First of all, if you’ve ever been totally destroyed by a breakup, you’re not alone.
After I got dumped a few years back (one of the many times), I remember thinking, “No one could possibly understand how horrible this is” (I know, I know… a little self-indulgent).
In fact the opposite it true. Dealing with the end of a relationship is probably one of the most universal experiences of life. I would challenge you to find ONE person who has not had a shitty breakup. So no matter how bad you feel, at least you’re in good company.
To get over a break up you need to honor the relationship you had but also realize there was something dysfunctional about it (or else it wouldn’t have ended). Then you need to take concrete steps to move on.
Feel All the Pain as Quickly as Possible
I liken breaking up to ripping of a bandaid. You can do quickly or slowly, but either way that sucker is coming off.
I know because I’ve done it both ways. I dated this guy in college who broke up with me. I was wildly in denial about it and tried to sooth my hurt by hanging on to the small hope we might get back together. I never sat and let myself feel all of the pain that was boiling underneath. It took me years before I really moved on and let go.
In comparison, after my last break up I let the pain hit me like a ton of bricks. I was in bad shape, and people around me were really worried. I cried all the time, stopped eating, and looked and felt like a shell of my former self. I thought I would feel that way forever. But you know what? After three months I felt… better. And then not just better, but hopeful. Because I let myself process how I felt, the mourning period was much quicker.
There is a discrete amount of pain that comes with a break up. If you try to ignore it, the same amount of pain will last a lot longer. So if you feel devastated and horrible and broken, let yourself feel those emotions. Break ups suck! There is no way around it. Let yourself feel the totality of the pain that you are no longer with this person that you loved and cared about. The sooner you process it, the sooner you will be able to let go.
Cut Off All Contact
Did you just break up? Don’t even think about staying in contact with your ex, at least for now. I’m not saying it’s impossible to be friends down the line. I just saying that EVERY EXCUSE I’VE EVER HEARD FOR WANTING TO STAY IN CONTACT WITH AN EX WAS REALLY A FORM OF REFUSING TO LET GO OF THE END OF THE RELATIONSHIP.
Did you hear that? Let me rephrase and repeat. If you want “stay friends” with your ex right after a breakup, I’m 99% sure what you’re really hoping for is to get back together. Or, if you were the dumper, that you want to assuage your guilt for hurting him or her. Both of which are totally understandable, but completely counterproductive to moving on.
After my last breakup, I thought I could still be friends with my ex. I probably would have tried to if he hadn’t done something so completely egregious and douchey that it completely precluded me from ever talking to him again. In retrospect this was a really fortunate thing because it gave me the emotional space to come to terms with the fact that things had ended and I needed to move on.
This is a step a lot of people have trouble with. Maybe you work with your ex or have friends in common. That being said, no matter your specific circumstance I can almost guarantee that when you do move on, you will see all the time and energy you spent continuing to pine after someone who no longer wanted to be with you (or someone you no longer wanted to be with) as wasted.
[Oh, and whatever you do – don’t keep sleeping with your ex. Or do, but know that you’re only dragging out the inevitable conclusion that things are over. I know it’s easy because the person knows you so well, but it almost always creates way more pain and confusion than it’s worth.]
Do you want to keep devoting so much energy to a relationship that, while important to your experience and growth, is no longer right? The decision is up to you.
Accept the Cycle of Emotions, But Don’t Listen to the Narrative
After a break up, you will undoubtedly go through a cycle of emotions. I wrote an extensive post before about my experience with these emotions, but I’d like to revisit them here. They usually include:
The emotions aren’t the problem (they’re pretty much unavoidable). The problem is that each emotions will make you tell yourself a story that, while completely ridiculous to any outside person, will seem totally true (and discouraging) to you.
- When you’re sad you’ll tell yourself the breakup was all your fault. You’ll tell yourself there must be something wrong with you, and therefore you’ll never meet someone who will really love you.
- When you’re angry you’ll tell yourself that everything is your ex’s fault. While anger may be relief from the sadness, it still eats away at you, discouraging you from trying to date again.
