There are few experiences in life more devastatingly painful than a breakup. As breakups seem to activate our most vulnerable spot where love and abandonment intersect, it's no wonder many people struggle with "getting over" a lost lover.
But therein lies the key to healing: as with any grieving process, there is no getting over; you must walk through the eye of the storm, grieve as hard and long as you need to grieve, and from that raw and rich place of brokenhearted broken-openness, find the willingness to ask yourself the hard but essential questions that will help you move forward.
Following these three steps will not only help you heal from heartbreak but will prepare you to begin your next relationship on a healthy foundation:
1. Let yourself grieve without apology, qualifiers, or time limitations.
In a culture that teaches us early in life that "crying is weak" and offers platitudes like, "I'm sure it's for the best; he was a jerk, anyway" in response to heartbreak, it's often quite challenging for someone going through a breakup to allow themselves enough time and space to grieve to completion. And truncated grief is the surest way to entrench it further, thereby inhibiting the healing process.
In order to heal from loss, we must grieve; there's simply no other way. So let yourself cry. Bring compassion to your pain. If you hear an insidious voice whispering statements like, Oh, get over it, you big baby. It's not that bad, or Really? You were only together for three months. Come on! you know that you've fallen prey to the cultural voice that has zero tolerance for pain or emotional discomfort. Tell that voice to go away and allow yourself to feel your pain.
Likewise, there are no time limitations on grief. Some people may need to grieve hard for a month and then they're mostly over it, while others grieve intermittently, in fits and starts, over the course of a year or longer. There isn't a right or wrong way to grieve; there's only your pain and your grief, and as long as you're meeting your pain with compassion instead of self-judgement or a "poor me" mentality, the grief is healthy and is the very medicine that will help you heal.
2. Be willing to examine how you contributed to the breakup.
After a breakup, most people vacillate between the two extremes of:
- It was all his fault because he wasn't ready (or he was a jerk or, oh right, he was married)
- I'm such a screw-up. Why can't I have a normal relationship like everyone else around me? I'm broken and worthless and I'll never find real love.
Neither of these positions are loving or accurate, and if you want to heal from your breakup, you would be best served to let go of the blame and shame and instead adopt an attitude of learning.
Relationships are a dance and it truly does take two to tango. If it didn't work, I guarantee you that you co-created the dysfunction and demise in some way. And if you don't examine your part in the equation, you're much more likely to repeat the same pattern with the next partner.
Now here's the key: You must bring a true lens of curiosity and self-compassion to your investigation. This isn't about castigating yourself for being "too sensitive" or "overly needy." Rather, it's an opportunity to learn about your growing edges and understand that breakups, like all transitions, offer a chance for accelerated learning as we're brought to our knees in the throes of darkness and grief and, thus, rendered both more vulnerable and primed to receive insight than during other time.
3. Allow stored grief and past losses to surface.
Part of the reason why breakups are so painful is that they trigger past pain that lives in the heart. It's one of the immutable laws of transitions: loss releases loss. So when you're grieiving the end of this relationship, prepare for other losses—deaths, moves, other breakups, old wounds from childhood including your parents' divorce—to surface.
Again, our culture doesn't offer a healthy container in which to grieve these old losses and past pains and instead encourages you to "buck up, move on, and get over it." As such, we miss profound opportunities to heal these old wounds at deeper levels of the spiral, which will only help till the inner foundation and prepare you for your next partner so that you can begin the relationship on healthier ground.
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