Feeling confused, sad, and even angry while grieving the loss of a relationship is normal. But you will experience a much higher level of distress if you are continually blaming yourself or deeply feel that you are a worthless human as the result of your relationship ending. In fact this kind of gut-wrenching agony can be so unbearable that you may, despite whatever came before, go to absurd lengths to try to get back with your ex, catch a peek of them, endeavor to engage or talk to them in some way. Those in these circumstances may find themselves willing to use any tactic that might somehow allow them to hold on to even a small part of what once was. When this is the case, it typically means that an individual’s self-worth is too dependent on their relationship with someone else.
By and large, the loss of self-esteem is the most disruptive aspect of a breakup or divorce. However, when all a person does is self-criticize, they pile fault on fault until they can think of nothing but their perceived inadequacies. In this state, an individual cannot begin to process what actually happened in the relationship and successfully moving on requires this process. And too, thinking through the history of the failed relationship is the only way to learn how to better handle future relationships. If you can grieve the breakup without attacking yourself, the healing process will go smoother and faster. It will also put you on a much better footing for whatever comes next in your life.
Consider how you felt about yourself before the two of you met. Did you feel proud and confident? Did that change over the time you were together? Was your partner very successful or highly thought of by others? Did he/she have particularly good looks or a bigger than life personality? Were you down on your luck when you first met or became so during the relationship? Did the time you felt the best in your life about yourself come during the relationship or when it first started? Do you have issues that you know you need to address but, nevertheless, keep avoiding?
If you answer “yes” to a few of these questions, consider if you started to feel good about yourself because of becoming connected to your partner. What that means is, you felt good only because of them, not because of something inherently worthwhile that you appreciated within yourself. When the scales of self-worth tip favorably only because of a particular partner the pain of the ending can feel unbearable. If you find yourself in this trap, you are not only sad to be without your partner, but are made to feel as if you have no hope going forward.
It does not have to this way and for many who breakup or divorce it is not.
But, as I describe in my workbook, if this has become your emotional world, take a major step back. Stop engaging your ex. Don’t text. Don’t stop by. Don’t contrive to see them. Don’t spend time over thinking and obsessing about them. Instead, recognize that the reason you are holding onto something that is long over isn’t necessarily because your ex is so special but because you have been made to feel so insignificant.
Work to build yourself up from the inside out. Develop a hobby, be open to new experiences and new friendships. Pick a few things—work projects, new interests, social events, the gym--and stick to them no matter how you are feeling about yourself that day.
Consider this breakup or divorce as a way to finally work on feeling good about yourself from deep within, not because of a romantic partner. This kind of self-worth lasts, no matter what setbacks you encounter in your life. (I go into some detail and give some advice about feeling good enough about yourself in my workbook.)
People have happy long-term relationships when they have a life outside that makes them feel fulfilled and connected. An ice cream Sunday is built from the bottom up and a fulfilling relationship could be described as the cherry on top, but it is not the foundation.
Jill Weber, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C. and the author of The Relationship Formula Workbook Series.