Do you remember the last time you had your heart broken?
You might be sitting in that painful place right now finding it difficult to even imagine the day when you’ll wake up and be on the other side of it.
The suffering a broken heart creates is very specific and most of us have felt it at least once in our lives. When you’re in the middle of that kind of heartache, it really does feel like the pain will never end.
So how do we get beyond this kind of pain?
In this week’s episode, I am sharing ten tips I’ve gathered over the past two decades as a psychotherapist and relationship expert, as well as from my own craptastic broken heart experiences plus a few from my many conversations with pals on the most effective ways to survive and eventually thrive after heartbreak.
Healing from a broken heart can be complicated from a therapeutic point of view because there’s always unconscious stuff playing a part in how we experience a break up (which I explain further in Step Five below). And heartbreak doesn’t discriminate based on who did the ditching. You might feel rejected or discarded if you’re the one who got dumped but being the ditch-er comes with its own set of painful emotions like guilt and shame. It can be devastating to end a relationship with someone you loved deeply but knew they were not your forever person.
Here are steps you can take to minimize the pain of a relationship ending while upleveling self-knowledge.
1. Make it a clean break.
I’m pretty much thumbs down on the “staying friends” fantasy after a break-up, at least initially. In my experience, it unnecessarily prolongs pain for all involved. Taking the appropriate time and space to grieve the loss of your romantic relationship is critical for you to even start the healing process.
So what does this look like? It means going no contact for a while after the breakup. No social media stalking. No late-night texts or phone calls. And for sure, NO HOOKING UP!! It also means being crystal clear with your friends and family that it’s over and making a simple request that they do not fill you on what they might know about your ex post-breakup.
A clean break creates space to process your feelings and gain clarity on what went down. Also, family members who want to stay friends with your ex because the ex didn’t do anything to them directly are just wrong. Your fam needs to be on Team YOU no matter how charming your ex might be. But if you have children together, the rules are different because those shared humans bind all of you together for life. (And there is so much to say about that – it will need to be its own episode!)
2. Slow it all down.
Those of you who are busy, ambitious, high-functioning and might lean towards a habit of doing, doing, doing as a way to avoid feeling painful feelings need to take a pause and consider slowing down so that you can go within. Why?
Because painful feelings don’t just go away, no matter how busy you are. If you don’t take the time to honor what you’ve experienced and allow yourself to feel your feelings, they will still be lurking under the surface and can negatively affect your life and your future relationships. Remember: “we repeat what we do not repair” as Christine Langley-Obough so eloquently put it.
It takes time to get on board with the new reality after a breakup, so be compassionate and gentle with yourself and slow down so you can process your feelings of pain, rejection, anger, sadness or any guilt you might have.
3. Focus on YOU.
Even though you might feel like crap right now, this is a special opportunity for you to take beautiful care of yourself. Don’t jump into a new relationship (people call it rebound for a reason) and when possible, don’t make yourself do things you don’t want to do. Your girlfriends might rally around you and try to convince you to get all dressed up for a night on the town, but if that’s not what feels good to you, honor how you feel and say no!
Ask for what you need. Do you need someone to be with you and hold space for you to just be sad? It’s ok for you to ask for that. Practice getting quiet and asking yourself for what you need in the moment. Take care of you the way you would a precious loved one who was hurt or sad.
4. Mourn the dream.
So much of the time we are devastated about the loss of the dream we had for that relationship. You need to grieve that loss in order to move through and past it.
The best way to do this is to try to get clear on how it actually was, rather than mourning the fantasy of how you hoped it would be someday. Make a list of the things you will miss about the relationship and about that person. Then make a second list of the things you’re not going to miss and be as honest as possible. This is how you can properly mourn what actually was. It doesn’t serve you to have selective memory. Get clarity so you can be grateful for the good things and learn from the not so good ones.
Remind yourself: Every ending is actually the beginning of something else.
5. Understand your downloaded love blueprint.
The way you relate to love is as unique as your fingerprints. I’ve got a little downloadable guide for you with questions to help you reveal your unique love blueprint–the belief systems about love and relationships you learned growing up.
Doing this work will help you better understand who you’re drawn to and why as well as illuminate your relationship patterns, self-regard, and any limiting beliefs about love. It is only possible to change the blueprint when you realize that you have one. You can download your guide right here.
6. Be of service to others.
When you are in a lot of pain, one of the fastest ways to get out of your own head is to add value to the life of another. The benefits of giving to others cannot be underrated, especially when you’re nursing a broken heart. You can volunteer or just make a commitment to be extra kind and go out of your way to bring others joy. There have been studies done that giving to others actually changes your biology and affects your brain chemistry in a positive way, making you feel less stressed and anxious while increasing the release of the “feel-good” hormone dopamine.
If you’re in a position to help someone less fortunate, you should (according to my mom!), and in doing so, it will increase your overall wellbeing as you care for your tender heart. That’s a win-win in my book.
7. Write it out.
Write an unedited letter to your ex saying everything and I mean everything. Don’t try to be PC or polite. Just write it all out and don’t hold anything back. If you’re full of rage, bitterness, jealousy or any of those shadow sides of our emotions, give yourself permission to let loose and let it out.
Now let that sit for 24 hours. Then I want to invite you to go back and revise as if you were going to send it to your ex. Think through how you can express what really happened for you in a way that actually honors your feelings and experiences. This is an exercise for you to express anything you might not have had the opportunity to say which can promote a sense of closure.
Hold onto your revised letter for a week or more and then check in with your feelings. Do you want to send it or not? If you want to, it’s ok to clearly state you felt compelled to share for your own healing and that you’re not looking for a response. In the episode, I give you some language ideas so be sure to watch it here or listen in here.
Sometimes just getting all of your feelings out can discharge a lot of the heat of those emotions and sending the letter becomes unnecessary.
8. Move your body.
Getting in touch with your physical body is so important as you move through this. Tune into the wisdom of your body and pay attention to where there’s tension or constriction. Let your emotions guide how you move your body, but MOVE it. It can be gentle like yoga or a long, leisurely walk or intense like kickboxing. No matter the modality you choose, getting your booty moving is a way to physically process and release any stuck emotions and energy.
9. Find the gems of wisdom.
You might feel resistant to this at first, but I am inviting you to ask yourself what you learned about yourself in this relationship.
Try to step outside of the blame (you or your ex), and really look for the gems of self-awareness and self-knowledge you gained. Were there red flags that you missed or willingly ignored that you’ll pay attention to in the future? Get real with yourself. It is not about beating yourself up or blaming the other person. It’s about REALLY seeking to learn something valuable. It is an opportunity for you to grow, expand and improve the quality of your life and your relationships. So once you have a little distance from your breakup, look to connect the dots of your story, your behaviors and your patterns for deeper self-understanding. Make a commitment to yourself to roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty and dig through the crappy stuff to find the gems!
10. Allow hope.
As you move through your bitterness, sadness or anger, it might feel like you want to just throw up your hands and declare: “That’s it. I’m done with love.”
I am here to let you know that even with a bruised and battered heart, you are still lovable and capable of loving. Don’t shut yourself down or close yourself off to the possibility that you can experience the kind of love that you want.
You WILL heal. You WILL get over this. And your heart will be stronger for it. When we’re honest about why relationships end, we can take a look and understand that every relationship is 50/50, and as we work to understand our part, we can start to build a new vision for the future supported by increased self-awareness, self-knowledge, and healthier behaviors.
And you’re worth it.
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Terri Cole is a licensed psychotherapist, transformation coach, and an expert at turning fear into freedom. Sign up for Terri’s weekly Newsletter, check out her blog and follow her on Twitter.