It is easy to feel like that your world has ended when the relationship has ended, no matter what the nature of the relationship, or who broke it.
Not all breakups are bitter and difficult but one thing is sure that all break ups hurt and leave us feeling sad and regretful. For the young or for first time break ups, it can be especially traumatic as the relationship becomes an important part of the identity and the end of a relationship leads to a loss of self confidence, self doubt, wallowing in self pity or angry and questioning the entire world.
Myth: The pain of a heart break is imaginary
The mix of emotional and physical stress that a break up brings can lead to physical ailment if not healed. There are chemicals in the brain like dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin which play a role in romantic engagement. These chemicals stimulate and give both physical and emotional energy. Unresolved emotions from a loss of a relationship can lead to a change in these chemicals which cause intense stress and physical symptoms.
The healing process following a break up depends on many factors like age, gender, length of relationship, nature of break up, our social and cultural background and most definitely our personality style. Different people respond differently to a relationship break up, with some showing an extreme response like self harm and others refusing to accept that it is over and attempting repeated reconciliations. But there are those who get back together much more easily and haven’t we often wondered how? To a large extent it doesn’t matter how bad or awful the breakup was. It’s actually how you choose to deal with it. There are some factors which are helpful and some which definitely do not help.
Let us look at what works and what doesn’t.
Don't rethink your decision. At the initial stage of a break up we are emotionally vulnerable, confused and even lonely. We tend to romanticise the good parts and even think that we may have been better off being in the relationship. These feelings are normal as after a relationship breakup we all need time to reach a stage of emotional acceptance that it’s over for good. The famous five stage model of grieving by Kubler-Ross, expressed in the acronym DABDA, states that Denial is the most common initial response in the process of grief. The other four stages are Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. People often experience these stages while going through the process of coping with loss. So be aware that denial of the bad in the relationship is a normal phase after a break up and it does not mean that you need to rethink your decision.
Make a list of reminders. Many a times it may be helpful to note down all the reasons for getting out of the relationship. This works as a reminder when in a weak moment, or a moment of denial, we get too close to the telephone to call our ex. It will help to read the list over a couple times, and then tell yourself, "This is the truth of what it was like. Why would I want to go back and torture myself again?" Imagine that this is happening to a friend of yours instead of you and you have to help her in this weak moment. Think of what you would say to your friend and say it aloud to yourself: "Get as far away as you can! That relationship was no good for you!" This may not sound believable initially but trust this as you would trust a good friends advice.
Don’t isolate yourself. This aspect is extremely important as very often after a break up we want to lick our wounds in private. We may have become so absorbed in our relationship that our social support and peer group may have depleted without realizing. It may seem selfish or against our pride to go back to our friends. However, needless to say, social support is extremely important in helping us heal after a break up. Opening up to someone we can trust and who is objective can be cathartic and even help put things in perspective. It is important that we express our emotions honestly, even if we don’t wish to narrate details of the relationship and not pretend to be strong. Accept invitations to go out with friends even if you don’t feel like it. Often enough we begin to feel better once we have given ourselves that chance to socialize. On the other hand beware of a friend whose advice doesn’t seem helpful or makes you feel more agitated.
Find positive anger release. Often a relationship break up leads us with many emotions including intense anger. This anger is a normal experience as it has been pointed out earlier in the DABDA model. The amount of anger you feel depends on the nature of the split, the circumstances, and how long it took to make the final break. You may feel intense shame and regret for having been in a pointless relationship and wasting your time. Often enough the shame and hatred is more if the relationship had a physical aspect to it. Coping with these emotions are important as they may stop you from moving on and lead to drastic actions like trying to take revenge on your ex or harming yourself. It becomes a useless fight with things that you have no power to undo or change. There are so many positive things you can do with your emotions and energy and it helps to find a positive anger release like hobbies. Exercising is an extremely effective way to feel good about ourselves and even directly affect the chemicals that make us dysphoric. However, you may need professional help if these emotions are intense and no amount of trying from your side helps.
Myth: The best way to get over a relationship is to get into another one
Eventually, yes. But definitely not immediately after a break up when a person is still hurt and vulnerable. This relationship will be for the wrong reasons and lead to another disaster.
Don’t check on your ex. This will lead to more anguish. When we break up with someone there is a tendency to be curious about his/her current life without you. We may have mutual friends and getting information may be easy. However, this doesn't help the break up or recovery process. You may also keep checking on him through social network sites. People have different views about remaining friends with your ex. It takes a lot of maturity to be friends with your ex after a break up especially in the initial stages of the break up. Trying to become friends may not allow you to deal with emotions that you may have about the break up like anger, resentment or betrayal. For the process of healing we need to be able to access the emotions that are related to the break up. This means maintaining distance, no phone calls, no e-mails, no text messages, no Facebook.
Myth: Breaking up means forgetting all feelings for your ex
This may be impossible as strong emotions form strong memories. Our memories also need to be kept alive to remember what was not good about the relationship.
With time the memories will fade away and the emotions will dull but forcing oneself to forget may in fact work paradoxically.
Remove memory triggers. There are all kinds of things that remind you of your ex. It is especially difficult in the beginning of the relationship to get rid of them as it feels you are tearing away a part of yourself. However, after a while it is important to look at all those stuff that lead to heart ache and remove them. There may be something like a watch or piece of jewelry that is a reminder of the good aspects of your relationship, there's nothing wrong with keeping such a thing, but for the time being, try putting it away for later, when you've given yourself some time and space.
Write all your feelings down. Apart from talking to someone, writing about your feelings is a great healer. You may be able to express your feelings totally uncensored while writing as compared to when talking to somebody. Writing it all down can lead to sudden insights, patterns may become clearer, and as your grieving begins to lessen, you will find it so much easier to understand valuable life lessons from the whole experience if you've been writing your way through it.
Myth: It is imperative to confront your ex to get a sense of closure
Closure is not something that gets achieved with one conversation or encounter. Discussions with the ex after a break up in search of closure may lead to more confusion and distress. Closure is something that is achieved within oneself as we learn to let go and be at peace with our lives again. This takes time and it requires us to understand what happened and why it happened and how that contributes to us as a person.
There is a belief that guys get over relationship break ups faster than girls. This may be true to an extent since girls tend to measure their self worth through relationship success. However, it depends on the particular person and their coping. There have been cases of boys who have made attempts to end their lives due to failures in relationship. In general keeping a balance between love life, education and family helps people recover more quickly. So for those who have remained focused on studies, sports and other friendships through their relationship tend to do better. There is no time frame as to when you will be over the relationship; the important thing is that you should have begun the process of recovery sometime soon after the break up.
Mrigaya Sinha is a Clinical Psychologist with a PhD in Clinical Psychology from NIMHANS, Bangalore. She is from Patna and has done her graduation from Patna Women's College. She is one of the very few psychologists from Patna with training from a premier national institute and experience of working in several big institutes apart from NIMHANS including KMC, Manipal; VIMHANS, New Delhi; and Mahavir Cancer Santhan, Patna over a period of eight years, to name a few. She is currently setting up her private practice in the US.