Coping with relationship loss can be particularly difficult if the couple has relied on each other as best friends. By having limited options to confide in, the 'newly' single person may feel isolated, lonely, and frustrated. It took work to develop a bond between two people and after that bond has been severed, it will take time to rebuild. Many people find it helpful to cope with breaking up by grieving their loss. Even if you are aware that many problems existed, there were probably many positive aspects that are now lost. Some people idealize the relationship and just remember the positive moments and experiences and not the negative ones. In this case, you may be grieving the loss of the image you had of the ideal mate and not the actual person.
Being aware of the different reactions people can have surrounding loss and grief can be helpful. The order and the intensities in which these reactions are experienced can vary. Reactions can include:
- Denial. We can't believe that this is happening to us. We can't believe that the relationship is over.
- Anger. We are angry and often enraged at our partner or lover for shaking our world to its core.
- Fear. We are frightened by the intensity of our feelings. We are frightened that we may never love or be loved again. We are frightened that we may never survive our loss. But we will.
- Self-blame. We blame ourselves for what went wrong and replay our relationship over and over, saying to ourselves, "If only I had done this. If only I had done that".
- Sadness. We cry, sometimes for what seems an eternity, for we have suffered a great loss.
- Guilt. We feel guilty particularly if we choose to end a relationship. We don't want to hurt our partner. Yet we don't want to stay in a lifeless relationship.
- Disorientation and confusion. We don't know who or where we are anymore. Our familiar world has been shattered. We've lost our bearings.
- Hope. Initially we may fantasize that there will be a reconciliation, that the parting is only temporary, that our partner will come back to us. As we heal and accept the reality of the ending, we may dare to hope for a newer and better world for ourselves.
- Bargaining. We plead with our partner to give us a chance. "Don't go", we say. "I'll change this and I'll change that if only you'll stay".
- Relief. We can be relieved that there is an ending to the pain, the fighting, the torment, the lifelessness of the relationship.
**Remember, these feelings and reactions are normal. You are not alone in this and you will survive and eventually feel better!!
- More often than not, breaking up is as hard on the person ending the relationship as it is on the person being broken up with - don't assume just because a person is breaking up with you means that they no longer care about you, caring about you and wanting a relationship with you are not one and the same.
- Nobody likes to hurt another person, especially somebody they have been close to, and it is often very easy to guilt trip somebody into staying with you when they are trying to end things. Resist this urge! When you use guilt as a way to stop a break up you not only cheat yourself out of having a good and true relationship, you foster resentment in the other person which could lead to greater pain and heart ache in the future.
- Being broken up with does not mean that there is something wrong with you; it just means that there is something that is not working in the relationship. Try not to take the rejection too personally. Remember that lots of great people have had failed relationships - the fact that the relationships failed says nothing about their value as a person. The fact that your relationship failed likewise says nothing about you as a person.
- It is all right to cry, get mad and feel hurt when you are dumped. These are normal natural feelings. Just be sure that you let your feelings out in a safe place among friends or family. Do not make your ex the target of your feelings, even if they have done something to deserve your outrage. The sooner you let go of the other person, the sooner the healing can begin.
- Breaking up is never easy. You will have good days and you will have bad days. Take it one day at a time and don't beat yourself up if you have an overly emotional day - you're only human after all.
- Break ups are often followed by one of the parties starting a new relationship and when this happens it can bring up all sorts of old feelings. If you thought you were over someone who broke up with you and find yourself upset at the news that s/he has moved on, rest assured you are normal. Let yourself be upset, it is part of the healing process.
- Acting out in anger is never good for anybody. After being broken up with don't spread mean or spiteful rumors. Don't betray former confidences by telling old secrets to others. If another person was involved in your break up resist the urge to slam them behind their back. Acting vicious only makes you look bad and any satisfaction you may feel will be short lived. In the end this sort of behaviour will only make you feel worse.
- A big part of the pain of breaking up comes from a feeling of embarrassment. We often fear how the situation will look to outsiders. Refuse to be embarrassed, even if you did something outlandish to cause your break up. Letting go of the embarrassment will help you move on to the healing.
- Nobody ever deserves to be hurt. Your ex does not deserve to be hurt because you are hurting. Your ex's new love interest (if one even exists) does not deserve to be hurt just because you feel jealous. You do not deserve to be hurt, even if you acted badly and caused the break up. Breaking up hurts, but it doesn't have to be made worse by holding a grudge or drowning yourself in a pool of if only's. Deal with the reality and let go of your anger, the pain will disappear more quickly if you do.
- Things may seem bleak now but you never know what the future may hold for you and your ex. You may get back together someday. You may not. Either way it is better to let go of a faltering relationship while there is still some caring left between the two of you. If you play it out to the bitter end and leave your ex no choice but to hate you to get rid of you, you close the door to the future. Bowing out graciously leaves room for a future relationship with your ex, even if it is just as good friends.
But We Can Still Be Friends Right?
It is almost impossible to "just be friends" right after a breakup. It will help if you can minimize contact with and thoughts about the person. Unfortunately, the more contact you have, the longer the healing process will take. Hostile feelings toward the person are common. It is okay to have these feelings, and it is good to be aware of them, but acting upon them can only end up hurting you more. If there are times when you feel that you cannot control your anger, please talk to a counselor. They know what you are going through and want to help you.
