I had just called off my wedding and a six-year relationship was declared finished. Time to start over. My heart was cracked open with pain.
I thought long and hard about this decision before breaking it off. I was warned that however difficult the relationship was, breakups are just as bad, if not worse. I was so scared of what was next.
Whether you break it off or the other person breaks it off…
Whether you were ready for it or blind sighted…
Whether you are on amicable terms or can’t stand each other…
Breakups are hard.
As a therapist, I’ve had countless clients, fresh out of relationships, come to my office with tears in their eyes and deep sadness. They often began counseling with two intentions: wanting to know how they can release their pain in a healthy way and begin this new chapter of their life on the right foot.
Here’s how they get there:
1. THEY FEEL THEIR FEELINGS. They accept that their feelings are going to run the show for a while and they let them. Emotions are so much wiser than we give them credit for. Often times, anger lets us know where we need to set boundaries and anxiety lets us know what doesn’t feel safe. Instead of putting deadlines on how long their grief can hang out for, they consider giving grief permission to run its course. Over time, the pain becomes more manageable and begins to dissipate if it’s allowed to be there in the beginning.
2. THEY GET RID OF TRIGGERS THAT REMIND THEM OF THEIR EX. Certain gifts, clothes, or places may trigger sadness more than others. If they don’t want to throw things away, they temporarily remove them from sight by putting them in their closet or garage. The removal of triggers allows our nervous system to relax and think more clearly.
3. THEY BLOCK THEIR EX ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Some of my clients have asked, “Isn’t that rude?” No, we all grieve differently and no one has the right to judge how we need to take care of ourselves in order to move on. Seeing your ex’s whereabouts on social media keeps them in the present, instead of in the past.
4. THEY REACH OUT TO FRIENDS, FAMILY, AND PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT. They surround themselves only with trusted people that uplift them. They call for support when they’re sad. They start making new memories with friends and family. They hug each other. They take space from people who typically drain their energy.
5. THEY ENGAGE IN PHYSICAL SELF-CARE. Massage, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, masturbation, taking naps, dancing, walks on the beach, exercise, or taking bubble baths. This is especially helpful if they had a traumatic break up because the trauma can best be released through physical means.
6. THEY JOURNAL. If my clients like to process their feelings through writing, I ask them to write down what they did and did not love about their romantic relationship in chronological order. I ask them to notice patterns in their writing and early red flags so that they can learn about what to keep an eye out for when dating in the future. They separate the timeline into four categories: what they appreciated, what they take responsibility for, what they forgive, and what they need to let their ex know.
7. THEY DEFINE WHO THEY WANT TO BE. Breakups can be an opportunity for us to redefine ourselves. I ask my clients to write a list of adjectives that describe who they want to be. For example: “I want to be intellectual.” They write a follow-up list of who they need to be with in order to feel supported in who they want to be. For example: “I want to be with someone is intellectually stimulating and that I can exchange ideas with.”
8. THEY IDENTIFY TRAUMA. Trauma keeps us in the past. Are there certain memories that trigger panic for you when you think about your ex? It’s helpful to collaborate with a professional who can track and support their clients when processing these memories. Going through trauma alone can feel like a vortex of chaos. Turning to a professional can help overcome trauma in a safe and approachable way.
9. THEY ACCEPT THE DICHOTOMIES. Feelings aren’t black and white. You may find yourself attached to your ex AND never wanting to see them again. You may find yourself still having love for your ex AND hating them. You may miss them AND not want them back in your life. These contradictions are normal. The truth is, different parts of us will want different things. I invite my clients to give all these feelings permission to co-exist.
10. IDENTIFY THEIR WANTS AND NEEDS. They take time every day to check in about what it is they want and need, and then they give that to themselves. Maybe they aren’t ready to go to that party. Maybe they need to take a walk. Maybe they need to reach out to a friend and talk about what feelings are coming up for them. This is their time to heal. Identifying our wants and needs is an exercise in self-love; a prerequisite for any relationship!
Moving through the pain of a break up takes courage. Choosing to get up every day, dealing with difficult emotions in a way that makes one proud of themselves, and putting oneself first is hard work. The good news? The universe rewards the brave.