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Tell me how I'm supposed to breathe with no air?
Can't live, can't breathe with no air
That's how I feel whenever you ain't there
There's no air, no air
— Jordin Sparks
The love that we thought we had was lost, and we are in a world of pain that feels like it would go on forever. It's a pain that is visceral - sometimes it hurts so much that we wish we could disappear.
Precisely because the feeling is so intense, we must develop the ability to skillfully manage it. If we are not able to sit with this pain, we might take actions that we will later regret. We will be afraid to leave a toxic relationship and may jump too quickly into another one just to not be alone.
I have been at this place a few times myself, and I've counseled friends going through it. Below I share step by step how to get through hard breakups that have worked for me, in the hopes of helping people going through this to heal faster.
Remember that even though the pain feels awful, it will not kill us, and we will get through it.
If you know someone going through a breakup, please share this article to help them through it.
1. We Did Not Lose Our Soulmate
“When we are in love, we are convinced nobody else will do. But as time goes, others do do, and often do do, much much better.” ― Jamie Weise
When I was going through a hard breakup, a buddy told me something that helped a lot. He said that I need to stop telling myself that "I've lost my soulmate." The reality is, he said, if your ex was your soulmate, then by definition, he would not have left.
This statement was so simple, yet profound. What I also deduced from this is that if my ex is indeed this magical soulmate of mine, then the universe will bring him back without my intervention. Realizing this allowed me to relax and let go of the desperate struggle.
2. Don't Let Ego Get In The Way
“Think big from the heart, not the ego.” — Anonymous
I have left people, and I've also been left. All things being equal, being left felt harder because I was not in control.
Our instinct when something is taken away from us is we want it back. This is the "Scarcity Principle" at work, and it is the same reason why people that play hot and cold in relationships can be so effective in luring unsuspecting victims.
As humans, we don't like being told that we can't have something, so our immediate reaction is to want it more. This doesn't mean that we actually desire whatever was taken away - we just don't like it being taken away without our consent.
A good question to ask ourselves is, "Did I ever consider breaking up with my partner?" Most of the time, the answer is yes. A relationship is rarely perfect for one person and terrible for the other. In an unhappy relationship, it really does not matter who pulled the trigger. It was already broken.
3. Closure Is What We Give Ourselves
“Closure is just as delusive - it is the false hope that we can deaden our living grief.” ― Stephen Grosz
I see people fall into the trap of needing closure from an ex a lot, especially if we are not the one that initiated the breakup. There's a feeling that we "need" to have a conversation with the ex to understand what happened before we can move on.
This is our mind playing games with us. We miss and crave contact with our ex, but we know it's bad, like scratching a scab, so our mind concocts this brilliant excuse for us to have our cake and eat it too. If we are honest with ourselves, this is easy to see.
We give our power away by telling ourselves that we need an explanation from an ex to move on. Our ex may never give it to us, she may lie, or she may make up some reason because she doesn't really know either. In any case, even if we have the conversation, it likely won't be satisfying.
A relationship takes two to work, and only one to break. We cannot make another person love us. If our ex decided to leave, honor her freedom to choose, and let her go. We deserve to be with someone that will choose us. This is all the closure we need, and we can give it to ourselves.
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4. Remember We Got This!
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can't-- you're right.” ― Henry Ford
The sadness of a breakup, if left unchecked, could spiral into depression and hopelessness.
Because thoughts generate emotions, and emotions generate more thoughts that match those emotions, when we are depressed, it's hard to remember the times when we have successfully overcome difficulties.
We can give ourselves a leg up in recovery by cueing our brains to remember. Take out a piece of paper and write "Times When I Successfully Overcame Challenges" on top. Did we pay our way through college by taking on odd jobs? Did we survive a serious accident or illness? Recover from drug addiction? Build a good life for ourselves despite less than ideal parents?
Put all of this down.
By reminding ourselves that we have survived terrible things in the past, we acknowledge that we are capable and resilient, and we will make it through this time too.