- When you’re afraid you’ll worry that you’ll be alone forever. You’ll tell yourself that you missed your chance and now are relegated to a destiny of being a spinster or perma-bachelor. It’s amazing how common this narrative is. I told it to myself after my ex broke up with me. My brother told it to himself when his girlfriend broke up with him. Literally, my 26-year-old and full-of-promise brother told me he figured he should just give up on marriage and children because he was “too old” to meet someone. It’s crazy right? But after a break up you will probably tell yourself some version of the same story.
- Longing is the most insidious of all these emotions. It comes up when you’re just starting to feel a little bit better, and disguises itself as hope that maybe you and your ex will get back together. It feels good because after so much discouragement any amount of hope is good, but it’s actually a step in the wrong direction.
So how do you deal with all these emotions? First, you understand that you can’t make them go away. You will probably experience every emotional flavor of suckiness on your path to moving on. You may cycle through all the emotions or get stuck on one of two. BUT, at the same time you are processing the emotions you need to take conscious action to ignore the destructive narratives that your mind is trying to trick you into believing.
Even if it doesn’t feel like it, everything it going to turn out okay. After cycling through these emotions about a gazillion times I finally started to accept that things were over, and even more important, realized that this was the best thing for me. Remember that there was something dysfunctional about your relationship – or else it wouldn’t have ended. Great relationships usually don’t end. There is someone out there who is better for you, and once you’re ready it will be time to start finding them.
As I was writing this post I realized I have a lot to say about the subject, so to save you from having to read another insanely long post I’m going to stop now and wait until my next post to talk about how I got back into dating after my break up. I’ll talk about the 2nd half of the equation of getting over a break up – how to reintroduce yourself to dating to find a happier and better relationship.
Photo by Franck Mahon
Thanks for the courage to share your experiences here online. I agree, I think alot of times, we tend to think that we’re the only ones feeling this crappy after a relationship, when it is indeed a common emotion. But also, because it is a common occurrence – we are somehow supposed to intuitively get over it as quickly as possible – and in order to speed the process or mute the pain, we engage in some of the behaviours you mentioned above – like “remaining friends,” and the like. On top of this, I find that my social circles, the idea that you could spend time mourning over a guy, is sometimes seen as weak and we’re told that there are more important issues to attend to in life and are forced to prematurely end the grieving process (and again, we fall into those erroneous coping strategies you mentioned above)
Definitely looking forward to the next post, and hope you will address how to get into another relationship, somewhat (emotional) baggage-free, if that is possible..
Great point about (well-meaning) people perhaps trying to make their friends move on too fast. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that in the past, and it seems to make sense that it would be a good thing to help your friend forget about the relationship as quickly as possible, but in reality I think it actually does more harm than good.
It’s definitely possible to move on baggage-free! I try to go over that in the next post 🙂
So true about “feeling the pain as quickly as possible” and cutting off all contact. I tried to stay friends with my ex and all it did was make things worse and draw out the pain far longer than necessary. Then I decided to “rip off the band-aid” and I told him not to contact me at all. It hurt like hell for awhile, but then… well, it got better. I’m convinced that I couldn’t have moved on and started living a happier life unless I’d done this.
That sounds a lot like an experience I had in college. It’s so hard to cut off contact but so helpful in the long run! I remember after my more recent break up telling myself things like, “just make it one more day without emailing/calling/texting.” Every day it got a little bit easier, and before I knew it I didn’t want to get in touch with him anymore.
vaishali kalyan says
it was great advice 🙂 thank you so much!
Goodness this is so helpful! I’ve just read about 6 or so of your posts, and I’ve managed to stop be a crying mess for the moment. My ex (ugh, kills me to say that) and I broke up on Wednesday and 4 days later, I’m not doing too hot. Though you can say it was “mutual” because I suggested it after realizing our many differences and exhausted from our petty arguing, I was devastated that he decided to stick with it when I stopped by to pick up my stuff 2 days later. I know it’s for the best because his thoughts on traditions, marriage and babies differ from mine (I’m all for all and he’s pretty much eh about them), I’m still feeling down like I’ll never find a guy so cute and so sweet and who adored me so much and made me laugh and blah blah blah. Comforting to know these feelings aren’t abnormal and in fact expected. Thank you for your posts!
