Help to heal after a break up
There's never a good time to break up, but it does often happen before Christmas, New Year and Valentines Day according to a survey by Yahoo back in 2007! I think receiving the Decree Absolute from my "starter marriage" on April Fool's Day told me all I needed to know. So, today, on World Mental Health Day, I thought I'd talk about ways we can help ourselves heal...so that when the right person comes along - our mind and heart is ready.
When we break up with someone, they are still part of our past, even though they may not remain part of our future. As such (especially if they have been in our lives for some time) – much of who we are “right now” or at least at the moment of split, is shaped by our life with them in it. When I talk about helping you to continue to grow, it is not a case of “forgetting” that someone was ever in your life – but helping you minimise the negative emotional impact that they, or the break up might have/have had.
If we have not yet had time to heal – it can be very painful to see an ex move on, because you might still have feelings for them, and it can sting to think that you were “replaced” so quickly, leading you to question how much they valued you in the first instance. (Of course, the most important person to value you – is you – but it certainly doesn’t always feel that way because as social creatures, we do take our self-esteem cues from others and how we perceive ourselves against them).
Even if a lot of time has passed, it may be that you have focused on other aspects of your life and not processed the emotional side of the break up, and while it may seem to others that you have “moved on”, emotionally you are still raw. As complex as humans are, we are also good at compartmentalising as a coping strategy to try to avoid feeling too overwhelmed. This can mean that we have not given ourselves a proper chance to work through how we feel and how we would like our personal life to progress, even though time has ticked by.
Again, because humans are social, we cannot help but compare ourselves, consciously or sub consciously to an ex’s new partner, even if they (the ex) themselves don’t hold so much significance any more…this can be worse if there are still mutual friends where we can begin to ask ourselves “Do they like him/her more than me?” Again, self esteem which is our perception of worth in comparison to others is never as helpful nor healthy for us as self compassion – which is self kindness – simply as you are.
Another difficulty can be thinking about whether your ex is sharing things that you shared and were at the time personal and unique to your relationship, with another person. (The irony here is, while I do not advocate to listening to the judgments of others, sometimes other people might see this very differently eg: Oh s/he’s just going through the old motions with the new person…I have spoken to someone who observed that the wedding they attended of a friend was almost identical to their first wedding…save the spouse). But what this illustrates is that how we perceive something can be perceived completely differently by someone else, so the narrative we may have in our head may not be the true one…this can be of some comfort when we feel low.
Some tips to help you heal from a break up
Remember that breaking up is sometimes necessary to give yourself the best chance of finding future happiness, and is something many of us will go through at least once. Whether you initiated it, you didn’t see it coming, or it was a mutual separation, you will experience a multitude of emotions – not dissimilar to grief…remind yourself that it is normal and it is ok.
Processing and healing – whether through a breakup or when you see an ex move on
1. Be sad….or be happy…or appreciate that you feel exactly as you do!! Acknowledge you are hurting if this is the case. Do not feel as if you have to “put on a brave face”, but also do not pretend to be sad because it is what others expect. Everyone deals with pain in their own way, and as long as you are acknowledging and accepting your feelings don’t try to conform to others’ expectations.
Try this: Allow yourself “24 hours of wallowing”. During this time watch Netflix on loop, or eat a tub of ice-cream. Whatever you do (as long as it doesn’t harm you or others irreparably), do it without guilt – but after those 24 hours – begin to find your new starting point of growth.
2. If you need to “gain closure”, try to do so at a time when you are not overly emotional. Even then, have an agenda (sometimes written!) to stick to so any conversation does not dissolve into blame. Also remember that, the other person may not wish to talk right then, and you may not get the answers you were hoping for.
Try this: If you are very angry, write or journal your feelings – but do not send the email or note. That may help release some of the pain, as well as reveal the questions you may want to ask if you decide to have a talk. If you are not given that opportunity to talk, keep that agenda for next time so you do not have to “remember it”. All remembering will do is keep opening the wounds that are trying to heal.
3. Reflect on your actions. Derailment of a relationship takes two. This is not to apportion blame, but to grow from the experience. Anything you learn about may stop you repeating that behaviour in future relationships. Take this time for yourself and try not to be distracted by “stalking” your ex on social media. Know your personal growth is worth more than that!
Try this: If you cannot block your ex, at least block how much you see of what they are doing. Also if you are not ready to see them if they want to talk – say no!
4. A break-up is sometimes a catalyst for change – you might suddenly join a gym, or have a haircut. If these changes are what you wanted to make anyway – embrace them because you have that time to engage in them and make them work for you – but do not labour under the misapprehension that this will “win them back” or it will fulfil a need for revenge. They are not in your life, so do not allow them to control your mindset!
Try this: Affirmations can help you begin to think more positively of yourself. But rather than using angry ones such as “I don’t need him/her”, try empowering statements such as “I am a strong person and I will overcome all my challenges” or “My love, my time and my energy are valuable and I offer them wisely.”
5. Remember all experiences are part of who we are – you might reflect and learn from them, but you do not need to dwell on them. As you feel ready to pick up from this new starting point be proud of how you came through and look forward to your next adventure.
Try this: Treat yourself to something – without putting yourself in debt of course! Whether it’s finding time to read a book or watch a film, or perhaps spend time with good friends or supportive family – do what energises you. In fact something that isn’t expensive is often the best for the soul. This is also a great way of reminding yourself who you are without your ex.
6. Surround yourself with friends who support you authentically and positively. You do not need to be answering questions about “how do you feel” or even getting involved in gossip or bad mouthing.
Try This: Go off grid with a couple of close friends – the lack of digital contact may work wonders for your wellbeing anyway, as well as the change of scenery and the opportunity to do something different and make new memories. You do not owe others an explanation nor a narrative.
Audrey has now been, happily and healthily, with her "Upgrade" husband 2.0 for nearly 15 years.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt
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