Thriving after a Breakup: Part 1
Part 1: Early Days
I’ve put together a three-part series on to help you not only survive a break-up, but THRIVE. Transform your pain into power, strength, and growth so you’re a whole person on the other side.
From the moment we are born, our brains are wired for bonding. Which means that a break-up has the potential to absolutely batter us on a biological level.
Research has shown that breakups can actually activate the same areas in the brain associated with physical pain and distress.
When you’re in the thick of it, it can feel overwhelming, maddening, or utterly GUT WRENCHING. Some days you’ll feel like if you start crying, you might never stop. Other days, you might feel disorganized, cluttered and out of sorts, maybe even like you’ve got the flu.
The two major stages in the days/weeks/months following a breakup are:
- Disbelief, Shock, Avoidance
- Great Emotions (Guilt, Blame, Anger, and Grief). Moving through these two stages is essential to growing from your breakup.
We all go through these stages. See if you can find yourself in any of the experiences below. At the end of each one, I’ll also give you some tools you can use these stages to heal yourself. Here we go….
The Early Days
Disbelief | Shock | Avoidance:
Breakups are a death. A death of identity, of a person, of shared meaning, future plans. Disbelief or denial is a coping skill that allows you some extra time to process your new reality. Here you might be having thoughts like… Was I dreaming? Is this actually happening? Maybe we’ll get back together. He’ll be back. But we slept together last night…
Shock is PRIMAL. It’s how we handle and get through immense loss. You see this with people who lose a family member. They seem to weirdly have it all together, organize the funeral, coordinator family members, etc. And then when it’s over, the real grief hits. This is the time to sit with your feelings, and take comfort in knowing that when you’re ready, the path forward does exist.
Then there’s avoidance. Throwing yourself into your work, going out every night, using drugs or alcohol to numb out, staying so busy that you don’t have to deal with the reality of what is…. That’s avoidance. Avoidance is temporarily effective, but it also has the potential to mess things up (i.e. exhaustion, drunk dialing your ex, one-night stands, wicked hangovers, and feeling even more depressed than you did before).
What you can do about it:
All you have to/can do during this phase is acknowledge that you’ve had a loss. Write it down. Tell a friend. Get it out. Say the words.
Grief | Anger | Loneliness
Relentless, gut-wrenching grief. Hearing that song that always reminded you of him, going to a place that you used to go to together, thinking of the breakup scene over and over again. Jonesing to hear their voice – so much so that you have to sit on your hands to avoid calling. Knowing that if you do, you’ll be back where you started. Grief tends to bring up all of the other unresolved losses you’ve experienced so if you’re feel a little extra sensitive, know that you’re feelings could be compounded grief.
What you can do about it.
This is the time to stay in bed, eat ice cream or mac n cheese. Cry while watching movies about other people’s perfect but fake relationships. It’s okay to need a friend to comfort you or bring you Chinese food. It’s okay to feel completely incapacitated. Your life has completely changed. Do everything that feels good. Have a favorite food? Eat it. Favorite color? Paint your room. Favorite quotes? Post them all over your house. Surround yourself with things that make you feel good. Dye your hair. Buy a new piece of furniture. Travel somewhere you’ve never been before.
Anger | Rage
Feel it. OWN IT. Anger helps us move through deep sadness. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin and are both processed in a part of the brain that deals with reward assessment and reward expectation. When the expected outcome is threatened, the prefrontal cortex triggers rage. Translation: Sometimes when you do get what you want, it’s really f*&^%$@ maddening. Anger is a beautiful thing. It can motivate us. Knock your -ex right off the pedestal. It takes us out of victim. Anger can also be a way of protecting ourselves from deeper emotions like sadness, abandonment, and grief.
What you can do about it.
EXPRESS YOUR ANGER. Scream when you’re alone in your car. Break old dishes. Punch a pillow. Go to a drum circle. Work out. Usually there’s some sadness underneath anger so don’t be surprised if you start sobbing after beating up a punch bag.
I know that punch of loneliness after a breakup when the only person you need is the person who you can’t talk to. When you are used to being with someone for a long time, it really hurts to wake up every morning alone in your bed.
What you can do about it.
Allow yourself to feel alone. Get cozy. Build a nest and make your alone time a time for you. Dance around. Treat yourself to a hot bath and some tea, Netflix and wine. Or call a friend and have a sleepover.… Own the emptiness. Assign a personalized breakup buddy, a person who is always on-call to take your calls when you feel like calling your ex, someone to call whenever you need to talk or cry or process.
Stay tuned for Part 2: 10 ways to Find Happiness After a Breakup
I know how hard it can be to be in it, in the muck, feeling like there’s no end to these feelings. There is.
Remind yourself that this is a season,temporary in nature and that eventually you will show the world your beautiful smile. You can get through this!