Hey Marisa, you are sounding pretty good actually for 4 days out! It sounds like you have the perspective that the relationship had some fatal flaws. Don’t worry, the feelings after a breakup are pretty universal. Without knowing you I’m still sure you will find another guy who has the positive qualities of your ex, and much more.
(Just submitting for an email notification of a reply, lol)
It’s been about a month since my relationship fell apart. And I’ve been cycling through longing, fear and sadness. I don’t really know why I don’t feel any anger…guilt maybe. My self-esteem has taken a huge hit. It seems like I’m taking the breakup so much harder than he is. And again that saddens me because it feels like the relationship meant more to me than it did to him.
I’ve been reading a lot about psychology and psychiatry, trying to figure out how to speed up the recovery process, and I found your post to be very helpful. Thank you for sharing your own experiences.
Hey Bee, I felt the same way during my last breakup – that the relationship meant much more to me than to him, and that he was able to let it go really easily, which hurt at the time. But I’m so much better off with the relationship I have now! Also don’t let the fact that your partner didn’t want to be with you make you think you’re not a good person – it’s a common way to feel, but it’s just not true.
Thank you for the reply, Elena. It helps to know that other people have experienced what I’m experiencing. I’m also being so hard on myself because I still haven’t gotten over him. I think one reason it’s taking me a while is because I still blame myself for everything. Do you have any advice in helping with the guilt?
Hi Bee, the guilt you’re describing sounds like a part of the “sad” narrative, where you blame yourself for the breakup. Let me ask you, is your guilt about something specifically that you did, or just about not being a good enough person? I get the sense from you that it’s the latter, in which case you need to understand that this narrative is just NOT TRUE. Make a list of what your positive qualities are and look at that when you’re feeling like things were your fault. The less you feed this narrative, the sooner you’ll feel better.
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Sharon A says
I think, generally, I have to agree with the above; but, there are exceptions to every rule….My closest friend, of many years, happens to be a guy I dated for a couple of months who – as it turned out – “wasn’t attracted to me” [and if that isn’t a blow to an already insecure ego place!]. Yet, we always had such fun together. I was sad that we couldn’t be a couple, but even more sad that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the fun company we mutually seemed to have shared whenever we were together. Since he performed in a music group regularly that I occasionally [once every other month, or so] would visit, we didn’t entirely lose touch. There were occasional emails back and forth [nothing to drive false hopes, and I always had to remind myself the pitfalls of entertaining any kind of fantasy of getting back together, which I admit to have done from time to time]. I won’t exaggerate: it did string out a couple of years of emotional upheaval for myself. Yet, if I had let our relationship completely dissolve, we would both be missing out on probably THE closest [if not, ONE of the closest] relationships either one of us would come to have.
And, of course, I did go through that period of fantasizing about us getting back together. Than there was acceptance of the antithesis, while having to face a lot of my insecurities head on when I would see him light up around some other attractive woman the same way he lit up when he first met me. Talk about unleashing a lot of insecurity! But it’s because we were able to continue our friendship….a friendship that is able to grow very strong due to the time factor that allows getting to know each other more authentically….in fact enough to have these very conversations together! I’m sure we’ve all had the thought: “I’m probably taking this all more personally than I need to be,” while still being unable to kick that feeling of being hurt, personally. But, now, I could go back to that experience with my true friend and hear his perception of it, and wow! The fact that I was taking it more personally than I needed to is right up in my face and I am reminded of how we all have our own stuff, our own struggles, etc.
As for the insecurity relating to being unattractive to him, I had to deal with that one head on. I would never go there with him and question him further about that, for what good would my knowledge of it serve either of us?!]. I’ve just had to remind myself that that is life. People are attracted or not attracted for various reasons and it doesn’t really have to have anything to do with my worth or attractiveness as an individual. We were two puzzle pieces that didn’t fit together in that sense, but that isn’t to say any thing was wrong with each individual piece.
