“Alas for our foolish human nature! Its fond mistakes are persistent. The dictates of reason take a long time to assert their own sway. The surest proofs meanwhile are disbelieved. False hope is clung to with all one’s might and main, till a day comes when it has sucked the heart dry and it forcibly breaks through its bonds and departs. After that comes the misery of awakening, and then once again the longing to get back into the maze of the same mistakes.”
– The Postmaster by Rabindranath Tagore
In this short story, Tagore paints a realistic portrait of human tendencies with regard to how we connect and break apart from our loved ones. Breakups are characterized by topsy-turvy feelings, riding waves of love and hatred towards your significant other, and generally feeling tired of these inner turmoils. During the breakup phase, we are often required to re-think our boundaries and reconcile with our feelings of longing towards our partners while processing our anger and other complex emotions at the same time. On a positive note, these tendencies are not absolute and can be navigated and overcome when we are equipped to face them.
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Why are breakups so hard and how can they impact you?
Intimacy is fertile ground for enmeshment and soon enough we can feel like the other person is an extension of ourselves. We often find moments of security and comfort in the presence of our partners. We invest ourselves in the relationship; making compromises, space, and adjustments to our schedules to let someone else be a part of our lives. Losing them can mean losing a part of ourselves that we had nurtured for so long. Needless to say, this void yearns to be filled again. Hence, the end of a relationship can present many challenges in your life which can take time to process and heal from. It may have an impact on you both mentally and physically. It’s important to know that this is normal!
The psychological impact of a breakup
Cutting ties from an intimate relationship can feel like a psychological amputation. Post-operation, we are presented with a range of conflicting emotions that are difficult to understand. Some people might feel overwhelmed by guilt and self-doubt, while others might find it relieving but also experience a sense of loss. You may also start wondering why the relationship ended and perceive it as a failed relationship which can negatively affect your self esteem. All of this emotional burden could feel like too much to deal with. What makes the difference in being able to cope is recognizing that these emotions are valid and are seeking a channel for expression through you. What helps in being able to cope is acknowledging and allowing yourself to experience the emotions as suppressing them will only make the grieving process harder and longer. Remind yourself that the feelings are temporary and will pass, even if it takes a little longer than you expect.
The physical impact of a breakup
Breaking up is not just for the mind, but our bodies also experience the tumults and quakes of severed ties. What is felt in the heart is often manifested in the body. There are so many great movies that have depicted the process of breaking up because most of us go through it at some point and can understand the sadness and romance of it all. Often the character is shown as dejected, despondent, unmotivated to carry out tasks, and more so as physically affected. The stereotype on-screen is a person with disheveled hair, at home in PJs, eating a lot of ice cream. Some of these film representations are not too far from the truth. During a breakup, the body vacillates between numbness and hypersensitivity. Sometimes you might feel too cold or too hot, from too sleepy to sleeplessness, too hungry to having no appetite at all. For some, breakups can be a traumatic event, and it is not uncommon to experience nightmares, insomnia, and flashbacks of the breakup. All these sudden changes are stressful, exhausting, and energy expensive leading to a sense of heaviness. It can feel like your body sometimes cannot escape.
8 tips for moving on after a breakup
Dealing with breakups looks different for everyone. Here are some tips that may help you recover from your previous relationship.
Allow yourself to feel your feelings
We may binge-watch a show, or we may want to bounce back to dating immediately and focus on the next relationship or seek support from friends. Every individual takes to the break up in a different form, as we all process grief and separation differently and have different needs. However, we can classify the way we cope broadly into avoidance strategies and approach strategies.
If you’ve watched Gilmore Girls, then you know one way to avoid it is wallow for as long as it takes, this means sitting around in PJs and having tubs of ice cream, and the classic left-over pizza. This is the time we want to deny the pain, and it is very natural to do so in the process of healing from a breakup. It is human to look for a comfort zone when we suffer.
