“One of the best times for figuring out who you are and what you really want out of life? Right after a breakup.”
~ Mandy Hale
When a romantic relationship ends, especially when you did not initiate the break up, we experience deep feelings of rejection and abandonment.
Even if you were having your own doubts about the relationship, we can still feel abandoned and rejected. This pain is made worse if you are caught off guard and weren’t expecting the relationship to end.
Either way, rejection hurts. Rejection shares the same pathways in our brains as physical pain.
So, when we say that rejection “hurts”, it’s true! Your brain doesn’t distinguish the difference between physical and emotional pain. This can be confusing and overwhelming.
We can begin to blame ourselves for the break up and start to wonder if there is something wrong with us.
The reality is, there are many reasons relationships end.
Most of the time, it is because the couple doesn’t share the same time lines, values or life goals. We can be in different places developmentally. Other times, it is because we just lack basic compatibility and lack of compatibility doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with either of you.
Here is what you can do to start your healing process:
- First, give yourself permission to feel the pain.
Do not try to pretend it doesn’t hurt or that you don’t care. When you feel the pain and grief of losing this relationship, give yourself five minutes to feel the feeling. Let the wave of feeling wash over you. Breathe through it. You will find that the feeling diminishes in its intensity.
- Focus on taking care of yourself.
Do not start neglecting to participate in your own life! Do things that make you feel good. Exercise and eat nutritious food. Get outside and spend time in nature.
Being outdoors has shown to increase our levels of serotonin, the happy chemicals in our brains. Spend time with the people and animals you care about.
- DO NOT contact him.
Chasing him and texting him to get answers is not going to be productive. Time without contact will give you perspective and allow you to heal. You may even make a list of things you don’t like about him or a list of things that were not working for you. Even “perfect” relationships have this list!
- Practice self-compassion.
This is not a time to beat yourself up for all your perceived flaws. Be kind to yourself. Try making a list of all of your great qualities.
It may also be a good time to do an honest inventory of how you may have contributed to the ending of the relationship. Think of this as a learning experience, not a recounting of your flaws.
- Rejection can often trigger past traumas or old childhood wounds.
Our brains do not distinguish between old and new wounds, it all goes into the same well of emotions. You may experience irrational or deeper feelings than the situation calls for. This is normal and also can be a good time to seek the help of a professional.
Jennifer Weiler, LPC – www.expressionscounseling.com
With the loss of this relationship, you have realized that a “broken heart” is no metaphor.
This pain in your chest is real. You can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you feel like the tears will never end.
You are not alone in this experience, and in recent years brain science research has shed light on what makes this struggle so real.
Studies show that a storm of chemical change takes place in the brain and body when your closest bond is suddenly broken.
Bonded relationships, whether with family or partners, trigger the release of important mood boosting hormones including Oxytocin, Dopamine, and Serotonin.
Now that he’s gone, those regular doses of feel good chemicals are not being released.
Your brain and body react as if in withdrawal screaming out for the happy juices it’s become accustomed to.
This is why many people feel the urge to binge drink or have a one-night-stand in the aftermath of a breakup.
They are looking for a way to quickly hotwire a release of these missing hormones.
The good news is that our bodies are extremely adaptable, and there are many healthy ways to trigger the release of these essential chemicals.
Here are my recommendations for getting your happy juices flowing again:
- Exercise: A hit of cardio helps burn off stress and excess emotional energy, triggers serotonin production, and builds confidence.
- Adventure: Go indoor sky-diving, find a new hiking trail with an awesome view, take an art class. Novelty sparks pleasure and keeps you in the moment, rather than dwelling in the past.
- Music: Build your uplifting playlist and keep it in repeat. Music increases energy and triggers dopamine production.
- Connect: Spend time with family and friends. Play with your dog or offer to puppy-sit for a friend.
- Comfort: As cheesy as it sounds, practice the “self-hug”. Wrap your arms around yourself, hands to shoulders, in a hug position. Hold for 2 full minutes. This triggers a release of oxytocin. As you hug, breathe deeply and exhale slowly.
Lastly, remember that you’ve survived this struggle before.
In fact, separation is the first challenge you ever faced.
As a baby, your first heartbreak came when you no longer got to sleep with mommy. You felt the drop-off of all those soothing feel-good juices that once came from sleeping in her arms.
