[6 Minute Read]
Breakups are hard. Beyond our obvious immediate hurt and sadness, they may bring up difficult feelings of loss, grief, loneliness, and abandonment and trigger us on many different levels.
Here are a few tips from our Heart Mender deck and other therapeutic approaches that will help you process your feelings, deepen your relationship with yourself, and move past the situation.
1. Feel Your Feelings
The first tip is simplified approach adapted from a book called Constructive Wallowing by Tina Gilbertson and it's one I recommend to almost anyone I meet as a very basic, fundamental approach to processing and dealing with feelings. When I say "dealing with", I simply mean "having" the feelings - something many of us are conditioned out of doing as we grow up. We can slowly teach ourselves this important skill through practice and using the technique below.
1. Describe the situation simply (”Jan and I had a huge fight that led to us breaking up.”)
2. Try to identify the feeling(s) associated with the situation. (”I’m frustrated that I got upset and now it’s over.”)
3. Identify self-criticism you direct at yourself whenever these painful feelings arise. (”I shouldn’t be frustrated, she was only trying to help. I always explode and I hate it.”)
4. Be understanding. Speak to yourself like a compassionate friend would if they were listening to you explain the situation. It might feel silly at first, but it’s important! (”It’s understandable; You had run into the same problem with her before and she didn’t try to work on it with you. You were running out of patience. You felt unheard. It’s hurts a lot to feel ignored.”)
5. Have the Feeling. Let the feeling take shape, as often as needed. Other feelings may join the party! Don’t hurt yourself or others, but simply allow yourself to let the feeling “be”. Maybe it’s screaming into a pillow. Maybe it’s crying or just saying your thoughts aloud in private. (“I’m so FRUSTRATED that I lost my cool. I felt so powerless. I’m so MAD I can’t stand it! I just wanted her to finally listen. I hate feeling so invisible. This SUCKS!”). Have compassion towards yourself as you deal with uncomfortable feelings - this is all a completely normal part of heartbreak. You're not abnormal for not being able to simply get over it.
2. Make a Memory Box
When is it finally “time to move on”? During any grieving process, we can find ourselves in a strange state of limbo – a place between holding on and letting go. Some people insist on immediately getting rid of their ex’s belongings or purging their space of any memento that might trigger grief or anger. If they don’t “see” the pain, it doesn’t exist – right? The problem with forcing ourselves to “forget” or not thinking about something is that it’s impossible. Even if we can do it in the short term, those feelings will surely manifest themselves later on. Pain finds a way to re-surface.
Let’s try a different approach. Instead of sweeping our spaces of our loved one’s memory, why not give ourselves a process for parting with the pain? Be gentle with yourself. Give the following a try:
1. Find a box and fill it up Fill it up with your ex’s belongings or anything that reminds you of the relationship. If there are things you’re not ready to put away, that’s ok! They can stay out until you’re ready to decide what to do with them. Keep it stored somewhere accessible, but not somewhere you’d encounter it often (maybe under your bed). If some of the belongings are digital (like photos), consider moving them to a flash drive or cloud storage temporarily.
2. What am I feeling? As you’re filling the box, you may become overwhelmed with emotion and that’s ok! Try to name the feelings you’re feeling. Are you sad? Lonely? It can even help to say things aloud to yourself: “I wish so badly that things had worked out. I always loved their smile.” Give a voice, even to your fears: “I’m afraid that I’ll always be alone or no one will ever accept me.” Tears may come; let them. You’re here now because you’ve survived pain before. Remind yourself that your fears are just that – fear, and not reality. It’s also ok to revisit the contents occasionally. The box is not “off limits”. Think of it as a visiting “hour” for you to visit with and process your feelings about the situation.
3. Let go. The point of the box is not to hold on to things forever. It is so you don't rush yourself through the act of processing. As you gently release your feelings, the pain will lessen. You will gradually reach a point where the contents of the box don’t bother you at all. As you move through your feelings, you may even decide to start getting rid of the contents one-by-one or altogether. Once you do, consider writing a eulogy to your relationship or a letter to your ex and having a "ritual of release". Seal up the box. Read your eulogy/letter aloud. You may say a mantra like "I release you and give myself permission to receive the happiness I deserve". Then, get rid of the box or put it somewhere where it will be out of sight for good.
3. A Period of Mourning
In the past, when someone was suffering a loss, their community knew that they had entered a period of mourning. They were given a break from engaging in social events, and people generally gave them more space and an unspoken understanding that they were going through a difficult time. Their need to rebuild themselves emotionally or mentally while facing grief was recognized by those around them. These days, our culture is heavily focused on "glow ups" and bouncing back as quickly as possible. Instead, give yourself a period of mourning and grace. Avoid high-stress social situations (whatever that may be for you). Make plenty of time for healthy self-care. Eat as healthy as you possibly can, practice good sleep hygiene, get some exercise (even if that means a short walk each day), and treat yourself with kindness. The more you force yourself to "get back out there" or seem fine to others, the worse you'll feel. Instead, honor your very very NORMAL need to have a period of caring for your needs and reconnecting with yourself.
When you’re feeling triggered or overwhelmed by a strong emotion, create a brief statement that you can repeat to yourself to “reprogram” a negative belief into a more positive one. Next time you catch yourself obsessing about your past relationship, repeat something like this:
“I am safe. I do not need [ex’s name] attention or approval to feel loved.
I am worthy. I am capable of meeting all of my needs.”
Then, write down all of the ways that your needs get met, either by you friends, or other outlets. For instance, maybe your need for emotional support is met by a mentor in your life. (You only need to do this once, but you can revisit this list as much as you like). Neural pathways in the brain are formed through repetition. This is how negative beliefs become part of our thinking to begin with. By repeating positive statements, you are replacing bad beliefs with good.
5. What's Missing Here?
Sometimes the things we miss most from a partner or relationship are the things that we believe to be lacking within ourselves. We feel like we can’t be a “whole” person without someone to complete us. We believe that we can’t fulfill those needs without the presence of another person. That’s simply not true.
Maybe you feel like your partner made you feel smarter. Maybe they were the only one who has ever been kind or patient or honest with you. Maybe without them you feel unsafe, lonely, or unattractive. Unheard, not accepted, or not respected.
Think of the things you feel you’re missing now that this person is gone. What are your needs? Make a list of healthy ways YOU get those needs met or can get those needs met without a relationship. For example, if you need an outlet that makes you feel heard, consider starting a blog or finding a way to share your knowledge about something.
These are just a few tips to help you start your heart-mending journey. For more exercises, prompts, and reflections, see if our Heart Mender card deck is right for you!
Also, check out the Heal Your Broken Heart class by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby of lovehappinesssuccess.com for more wonderful tips on emotionally detaching and moving on from your relationship.