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When I was in high school, a friend of mine wrote an essay on grief. When I read it, I was struck by her accuracy in capturing the emotion. What was interesting though is, it wasn’t about someone who had passed, it was about the grief she felt over her recent breakup with her boyfriend.

When our teacher read my friend’s essay for the first time, she sat with her and shared her own, similar story of heartbreak. Our teacher found it so compelling, in fact, that she submitted it to a competition – and my friend won! Her essay was published in a book.

What I learned from my friend’s essay, and the attention it received, is two-fold:

πŸ’” Grief is a perfectly normal, universal emotion, both felt and feared by humans.

πŸ’” Grief, although painful, can both create and be mitigated through connection.

How long was your last relationship

Steps to Healing

Processing grief, specifically in dealing with a break-up or past relationship, can feel counterintuitive for some people.

The inundation of negative feelings, the revisiting of past mistakes, the romanticization of what you’ve had and lost, and simply making sense of a broken heart can deceive us, feel overwhelming, make us crave isolation, or take desperate measures to undo pain.

The truth is, there are tried and true steps to get over a breakup – or, at the very least, to build resilience and gratitude. Not only will this resilience and gratitude support you through these difficult feelings but create a greater sense of support for future hardships (be it breakups or otherwise) and trust in your ability to cope.

When we lose a romantic partner – especially one we are deeply attached to – the path ahead may feel daunting, impossible. From my own experience, and watching many loved ones go through a split, I can assure you that this pathway to healing will not only work but ready you for future relationships.

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Listen, you don’t necessarily have to make any major changes to feel better. Sometimes the tiniest tweaks to our lifestyle or mindset make leaps and bounds for our mental health and healing.

A relationship ending does not require extravagant new beginnings. It’s about reflecting on where you’re at and making the proper adjustments to metabolize negative emotions, while simultaneously promoting positive emotions and personal growth.

Although the trajectory and pace of this process won’t be the same for everybody, these are foundational elements to letting go and moving on. I (and experts) recommend creating a writing ritual throughout this process by way of journaling.

Free-form journaling allows you to put words to your emotions and pain. This form of expression assists in the processing of feelings, providing clarity to certain negative sensations and giving the self a moment to move through them (rather than numb yourself or suppress what you’re dealing with).

Because journaling has played such a significant role in my life, and it comes highly recommended by experts, prompts have been included with each step.

Without further ado, here is how to get over a breakup: a pathway to healing and navigating your post-breakup blues!

Have you ever experienced a difficult breakup?

Gifts from Your Former Relationship

When a relationship ends, our brain can oftentimes play tricks on us.

Some of us go through the “it wasn’t that bad” stage, where we suddenly only remember the good times. This response can induce feelings of sadness and desperation to get back together with an ex and comfort ourselves in the retrospectively polished imagining of what the previous relationship really was.

a Pinterest pin that says "How To Get Over A Breakup: A Pathway To Healing" on a pink background with dotted texture and and a portrait of a lady with a flowery background inside a circle frame with different glittered star symbols

The other side of this tarnished coin is the “I’m the victim, I did nothing wrong” perspective. The trouble here is we refuse to recognize the positive qualities that our former partner and relationship offered or the good that came out of the relationship itself.

The goal for this step is to find a balance – a middle ground – that makes us feel in control and empowered post-breakup. These qualities, if we can build them during a breakup, inevitably help in our next relationship.

This step is about learning from our experience, rather than casting blame or feeling inadequate.

To push it further, it’s about identifying the gifts the relationship gave us, and how we can move with gratitude because the experience offers insight into what we want, need, and who we are.

A wonderful thing to note is that the end of a relationship does not deem it unsuccessful. Life is long and relationships offer a myriad of lessons, should we be willing to recognize them.

Depending on the cause of the breakup, sure, you may need a minute to digest some anger or other intense emotion(s) before accepting that anything good came out of them. But hear me when I say, even (especially?) in pain, we have the capacity to learn and grow.

Pain teaches us about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, our inner workings and needs, and offers a place to form connections (like that between my friend and teacher).

At the very least, it teaches us what we want and don’t want.

How would you best describe your current breakup style?

Here are your journal prompts for this step of your healing process:

πŸ’” If any, what qualities about your partner made you feel emotionally safe?

πŸ’” If any, what qualities about your partner made your feel emotionally unsafe?

πŸ’” In the beginning, what was it about the ex-partner that excited you about having a relationship with them?

πŸ’” What was it about your ex-partner that made it difficult to have a relationship with them?

πŸ’” If you could go back, what would you tell your younger self at the beginning, middle, and end of that relationship?

πŸ’” Given that the relationship ended, what is the greatest lesson it has taught you about yourself?

Letting the Ex Go

If you do a quick Google search asking, “can I be friends with my ex?”, you may be surprised by the experts’ unanimous vote against being friends with your ex.