5. Give Ourselves Time To Detox
“It's a quarter after one, I'm a little drunk and I need you now. Said I wouldn't call, but I've lost all control and I need you now. And I don't know how I can do without, I just need you now.” — Lady Antebellum
Love, from a brain chemistry level, involves a complex interplay of dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, oxytocin, and other neurotransmitters.
In particular, the same regions that light up when we're feeling attraction light up when drug addicts take cocaine and when we binge eat sweets. This is why we feel desperate to reconnect with an ex after a breakup, even when we know it is bad for us in the long run.
"When a couple goes through a breakup, the brain experiences massive withdrawal symptoms almost identical to a heroin addict quitting cold turkey," says Dr. Fisher. "After a breakup, people should expect withdrawal symptoms for roughly six months and increase their self-care and social support during this season."
Generally speaking, the first two weeks post-breakup is the hardest. After that, each day gets a little easier. The more we cut or limit contact with an ex, the speedier our brain can return to baseline.
6. Forgiving Ourselves And Our Ex
“You cannot travel back in time to fix your mistakes, but you can learn from them and forgive yourself for not knowing better.” — Leon Brown
At the highest level, to move on entails forgiveness, not just our ex, but also of ourselves.
It is useful and healthy to acknowledge the role we played in the relationship and its ultimate demise. However, we should focus on what we can learn and not use the reflection as an opportunity to beat ourselves down.
This is sometimes hard to do because we might have done things that, in hindsight, we wish we did not - ignored red flags, allowed others to violate our boundaries, and gave our power away. It is essential to remind ourselves that we did the best we can with the knowledge and understanding we had at the time. Had we known better, we would have done better. It is, therefore, not constructive to blame ourselves for what we did not know.
I wrote about forgiveness previously, if you are interested, check out the article here.
7. Make A “He's Not So Great” List
“Love is supposed to lift you up, not hold you down. It is supposed to push you forward, not hold you back.” ― Suzy Kassem
Very often, after a breakup, all we can remember are the happy times and the best memories of our ex. This is an unbalanced view, so to balance things out, make a list of our ex and the relationship's shortcomings, keep it on our phone, and read it several times a day.
When we find ourselves recalling an idealized version of our ex, take out the list and reread it. This helps us remember that our ex was not perfect, and neither was the relationship.
8. Write a Love List
There is another list to write, the love list. This is where we list the qualities we would like to see in our ideal partner.
When I was younger, my focus had mostly stuff in the shallows - How a person looks and whether we have shared interest. As I've gotten older and gained more life experience, my list evolved. Now my list consists of qualities I look for, such as integrity, kindness, courage, what Martha Beck calls "The Core of Peace."
If we're writing a list, it helps to think deeply about the personal characteristics we admire and write these down. Evaluate a date based on his innate qualities, so we are not distracted by shiny objects along the way.
It is also useful for us to measure ourselves against this list to see how many qualities we possess and work on improving areas of deficiency. Water seeks its own level - we increase our odds of attracting the ideal partner if we also hold these same values.
9. Start That Project
“Life is not about achieving the goals, life is about who you become in pursuit of those goals.” — Anthony Robbins
Is there a project we've always wanted to do but didn't have time? Start it, whether it's learning the piano, adopting a pet, or organizing a book club. We have a lot more time now that we are alone, so put it to good use!
Study shows that a reliable route to happiness is the successful pursuit of meaningful goals. People train for years to summit Everest, but nobody stands on the mountain top for more than a few minutes before heading back down again. It is the progress and becoming more than who we were yesterday that makes us happy.
"Was it hard?" I ask.
”Not as hard as holding on to something that wasn't real.”
― Lisa Schroeder
In counseling friends, a question I get a lot is, "How do I get my ex back?" Setting aside whether that's a good idea or not (read “These 4 Questions Will Help You Decide If It's Time To Leave a Relationship” if you’re trying to decide), the beauty of taking these steps is, they are the same steps to follow whether we want to move on or get our ex back.
By following these suggestions, we live our best life, and we succeed regardless.
You are loved,
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