Dealing with my insecure feelings, as he would step back into the dating scene, was clearly tough, at first. But, I began to realize that those insecure feelings would come up one way or another, over and over [and, if not with him, then with someone else], so I may as well take on the opportunity and have a real look at that part of myself that is up in my face.
Since my friend is such a good friend, we can confide ALL of this stuff with each other. I cannot begin to tell you how freeing [and enlightening] that is. The funniest thing is, though, I had to get to the point where I finally, completely, let go of the fantasy that we would ever be a couple. But, what we have now, is even richer than what some couples manage to share in their relationships together….built over years of trust and, now, a growing history of fond memories and laughs, along with the hurt and pain. Of course, I always live with the risk that our weekly correspondence will drop to monthly [or whatever] as he finds himself in a new relationship, searching for the “right” partner, but our friendship is now strong enough that I live with the security of knowing we will be friends, regardless, unto death.
“just” a friend….
Wow! I wish I found your website sooner… As in, 2 years ago when I went through my most difficult break-up. I did all of the things I wasn’t supposed to do, which made the healing process painfully slow and long. Now, on the other side of it, I find solace in the strength I’ve gained, and in a new appreciation I’ve developed for honesty and kindness in the relationships around me – friends, family and with my new partner. Also, I am in medical school and am interested in psychiatry! Thanks for the website — I’ve already shared it with a friend going through a difficult break-up 🙂
i had problem with my ex boy friend some months ago. And he was cheating on me which hurt me badly,and he was also avoiding me,He no longer pick my calls.I was totally confused cos i don’t know what to do.There was a day i was surfing the internet i came in contact with this spell caster who have helped so many people in their relationship.So i contacted him and explain everything to him.And he told me to do some things,I did the correctly.To cut it short.My ex boy friend gave me a call and said to me that we should have a date,i agreed.On the date,He was begging me to have him back and i agreed we are now together as one again,Planing our wedding.thank you Prophet Osaze. meet him via his email; [email protected] com
My hurt comes in the form of guilt, because our break up was all my fault. I pushed her away with my insecurity , jealousy , and codependency. I loved her more than anything , after our break up I tried to take my life several times . She was everything to me . We talked about marriage and spending our lives together . In the end she couldn’t take it anymore. I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD .which reinforces the guilt . In the end it was all my fault . She didn’t want to be with me anymore because of me. She would have done anything and everything for me. But because of me being me loving her didn’t matter anymore and wasn’t enough. How do I live with this guilt ? How do i accept a person willing to do anything for me just gave up on me? She said she was a happy person before she met me and she said I made her miserable . How do I move on from that ? How do I stop crying everyday ?
Hey Ricky, please, please, PLEASE don’t buy into that junk. Being a trained psychiatrist Elena may have a different opinion than me but I’m Bipolar/PTSD/ADHD and so is my 33 year old son, and both of us have been blamed by our exes for “making them miserable” because of our illnesses. While it may be true that some people just honestly can’t handle being in a relationship with someone who has such a diagnosis, I really think you should consider the possibility that your ex is NOT the sweet wonderful person you “drove” away by “being you.” If she really truly would have done anything for you then how come she’s blaming you for ruining her life? Hmm? Maybe I’m missing something here but that doesn’t sound like a selfless person who’d do anything for you. If she’d do anything for you maybe she could stop putting a guilt trip on a person who she knows already has issues. That’s not very loving in my book. You say the breakup is your “fault” because of who you are – being who you are is not something you do to someone. This individual is deliberately exploiting making you feel guilty – think about it – she tells you she was a happy person before she met you and you made her miserable – WHAT??? Even Elena will agree we don’t have to be psychiatrists to know that nobody can “make” anybody else feel anything – WE are in control of how we feel. People can do nasty things to us (and “being who you are” is NOT doing something nasty to anyone) but WE CHOOSE how to react to what they do. If you aren’t in therapy, please go. And like I said, please at least consider what I said. Nobody blames somebody for “being who they are” if they love you. She wanted out and for whatever reason she didn’t want to take responsibility so she had to make it your fault. Take it from me, I’m an old lady (I’m 57 years old) and I wasted 40 years with a cruel sociopath (we divorced and remarried THREE TIMES because he kept stringing me along and it was always my fault whenever it didn’t work out) and my poor son did the same thing with his cruel ex who tells him all the time what a POS he is because he’s bipolar and why doesn’t he just kill himself and who will follow him around throughout eternity like the Flying Dutchman or the Albatross around the Ancient Mariner’s neck between boyfriends. Both of them keep blaming us for being sick, for making them miserable, neither one ever taking responsibility for their own feelings. That’s probably why they keep us around, for an excuse when their lives don’t work out, for someone to blame. Well I finally learned and I hope it’s not too late for my son, so please at least consider learning from our experiences.Take care of yourself, please, and stop believing you’re not okay just because someone else says so. Good luck.
