candle.
- Buy yourself flowers.
- Go get a massage, manicure, or do an at-home spa night.
- Set boundaries with difficult people in your life.
- Spend time with friends who are supportive.
3. Make meaning and reconnect with your passions.
The reality is that not all relationships are meant to last forever, but it is through our relationships that we can learn and grow as people. Think about the things that you learned through the relationship. Maybe it is too early for you to be able to find meaning in the struggle that you are experiencing, and that is ok too. Wherever you are in your healing process, it is important to be kind to yourself.
Even if you are struggling to see how the relationship has helped you to grow, you can start to practice gratitude for the things that you do have in your life. Making a daily gratitude list can have incredible benefits in terms of our mental and physical health. If you are alive and breathing that is the first thing that you could add to your gratitude list. Practicing gratitude (even if it feels phony at first) can help you to learn how to focus on the positive things in your life.
Start by making a list of 5 things that you are thankful for everyday. I use a free gratitude app on my Iphone called “Thankful.” The more you can get into this habit, the more positive your mindset will be in the long-run.
Lastly, you can begin to rebuild your sense of identity by finding passions and interests to explore. Whether it’s finding a cause to volunteer for, trying out a new hobby, or reconnecting with something you used to enjoy, this will help you to cope and engage more fully with life in a meaningful way.
There is Hope
Ultimately, if you can process your pain in a healthy way, experience gratitude, connect to others, and refocus on your hobbies and passions, you can heal from this breakup and emerge a stronger and more resilient person.
Further, it is often through our greatest struggles that we discover our biggest strengths. Author J.K. Rowling explained how her experience of being divorced, unemployed, and poor, impacted her life when she said,
“I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders, body image issues, anxiety, and depression. Jennifer offers eating disorder therapy to individuals in Maryland and D.C. and eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype.
This article was originally featured on Jennifer’s blog.