Healing after a breakup requires you to do the exact thing you set out to do: separate.

No Ties

If you do not have any shared responsibilities – such as children, a business, etc. – that require a certain level of communication, reducing contact to what is necessary is the best for moving on.

This may look different for people who live together, versus those who don’t. The silent treatment may not be practical if you have to live together until your lease is up, because you can’t afford to pay two rent.

Or maybe you don’t live together but you’ve left personal items at each other’s place. Leaving communication open for a period of time to get these things sorted may feel more comfortable for you.

However, if one (or both) parties are uncomfortable continuing the communication, making arrangements to stay with loved ones and having someone pick up personal items, is also a reasonable request.

In most cases, following through on this part of the process will help avoid the temptation of convincing yourself it’s possible to remain mutual friends; that your connection is unique in a way that will allow you to manage that friendship. As everyone around you will suggest, it more often than not leads to further pain and prolongs the time you’ll have to spend detaching yourself from this person.

Shared Responsibilities

Now, for those who do have shared responsibilities – i.e., co-parenting children or fur babies – you may need to consider what future communication looks like.

I read an article recently about a couple who had three small children, and after their divorce, they committed to only communicating with each other about parental tasks. They agreed that if they couldn’t make it work after a month, they would bring in an intermediary.

Keep the Distance

mirror with words written 'bye' using a lipstick

Now that you have the communication figured out, it’s time to let go of some other things.

I’m sure you know by now that social media can have huge consequences on our mental health. This can be heightened after a breakup because you may find yourself “accidentally” coming across a mention or a picture of your ex.

It’s a slippery slope from there…

We have to remember that social media is a highlight reel of people’s lives and rarely reflects what is truly going on behind closed doors (aka, their “behind-the-scenes”).

For this reason, it’s critical to steer clear of their social media accounts (unfriend/unfollow/block) and give yourself a temporary social media detox.

Additionally, consider putting away (if not throwing away) items that are painful reminders of your ex. If burning photos and memorabilia is out of the question, simply get a box, put everything inside of it, and shove it into the darkest corner of your closet (and mind!). You can find comfort in the fact that it isn’t gone for good, but you don’t need to subject yourself to the influence of those things right now. Be selective about when you revisit this place, and try to avoid doing so habitually.

Honoring the Self

The critical piece here is honoring yourself – which starts with being honest with yourself. This is to reduce suffering. Breakups are already hard enough, adding insult to injury is just… well, needless and counterproductive.

Remember you can only control your actions. Our ex-partners won’t always be on the same page with us and, at times, may try to push our boundaries. Whether they are doing it unconsciously or out of anger, pain, or malice, your role remains: you must do what’s best for you and your mental health.

Their feelings and process are not your responsibility.

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Regardless of your situation with your ex, limiting contact is paramount. A quick recap of what this includes:

πŸ’” No unnecessary phone calls or other forms of communication, unless pre-established (i.e., who’s taking the kids to practice; where you’re picking up your record collection, etc.)

πŸ’” Unfriending/unfollowing/blocking their social media accounts

πŸ’” Giving yourself a social media detox

πŸ’” Appointing an intermediary if necessary

πŸ’” No checking up on your ex

πŸ’” Put or toss away painful reminders of your ex or the relationship

Here are your journal prompts for this step of your healing process:

πŸ’” Ideally, what boundaries need to be set for you to start on your healing journey?

πŸ’” What three actions can you plan right now to help you feel more empowered during this process?

πŸ’” In putting distance between you and your ex, where do you believe you’ll struggle most? (We’ll talk about helpful tools in the next section)

Setting Up Your [external] Support System

So far, you’ve been doing the work solo – which is great! I did say that you are in control of your actions, right?

Well, now it’s time to build a system of support – people and tools that will help you navigate the most difficult patches of your healing journey. The purpose is to ensure you’re maintaining nourishing connections with yourself and others, so you don’t regress or fall back into the relationship that wasn’t working.

Social Support, aka Connection

As I mentioned, the healing process can oftentimes feel counterintuitive. You may crave isolation or try to find quick solutions to mitigate emotional pain. This is where connection and belonging come into play.

The connections you nurture during this time should provide emotional safety and a place for you to express grief and thoughts, as well as hold you accountable for your actions – especially if you’re behaving out of alignment with your healing.

Identify Your Inner Circle

First, write a list of the people you trust most.

These people have earned this connection because they’ve demonstrated that they want the best for you; they exhibit empathy, vulnerability, and compassion.

Once you’ve identified these people, reach out to them; share your situation and ask if they have the capacity to speak or hang out more regularly during this time.

Reconnect with Old Friends

As we build new romantic relationships, our priorities tend to change. Sometimes we find ourselves losing touch with people we had genuine connections with. Sometimes this happens as a result of a new partnership.

