Maybe you’re the one who ended the relationship or maybe you were on the receiving end of things. Either way, breakups are hard. You’re probably sad, lonely, angry, depressed. I’m sure there are some days when you feel fine – maybe you even feel great and you finally think you’re moving on. Then the next day comes, and a wave of sadness hits you out of nowhere. This is completely normal.
Don’t expect that you’ll be able to move on overnight. Instead, be realistic about what the healing process will look like for you and give yourself some grace. Scientists have even found that heartbreak activates the same parts of our brain as real, physical pain. So it’s not all in your head – you really are hurting! I recently came across a Jordan Peterson interview about how to heal from trauma and his words really hit home for me.
Peterson believes that “What your brain wants from you in relation to a traumatic memory is indication that you’re no longer vulnerable to the same problem. That’s what memory is for. You remember something bad, and you process it so that you change your interpretation, or your behavior, or the situation – whatever you can change – so that it isn’t going to happen again in the future…The memory of something terrible stays terrible until you effortfully process it and decompose it into a much more sophisticated map of the world.”
It’s really hard to face your raw emotions head-on, but it’s a necessary part of the healing process because you have to understand and learn from what you’re feeling. Your brain needs to make sense of these emotions before you can let them go, and the only way you can assure yourself that you’re no longer vulnerable to the same problem is to learn from it. How do you do that? By asking tough questions and giving honest answers. Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you learn and grow after a breakup.
Your brain needs to make sense of painful emotions before you can let them go.
1. What Mistakes Did I Make?
No one is perfect, and that includes both you and your ex. When we’re hurting, it’s much easier to blame other people, and you may be perfectly justified in doing so. (Side note: this does not apply to you if you were in an abusive relationship.) It’s very likely that your ex made a lot of mistakes during the course of your relationship, and it’s important to acknowledge those. But if you’re honest with yourself, then you probably know you made some mistakes too.
We all make mistakes in life, but the real error comes not from making the mistake, but in failing to learn from it. As you look back on your relationship, think about the times where you know you messed up and how you could have acted differently. Maybe you picked unnecessary fights or didn’t stand up for yourself when you should have. You will move on and find someone new, and when you do, you owe it to that future guy (and your future self!) to not repeat the same mistakes you made in past relationships.
2. What Do I Want To Do Differently Next Time?
Now that you’ve recognized your past mistakes, how will you operate differently in the future to ensure you don’t repeat them? Maybe you’ve realized that you have a tendency to bottle up your emotions until it gets to the point where they all come tumbling out of you in a fiery, emotional explosion. Suddenly you’re bringing up things that have been bothering you for months and the resulting argument is way more intense and heated than it should be.
It’s not healthy to bottle up emotions like that. No one likes conflict, but it’s important to have arguments in any relationship because it’s the only way you can grow. Smaller arguments are far more likely to be productive and you can address issues directly instead of lumping unrelated problems together. Or maybe you have the opposite problem and your tendency is not to bottle emotions up, but to overreact. Acknowledge that this is something you need to work on so that your next relationship won’t suffer from the same issues as your last one.
3. What Would I Do the Same Next Time?
Just because a relationship failed doesn’t mean that everything about it was terrible or wrong. It’s very likely that you and your ex-boyfriend shared some genuinely great times and had healthy aspects of your relationship. Don’t let yourself taint those memories because you’re feeling bitter or sad right now. It’s okay to admit that there were great things about your relationship, even though the relationship is over now.
Just because a relationship failed doesn’t mean that everything about it was terrible.
Think about the things you liked about your last relationship. Maybe the two of you shared the exact same values or you were really great at communicating with each other. Now make it a point to bring those things with you into your next relationship, whenever it comes. Acknowledging the happy moments in past relationships will also help you let go of any bitterness you feel (however justified it might be) towards your ex. It’s impossible to move on if you’re still feeling angry, so make an effort to try to let go of that anger to allow yourself some closure.
4. How Has This Changed Me for the Better?
You’re not the same person you were before this relationship, and that’s a good thing! Every relationship (romantic or not) is a learning experience. Even though you’re in pain right now, trust that there are positives you will take away from this experience. Maybe you learned more about what you truly want out of a relationship. Or maybe you simply learned that you could open your heart up again to someone new. It’s hard to open ourselves up to a new romance because it requires vulnerability, but you did that once and you will do it again.
It might not feel this way right now, but there are positives you can take away from this experience. The trick is you have to choose to take them. After a breakup, it’s all too easy to let anger or resentment cloud our mind. It might feel nice to hate your ex right now, but that’s not what will ultimately help you heal. Instead, focus on all of the ways you grew and changed throughout the course of your relationship. It’s impossible to feel angry and grateful at the same time, so try to be grateful for the experience. You’ll be on the road to closure a lot faster if you do!
I know it hurts right now, but you will be okay. Just as feelings don’t always develop in a linear fashion, healing doesn’t happen in a linear fashion either. So give yourself time, focus on the positives, and stay busy! Don’t close yourself off from the world. Instead, reach out to friends, try new things, and spend time outdoors. Keeping the forward momentum going in your life will aid your healing process.
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