There were undoubtedly some long crying sessions, some bad nights of sleep, some truly miserable moments. But it didn’t last forever.
You learned to self-soothe.
You came to rest peacefully, and even enjoy the freedom to sprawl out by yourself in the bed. You found out that you weren’t really alone, and that there was still plenty of love in the world.
You did it once. You will do it again.
Carla Munger, LMHC – www.eastsidewomenscounseling.com
It cuts deeply.
Right to the core of our human need to connect with others.
Most often as adults, we can handle some rejection. We tend to our wounds and get back to full force before too much time has drifted by. However sometimes (for some of us more than others), the devastation feels debilitating beyond reason (and/or happens repeatedly).
When logic doesn’t win, when we can’t convince ourselves of our inherent worth even after an understandable sensitive recovery period, it might be a good time to get curious.
Curious about exactly how you are relating to the break-up and any meaning you might be internalizing from it.
First, let’s look under the hood at what is likely happening in the body.
As biological beings, the instinct to connect to caregivers is there from the very beginning.
It’s a built-in survival mechanism for infancy and youth. Without attachment to caregiver, baby humans perish. Attachment is protective. Therefore, the threat of and fear of abandonment run deep in the nervous system.
This fear can reawaken in adulthood.
It ignores ration and goes straight to the viscera, gut and nervous system where it sounds the alarm. It’s important to understand this fear was once protective, noble in its origin of serving survival.
This strong survival strategy is also often the root of challenging behavior patterns and distorted self-beliefs. It is often the explanation of why/how our nervous system can keep us physiologically at odds with efforts to move on.
Here’s a breakdown of what can and can’t be done about a prolonged nervous system distress response:
- Override distress that is deeply rooted in the nervous system with affirmations
- Will the distress away in the nervous system
- Ignore it, cover it up (it leaks out sooner or later)
- Support ourselves (*note- your capacity to support yourself is evident in this very moment, as you read this article)
- Recognize nervous system distress for what it is (once an honorable survival strategy, perhaps currently on overdrive) and that it may be out of proportion to the actual event/situation
- Seek help (I recommend NARM Therapy, there are providers across many states and countries)
- Change perception (explore and adjust distorted self-beliefs and ways of relating to self and others)
- Stay connected with supportive friends and family
- Heal, grow and get to the other side of this devastation
It is important to remember that you are resourced with a fully developed mind and capacity to care for yourself through your own actions, including getting support as needed from others.
The right support can help transform devastation into self-knowledge and strength.
A break-up may feel devastating and perceived as if you can’t go on. However, your capacity to recover is always there.
Notice your impulse to heal in action right now as you read this article. It counts. Keep going!
Laurie Berson, LMSW – www.heartmindingatx.com
Going through a break-up can feel like grieving a death, only it’s more complicated because the person is still alive (and you may still have to have contact with them).
Just like with any kind of grief, there is no timeline for how long it lasts; your grief about this relationship ending may come and go for some time, especially around holidays or other important dates of the year.
Avoid pressuring yourself to “get over it” quickly, especially if it was a serious relationship.
Instead, let yourself put words to how you’re feeling by talking with a friend who won’t judge you, seeing a therapist, or by writing in a journal.
Talk or write about whatever comes up for you as frequently and as much as you need to.
This is how you “ride the wave” of grief and your emotions. You recognize that some days the “waters” of your mind might feel calm and some days they may be rocky. All you have to do is just be with what you’re feeling and get it out in words.
Some people find it helpful to get rid of all reminders associated with the relationship you two shared together (i.e. throwing away photographs and other items, blocking all contact through social media, etc.).
Only do this if and when you feel ready to and make sure you’re not doing it just because you’re feeling angry and hurt. Taking steps like this can be a final way of saying “goodbye” to the relationship you shared. You want to do that while you’re in a calm state of mind, feeling fully ready to let go.
I also recommend looking at the lessons you learned from this relationship.
You may have learned some wonderful things (things you want to have in a relationship in the future) or you may have learned some hard things (red flags to avoid next time); chances are, it’s a mix of both positive and negative.
No matter how the relationship ended or how hard it is to let go, be thankful that you got to experience this relationship.
You now get to decide what you want to remember and keep with you as you move forward on your life’s path.
Michelle Henderson, MA, LMHC – www.nextchapter-counseling.com
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