If this applies to you, write a list of people with whom you’d be interested in reconnecting. If they’re receptive to this outreach, see if you can schedule some time to speak or hang out.

It’s important to note here that by “reconnecting”, I don’t mean pursuing a former flame. As you’ll read shortly, giving yourself time before jumping into your next relationship may be an integral part of your process.

Accelerate Healing by Eliminating These Things

Start taking inventory of the things in your life that are hindering the process of moving on. This may include unhealthy habits, such as drinking alcohol, spending too much time on electronic devices, or indulging in too much idleness and avoidance in your everyday life.

With alcohol, you may be more likely to get emotional and make irrational decisions. Intoxication can put you in a vulnerable mindset and position, which could sabotage your healing.

Going off the sauce (or any other recreational substances that may impact your ability to make rational decisions) will serve you. Also, spending less time hungover will make space for…

New Habits, New Hobbies, New People

You’ve probably heard it before:

female best friends lying on the floor playing with their hair as their mustache

Implementing new and exciting activities into your life is a positive “distraction”. Not only does it expose you to new places and new people, but also unexplored parts of yourself.

Finding a community of like-minded people – people who share the same interests – is hugely satisfying and will fill the negative space that is your grief. It also helps you formulate who you can be beyond the partner you’re leaving behind. It helps you begin to actualize the next version of yourself, and believe that you’ll be okay.

Some new activities can be as simple as long walks alone or with a walking group. You could also take up something that has always felt scary but thrilling, like white water rafting or posing nude for artists to paint you!

Experiment. Play. Enjoy!

New People

This is where I’d like to speak about moving on…to someone new.

Earlier I mentioned it is important to give yourself time before pursuing another intimate relationship. Each of us has a unique capacity for love and sex, and this area requires some self-reflection to ensure we aren’t deepening wounds.

You see, breakups can oftentimes leave us raw.

If we aren’t careful with ourselves, our hearts, or our bodies, intimate encounters can prolong that pain. This isn’t to say we can’t have meaningful engagements – be them sexual or otherwise – after a breakup. It’s just a word of caution: as you begin to understand your needs and wants throughout this process, move in the direction that best serves them, taking risks only when it is healthy to do so.

Consider Professional Help

The final external system of support you can implement is therapy (although, it also plays as internal support.).

More than ever, we’re understanding we don’t have to go it alone. If your breakup feels particularly difficult, you feel stuck or are concerned about how your baggage will impact your relationship with your next partner, talk things through with a professional.

A great resource is Better Help.

Research shows that talk therapy is a wonderful form of self-care! It helps build resilience and independence – specifically finding your own identity, one that is no longer interconnected with your ex.

Here are your journal prompts for this step of your healing process:

πŸ’” Who in your life are you most grateful for and why?

πŸ’” What passions or interests were you unable to pursue while in your last relationship? How can you fit those things in now?

πŸ’” What are 5 new activities you’d like to try over the next six months?

πŸ’” How do you feel about dating and casual sex right now?

πŸ’” If you were to speak to a therapist, what are 3 main topics or concerns you’d want to address?

Who is your go-to person during a breakup?

Setting Up Your [internal] Support System

The last item on your list for healing may be the most critical. The relationship we have with ourselves quite literally reflects the way we feel about our life experiences.

Does your daily life currently reflect the life you want? The person you are? The person you want to be?

What exactly needs to change for you to feel more confident in your mind and skin?

Knowing how to address negative thoughts and concepts about the self is formative for the types of relationships we allow into our lives (therapy, btw, is great for this!).

Below are a few tools that are simple but hugely impactful when done consistently. My suggestion is to choose one and begin there! Even one small, positive tweak can have favorable effects on your life!

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Learn to Open your Heart again

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Gratitude

Being grateful is grief and shame’s worst fear. Whether in the morning, throughout the day, or before bed, reminding yourself of three to five things you are grateful for will boost your mood, relieve stress, and prime your mind for happiness.

Meditation

Similar to gratitude, meditation boosts joy. It does this through the increase of presence and self-awareness, while also building stress-management skills through breath, focus, and relaxation. This is one of the highest praised mental health practices that doesn’t need to take longer than a few minutes.

Journaling

You got it! Having a journaling routine – even 10 minutes a day – will offer personal insights and make you less of a stranger to yourself.

What positive post-breakup step will you choose to take today?

Reading the Greats

Lastly, consuming some inspirational literature can go a long way. Below are a few of my go-to gurus for building resilience, self-esteem, and connection. Find your own gurus, and turn to them in times of need.

β€œConnection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” – BrenΓ© Brown

“You will be too much for some people. Those aren’t your people.” – Holly Whitaker

“At your best, you still won’t be good enough for the wrong person. At your worst, you’ll be worth it to the right person.” – Jay Shetty

β€œYour life is your party. You get to choose how you invite people and experiences and things into it.” – Jen Sincero