Hi Dr. Elana,
Great article! I’ve instinctively done/gone through most of what you’ve recommended after quite a bit of trial and error, and it has helped a great deal.
I’m now in a similar situation but things aren’t seemingly working quite as well. Not to be an arm chair psychologist, but I’m almost 100% positive my ex fiancé was BPD with NPD traits, from all the info I gathered on this DX on the past 2.5 years, (started to slightly suspect it 6 months in),
I’m not trying to make my situation different or special, however, from all extensive material that I’ve read on BPD, I honestly feel that my ex has one of the absolute most severe cases that I’ve ever read or heard about.
Are there any different or additional recommendations you would you make to someone like myself, dealing with coming out of a long term serious relationship with someone with a severe personality disorder.
I’ve never touched a drug and rarely drink, but I almost feel like I’m a recovering addict, to which she was the drug, (something I see mentioned of in the forums quite often). Due to her extreme manipulative nature and my usually rational frame of mind, this has me absolutely shell shocked beyond belief.
Thank you for your time and contributions towards matters of mental health. They are greatly appreciated.
Yeah just hot dumped…been 20 days or so…n it was a 1.5 year long rel…so I was devastated…im still devastated…worst…he didnt give me any reason. For d breakup…n well…I cared n loved soooo much…n I ignored all frnds all this tym…so nw..when he has frnds…I dont…parents r mad at me too…nobody understands…im in 12th grade…preparing for medical…I have just 5 months for my entrance exam…n I just dont know how do I get back to studying.., i should study like..for 12 hours a day…if I wanna get into a good college…bt I simply cant focus…its leaving me raw n painful….plus he was my first love…n first sex…n I cant proces why this had to end like this…I just dont have enough explainations…from anybody…nobody is givin me a reason why…when I cared so much…thought JUSTBabout his happiness….he left me…for his studies n coz his parents didnt want him to be in a rel right nw…said that my parents r much mre imp for me thn u riya…whereas I on d other hand kept neglecting my parents n still painstakingly managed to keep my rel goin…I put best of my efforts…n d very first tym he had to prove his love…he let go of me…n nw…we re in d same clas…see each other…bt frget talking…he dsnt even LOOK at me…can anybody plss..for gods sake…help me out…I dont even hav d tym to spare for d hangover…im on d verge of d deciding tym of my career n life…
It DOES get better over time…. for some it takes longer and for some much shorter period of time.
My boyfriend of almost 6 years walked away during the worst time of my life, two weeks right after my Father’s tragic death…. and me becoming ill at that time. He did not have courage to announce the end of our relationship in a face-to-face conversation breaking up with me via a phone and text messages, stating he could not deal with my problems, hospitals, and stress. As a “courageous” police officer, he ran from my house taking a few of his belongings like a rat. …
It hurt to death at that time…
I am feeling so much better three moths post the breakup with intermittent bouts of depression that become less and less frequent.
I had read hundreds of self-growth and self-help books to survive and maintain my sanity. Here are just a few ones I would recommend to anyone to completely change their outlook and become better and stronger:
Abraham Hicks’ series, Miracle Morning, The Power of Now, The Magic, and multiple manifestation books.
Blessings to All!