However, for a fresh start, we ought to step out of the avoidance bubble once in a while and take baby steps towards approaching the unpleasant while also ensuring that we don’t overwhelm our mental resources. If a breakup is like falling off a bike, the tub of ice cream is like applying a band-aid. The bike, however, is still on the ground left unattended. To approach the bike and get back on it again requires you to reflect and process the pain with self-compassion to allow that void to fill slowly and gently on its own.
Instead, you can try to practice mindfulness and self-compassion with the mental health app Wysa and learn to love yourself and deal with your emotions during this difficult time.
Take the time and space you need
Healing from relationship wounds is not a linear process. You could find yourself back to square one when you thought you were over it. This can be frustrating and make you feel like you’ve made no progress. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that you’re re-experiencing it means that some parts of you have found closure and your mind has found new residual attachments that it wants to address. During these moments it’s important to remind yourself that “residual attachments” exist only in the realm of the past.
If love is like a seed that is awaiting nurturance to grow and blossom, a residual attachment is more like mushrooms growing on dead wood. There’s life but it’s not the plant itself that’s alive.
There is no one way to get over a breakup ‘quickly’ and you cannot give it a timeline. The return to normality isn’t necessarily a short flight. It could be by a highway or a bumpy road, but it is a very personal process of dealing with sadness and a broken heart. This process will happen at its own pace, as everyone has their own internal clock and time to deal with challenges. So be patient with yourself and be forgiving.
Slowly readjust and adapt to the changes
The re-adjustment to your own environment is important because your former partner was a part of your world, your personal routine, and probably your social life as well. Post breakup, going back to the previous state is difficult, maybe impossible. As the saying goes, “you never step into the same river twice”. To do this, the mammoth task of accepting that relationship’s over needs to be internalized. You need to slowly get used to their absence. There could be parts of your day that might remind you of them, for example getting your evening cup of coffee might feel confusing and disorienting for a while if you were in the habit of sharing that ritual and time with them. Hang in there, it will get better.
Consider adding new things to your routine
That dance class you always wanted to join, but couldn’t because you didn’t have the time – Join it. Try doing some new things after you break up. This will help you feel independent and curious. It will also help you rely on your inner strength to function well in new groups. Spending time with yourself and focusing on things you like or want to do, will give you a chance to learn a new skill, meet new people, make new friends, and will add to your confidence.
Reach out to your support system
In times of crisis, it is always helpful to have a support network to break your fall. A breakup is one such crisis where the safety blanket provided by friends and family members can help you to pause, take respite and eventually start moving forward. If you find yourself retracting into your shell instead, that is absolutely fine. When you are ready to come out, aim to give people a chance, at least a few minutes a week.
Be mindful of social media
If there’s anything that adds salt to your wounds, it is channelling the negative emotions onto social media via the more obvious methods like revenge posting, but also the more subtle fixes from satisfying the urge to check up on your ex. The satisfaction stems from a false sense of continuity- for brief moments we fill the void with their Instagram status updates. It’s sort of like blowing air into a burst tyre; a wasted effort that leaves us feeling worse each time. Next time you get the urge, try to surf through it as if it was a wave, even the towering waves come crashing down to sea level.
Let go and practice acceptance
As time passes, try to also take some time out to reflect on what led to the end of the relationship. You may do this with the help of your friends, or a family member. You may be able to handle this yourself, but it is alright to also seek help from a professional, as you reach this milestone. While some breakups can be relieving, and come knocking on your door after some time has passed, loss needs to be addressed. The end of an attachment needs acknowledgement for our psychological health. This acknowledgement means looking at our own feelings, and accepting that it is alright to miss that person even though we are angry, or hurt. In the end, this is the time we ask ourselves if our past relationships could be a learning experience in our lives.
In the Wysa breakup tool pack, you will find a tool that guides you to write a letter of closure and acceptance. Be sure to check it out!
