The very real pain of breakups. Why do they hurt so much and what you can do about it? Breakups suck. They usually suck more for one of the break up-ees. They can suck so bad you don’t want to get out of bed, talk to anyone, eat.
Sometimes it feels like you physically cannot do any of these things. All you can do is sit slumped in your bed, staring into nothing, stuck in your thoughts and weeping. Scratch that, sobbing. Sadness, anger, and anxiety stalk your days and nights. Your family or friends come over. Make you food. Dress you. Drag you out of the house unwillingly. Force conversation upon you while you quietly sob into the glass of whatever has been put in front of you that you haven’t even noticed.
Everyone tells you it’s going to get better. You may believe them deep down. At that moment though, it feels like you are never going to be the same again. Everything has changed and your body is screaming this knowledge back at you. I have been there. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t. It didn’t just happen once. It didn’t get easier the second time or the third. Why. Why if I am a grown-up who supposedly knows about this stuff, didn’t it get easier? Maybe the answer lies in the way our brain processes breakups
Why It Hurts
Research has shown that regions of the brain that get activated in response to physical pain also get activated in response to a breakup. Whether we’ve broken a bone or gotten dumped, many of the same underlying neurological structures are involved.
“Our brains don’t process break-ups emotionally. They interpret it as a threat to our survival, meaning our brain focuses on them, fixates on them and treats them as harm” — Nero Haynes
What you can do to deal with the pain
As hard as it may sound, you have to go through the pain of breaking up to get through it. The following 8 tips can help you make the grieving process more bearable
- Surround yourself with loved ones. You don’t have to talk or be good company. Friends and family reconnect us with ourselves. They remind us we are lovable. They cause a release of endorphins (feel-good hormones), and at the moment this can only be a good thing.
- If there is no one you feel you can talk to, write it down. Journal about your emotions. Research shows significant positive effects of journaling during times of challenge. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t even have to make sense. Start with… ‘today I felt’ or ‘when …(insert event) happened I felt’. Then just let it flow. Whatever words and thoughts come up. Write hard (or soft, however you feel) for 20 minutes. Finish it with three positive sentences to yourself. Something soothing. Something you have noticed about yourself that’s a strength. Words of encouragement. Then re-read it and tear it up. OR don’t!
- Be kind to yourself. Give yourself time. Try not to set dates or timelines for your recovery. Timelines will only make you feel worse if you don’t ‘snap’ out of it in the way you hoped.
- Get active. This could mean using exercise to trigger endorphins and metabolize stress hormones. It could mean scheduling your day around the patterns you see arising. For example, if you know that you feel worst in the mornings, go for a walk to get out of the house when you wake up. Meet someone. If you can’t sleep, make sure you are busy during the day and keep a book or crossword next to your bed at night.
- Notice self-criticism. Notice any time you blame yourself, list your shortcomings, call yourself names or recall rejections. Doing this is like taking a hammer to a broken limb. Your brain is already running on a survival response. This only activates that further. When this happens think about what you would say to your friend. Say this to yourself instead. You could even write a letter as if to a friend in this situation. Then read it.
- Learn how to self-soothe. See these two articles for self-soothing tips: one and two.
- Avoid the things that you know make you feel worse. Such as checking your ex’s social media or walking past their place repeatedly.
- Set boundaries. If your ex keeps calling you or won’t go away. Assertively state that the relationship is over and you need time apart to heal
Phases of a Break-Up
The pain of separation is comparable to the grief one feels after the death of a loved one. These can also be applied to the end of a relationship.
Phase 1: Denial
In the first phase after the breakup, you don’t want to admit what happened. You desperately cling to the idea that it was a big misunderstanding. You deny the fact that your partner will never come back. This is a reflexive protective mechanism of your soul to keep the pain away.
The denial phase can be expressed in two ways. How you behave depends on your personal mentality. Some people fall into blind actionism and try to win back the partner. The fact that the person no longer wants to be with you is ignored.
However, the opposite can also occur: Some people pretend that the separation doesn’t bother them at all. However, this is also just a protective mechanism to avoid admitting the pain of separation. There is a vehement denial that there has been a painful loss.
Phase 2: Anger
The denial stage is over. You’ve faced the facts. Now the anger is flaring up in your soul. You are angry at your partner who did this to you. But you may also be angry at yourself or at those around you who are making things worse with well-meaning advice.
Anger is an essential part of the processing process. So don’t suppress it! Allow yourself to scream out loud or punch a pillow.
Exercise can also serve as an outlet. Anger helps you wake up from numbness.