My relationship broke down 5 months ago and it helped me to read your articles. I’ve been so paralysed by all these feelings you describe and it was a relief to read this. At 43, it’s pretty scary being single. Feeling like I don’t have the youth and beauty to offer that I once did and restricted by my kids, it is hard to believe that I’ll meet someone who excites me again and that they will want to be with me. I also am not sure how to apply these rules to my situation. The no-contact thing is impossible because we have 3 young children, 8, 5 and 3, and live in a small town. And every contact hurts. He’s casually going out with a girl in her 20s and I feel middle aged and unattractive. It’s hard to have confidence.It’s hard not to keep grieving the loss of my family. And it’s hard to just shut off hope for a reconciliation when we have young children together- even though I don’t know how I ever could because I’m so angry with him. I am totally swamped in my emotions and feel like I’m drowning in myself and I need to get through this. I just don’t know how.
What a fantastic post. Thanks so much.
My boyfriend and I split last week after a seven year relationship. After I coaxed him into telling me why he looked so sad he said he just couldn’t see a future for us anymore because of some fundamental differences. He said he needed time to think about things so I packed up my things and moved back into my place. He is an extremely indecisive guy so I know that he is never going to come out and say “its over”…. he will just let things fade away. Every time I asked him what he wanted or whether there were things we could work out he just said ” l don’t know”. Every time I asked him why he had changed his mind he just said ” I don’t know”. I think he has a lot of issues to work through right now and that I shouldn’t be with someone who cant make up his mind. He recently came out to me as gender fluid as well and I’ve tried to be as supportive as I can.
Its just that, at the moment, I am going through a whole host of painful trials. My poor father is incapacitated at home, dying of brain cancer and my amazing, strong and wonderful mother is looking after him and still working full time. This last week we got a call saying that my mother’s mother had had a stroke and is paralyzed down the one side and can’t talk anymore. I try and go home to my folks every weekend so that I can help out. Staying strong for my family is important especially now that my mom is dealing with losing two important people in her life.
I miss my boyfriend so much sometimes. I miss having someone to hold and someone to come home to. I feel like my whole life has just been turned upside down.
I realise that it’s a perfect opportunity to start over but these days all I want to do sleep. I feel like I dont have any energy to do anything at all let alone clean my flat, try get fit or go to work. I have mild depression and anxiety issues too. I know I need get up and get going….. but I never stop feeling too tired and weary to face it all.
8-9 years after my breakup I still have an anger. It refused to go away. I am still hurt. I have been in other relationships but this continues to bother me. I have seen therapists done several things.
This is definitely reassuring. At 40, I’m MUCH better at processing break ups (2.5 weeks ago) than I was 10 years ago which was my last very significant break up. I’m letting myself feeling all the emotions and just ride the waves because I know it will all eventually be over, and, frankly, it’s OK to wallow in the suckiness of it. My ex would say that sometimes to appreciate happiness and joy, it’s OK to be sad and depressed sometimes and wallow in that. I never really bought that because he seemed depressed all the time but I could see the theory.
Anyway, I think what’s harder for me is that, in hindsight, I’ve known it was over a while ago. We had great moments recently, but also just “blah” moments. Of course, I’d wished we’d talked about it more and was hoping we’d be able to work them through together, but when you’re in a cloud of funk it’s hard to see beyond that. And his reasoning for the break up: “I”m just not feeling the connection I want to feel.”
At the same time, I really can’t fathom us getting back together. He, right now, is not the person I want to be with. The person I started dating 2.5 years ago is who I want to be with.
My question is: within 12 hours of him breaking up with me, I’d decided to move out of the small town we live in. Just a temporary move for the summer an hour north in another small town filled with new hobbies and friends waiting for me with open arms – to get away from what has been an intense environment – personally, professionally, socially – while also nursing the broken heart. Part of me feels like I’m running away from my feelings, but part of me is relieved that I have the absolute perfect situation and fortune to squirrel away for the summer in a new rich out of my comfort zone environment to help lessen the pain. I know I’ll have evening at home when I’ll be crying myself to sleep still, but I think if I’m accepting of that, it’ll be OK.