Consider professional help
An emotionally charged brain often sees things in black and white and leaves little room for exploring the grey. Having a third-person perspective can help us in these circumstances to identify our blind spots. You might find yourself to be too close to the storm to make objective judgements. Seeking a professional to zoom out and reflect with can make this journey a lot easier. At Wysa, we have a team of mental health professionals who can aid you in this process.
Commonly asked questions about breakups
Why do breakups hurt?
Being social beings, we all crave a connection; someone whom we can call home. We invest ourselves in the relationship by making compromises, space, and adjustments to our schedules to let someone else be a part of us and our lives. We get used to the presence of our partners. Losing this can be very difficult. You may experience the psychological and physical impact of your emotional turmoil as well during the phase of your breakup.
Why can’t I sleep after a painful breakup?
Grieving is a heavy task for the mind. It can be stressful because thoughts of “what if ” enter when our day is over, and we need to rest. However, anger or guilt can lead to differing thoughts, wherein you may play scenarios of saying something unfinished to your ex. This is a process of acceptance that is taking place, and while it may be keeping you up, it will settle down soon.
If you want to shut off the mind, focus on the body. Even if our mind is racing, we can still shift our attention to our bodily sensations and the breath. Body scans on the Wysa app can help you take your mind off the worries and give relaxation.
What can I say to a friend going through a breakup?
Watching a close one struggling after a bad breakup can be quite painful because we care. And sometimes we struggle to find ways to show our care to our friends when they’re in pain. Just listen and be curious about what they’re going through. To show that you want to know their version, before offering advice is a great gesture of care and understanding. Lending a listening ear and sharing your time will go a long way in helping your friend mend a broken heart.
Can a breakup cause depression?
Breaking up can cause a depressive reaction in an individual. There is no set time for how long it will last. It may last a few days, a week, a fortnight or even longer. Since our inner shock system is trying to handle pain, we may feel out of sorts, and unmotivated. Separating may also cause feelings of hopelessness. While it is really difficult to be alone in this, riding these feelings full-term helps a lot. If the feeling lasts for over two weeks, you can look into speaking to a professional as well. They will help you give a better perspective of your thought process and restructure you towards a positive mind frame.
⚠️If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, help is at hand. Please visit this list of helplines and resources for different countries.
Can a breakup cause anxiety?
Breaking up can cause anxiety because we feel emotionally vulnerable. The breakup has already caused pain, and sometimes we have to show up at work and family gatherings. Sometimes answering questions about your ex might feel overwhelming. These situations may cause anxiety, where your mental system is working overtime to help you adjust to difficult feelings and doubts inside.
Can a breakup cause PTSD?
Getting over a breakup is stressful, and the stress itself is induced by separation and loss. This can resemble a PTSD picture, though technically we cannot diagnose it as such. After a break up you may see your ex-partner in a nightmare, or you may feel like you are experiencing that hurtful situation, again and again, each time afresh and as hurtful. These feelings are stressful to combat. At such times, it is completely alright to seek help and care for yourself.
How to love yourself post-breakup?
Self-care happens when you can love yourself. The first step to that is forgiving yourself. If you feel you made mistakes, accept that you are only a human being and it is inevitable that you’d make a few mistakes. The break up is not entirely shouldered by you. A relationship is made by two people, it is even broken up by two people, regardless of who said it first. Giving yourself what you need as you tread this road is a way to be brave and to love yourself as you go. I need friends – let me catch up with some people. I need to talk – let me call someone who can hear me through this. I need space – let me switch off for a while. Feel no pressure to jump back to “everything is good” immediately. Let time heal you, and let yourself love you.
What are the five stages of a breakup?
You might be familiar with the acronym DABDA (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance), which is often referenced in bereavement and grief. Breakups follow the same stages but as mentioned before, healing is not a linear process, hence you may find yourself skipping or going back and forth between stages. So it’s imperative that we treat these stages not as milestones but instead as landmarks to navigate through the map better.
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Photo by Alena Darmel