Building Self-Esteem After a Break-Up
Sometimes we are hurting, not because we miss being with the other person, but because of what we think the breakup says about ourselves. We take the breakup as a total rejection of who we are. Therefore, our self-esteem is hurt after a breakup. We feel bad about ourselves and may wonder why we aren't good enough. It is important to look at the truth behind these thoughts.
Although you may believe at this point that you will never love again, try to remember that there is not just one, "right person" in the world for any of us. In time you can love again. And next time you will be a wiser person, a person who has benefited by experience and is now more capable of a successful relationship. In working through the end of a relationship most people find, or are forced to find, a new inner strength and adequacy. Although people are important to our lives and happiness, no one person should be allowed to be absolutely essential to that happiness.
What may I be doing to make things worse?
Avoid one night stands or rebound relationships, don't start a new relationship before fully working through the issues around the ending of this relationship. Taking unresolved grief into a new relationship tends to complicate it, and slow your healing.
Avoid giving mixed messages to the other party, or false hopes. If you're confused about your feelings and what you want, take time to think through things carefully, when you are more emotionally detached. Consider going to counseling alone or with the other party.
**While some of these feelings may seem overwhelming, they are all "normal" reactions and are necessary to the process of healing so that we can eventually move on and engage in other relationships. Be patient with yourself. And if you would like to talk your feelings over with someone, contact the SCU Counseling Center (x4172) or Wellness Center (x4409). Speaking with someone can often help us feel better and provide us with a new perspective.
10 Helpful Hints
1) It is important to make time for the healing process. Too often, we are encouraged to be 'strong' and keep it all inside. This method only serves to keep the former loved one on your mind and you frustrated. There needs to be a grieving period. Whether you care to admit it or not, that person did mean a great deal to you at one time. You honor the love that you shared by validating the relationship as a worthwhile experience. Allow yourself to feel the sadness, anger, fear, and pain associated with an ending. Denying those feelings or keeping them inside will only prolong them.
2) Engage in 'self-help' practices. Some people benefit from reading self-help books. Others enjoy creative writing as a means of healing and expression. Find a way that complements your personality and do it! Whether it's reading, writing, or singing, expressing your feelings is a great way to learn about yourself and your current needs.
3) If you tend to self-blame, recognize that this feeling, along with guilt and bargaining are our defenses against feeling out of control and unable to stop the other person from leaving us. But there are some endings we can't control, because we can't control another person's behavior.
4) Realize that you might not be functioning at your best right now. Give yourself some space to 'be' without pressure or high demands. Efforts to organize the more routine activities of your life may be helpful to streamlining your energy expenditure. Do the activities that you need to and leave your remaining time for nurturing, self-discovery, and healing.
5) Mobilize your support system. Spending time with affirming friends is essential at this time. In addition to venting your emotions as you sort through your next step in life, you can share the relationship's shortcomings. If this was an addictive relationship, your friends can help you avoid an unhealthy reconciliation by providing true accounts of the circumstances. If you feel "stuck" in a pattern and unable to change it, talking to a professional counselor may help. Most people find that it is better not to be alone for a long period of time afterwards because it becomes too easy to ruminate on negative thoughts and become depressed.
6) Don't be afraid to rekindle friendships that may have been taking second place to your relationship". Most friends are often more than happy to spend time with you, even if you feel guilty that you have "neglected them". Everyone enjoys friendships and having fun together. Don't be afraid to ask for support.
7) Use this time for self-renewal. When you are involved in a relationship, the other person receives your attention and focus. Being single offers you the opportunity to redirect that attention to yourself. Connect with areas of your life that have been neglected as a result of the relationship. Recharge your body through exercise. Reflect on your spiritual awareness and life journey. Replenish by engaging with nature. Renew your commitment to yourself to be the best person possible.
8) Spend some time each day on something pleasurable. It is important to enjoy key aspects of your life while other components are mending. Pamper yourself (i.e., long bubble baths with a good book, coffee, soft music, candles etc.), ask for support from others, and allow yourself new experiences and friends.
9) Try and keep your sleeping, eating and exercise regimens running, although some disruption to these may occur. Minimize and monitor your use of alcohol, smoking, caffeine and drugs; to avoid the added complication of addiction issues. We sometimes use these substances to escape and help block out the pain.
10) Highlight the reasons that the relationship was less than perfect. During times when loneliness sets in and the reason why the relationship ended may not be so clear, it may be helpful to review your thoughts from a more focused period.
***Remember, you feelings are completely valid and normal. It takes time to heal from loss and healing can involve relapse (i.e., feeling that you take "two steps forward, one step back"). Don't chastise yourself for set-backs, they are normal as you grow and try to discover new areas and strengths in yourself and your life. The most important thing you can do is listen to your needs and make your life and healing the number one priority. If you can remain conscious of your feelings and experiences, you can gain important life skills and tools that you can carry with you in the future. Remembering the suggestions above may help as you patiently discover the most important relationship you can build in life-the one with yourself!!
If you pain just will not go away or the feelings are becoming too overwhelming and are greatly interfering with your academic, personal and/or social functioning, counseling may be a helpful resource for you.University of Florida Counseling Center Self Help