Chamin Ajjan MS, LCSW, ACT
7 Steps to Heal a Broken Heart
Are you struggling to get over a past relationship?
Posted February 10, 2019 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
“Breaking Up Is Hard to Do” is not just a hit song from the 1960s—it is a fact. Anyone who has gone through a breakup knows that a broken heart can be difficult to mend. This universal emotional response to the sudden, unexpected, or unwanted loss of love is often characterized by an intense longing, hurt, and/or desire for an ex or unrequited love. And it can hurt like hell. For some, it feels like their whole world is caving in on them. And in many cases, because the pain is so great and the path to mending it seems so daunting, people avoid healing their broken heart. This avoidance can lead to many unwanted side effects, including, but not limited to, greater internal conflict, complicated emotional responses, withdrawal, and difficulty in future relationships.
So, how do you heal a broken heart? Here are a few tips I have picked up in my training, clinical experiences and late night calls with girlfriends and family members.
Take Your Time
Breaking up can trigger chemical, emotional and physical reactions that cause you to feel lonely, unloveable, depressed, and worthless. That’s not just going to go away with a new haircut, maxing out your Visa with a new wardrobe, or hitting the club. Instead of pushing yourself to move forward quickly, take time to acknowledge how you are feeling. Bottling up your emotions may seem like a good idea in the short term, but it can lead to unwanted long-term consequences, such as bitterness, a jaded view of relationships, fear, depression, a poor self-image, and serial dating. Your feelings are valid. Whether you were convinced that your ex was “the one,” even though he clearly wasn’t to your friends and family, doesn’t matter. Your thoughts might be distorted, but your feelings are real. Take the time you need to explore them.
Along with breaking up comes the loss of a relationship with your ex, some mutual friends, and your ex’s family. But the loss doesn’t end there. You might lose your home, your perceived social status, and whatever future you imagined you might have had with your ex. Just like with any loss, you need to give yourself the time and space to grieve what is no more. Now, this is easier said than done. The natural reaction is to avoid this, because it seems too painful to face reality. But avoiding this part of the process can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, suppressed immune system, physical manifestations, such as body tension, despair, and obsessive thoughts, and yes, the inability to move on. Though it can be physically and emotionally unpleasant at times, grieving gives you a greater sense of being in control and feeling empowered. You do not want to enter your next relationship guarded, making negative predictions, and pushing your partner away by pleading “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” like the Backstreet Boys. Grieving is a necessary part of the healing process and the path to getting unstuck and moving on in a healthy way.
Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief are one of the most popular ways to frame the grieving process. Though everyone experiences grief uniquely, I have found it to be a helpful guide in working with my grieving clients. The five stages are denial (inability to accept reality), anger (physical tension, frustration, resentment), bargaining (magical thinking, pleading to God), depression (sadness, emptiness, guilt, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, hopelessness), and acceptance.
While moving through these stages, be curious about your thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and physical sensations. Take time to be aware of what you are experiencing, and practice letting things be as they are, without trying to control or change them. Do your best to notice when you are being judgmental of your thoughts or feelings and try to have compassion for yourself. Grieving is difficult. Be kind to yourself and understand that it will take some time.
Become Anti-Social (Media)
A breakup is a special kind of loss with the additional complication of your ex still being present. With social media making your ex accessible at the touch of a finger, it is important for you to understand that there is a thin line between ex-lover and internet stalker. Nothing good can come from looking at your ex’s Instagram stories or Facebook timeline. When it comes to social media, just say no.
To manage the unpleasant sensations, thoughts, and feelings, try practicing deep breathing, body scans, meditation, and other mindful activities. Allowing things to flow freely, without trying to control, stop, avoid, or manipulate them, will make them less powerful, loosens their grip on you, and gives you the confidence and skill you need to act in the face of them. Give yourself the chance to unleash your inner Glinda the Good Witch and tell them, “You have no power here! Begone.”
The broken-hearted often struggle with remembering who they were before their recent breakup. They see themselves in the context of the relationship and forget that they were once fully functional, interesting, and even desirable people when they were single. Your relationship should not have defined you then, and it certainly should not now. This is why I encourage you to rediscover yourself by dating yourself: “Dating yourself is a way for you to become more mindful of how you are feeling, what is going on in your mind and why you might behave in a certain way.” It also helps you get in touch with what your needs and wants are. Here are the steps:
Step 1: Set time aside to date yourself by scheduling it in. Make yourself a priority.
Step 2: Decide what you are going to do with that time. Make sure it is something you want to do!
Step 3: Engage in dating prep. Why should you only spend time getting all dolled up for someone else?
Step 4: Go on the date with mindful presence . . . Be open to the experience, and enjoy the moment.
To learn more about how to date yourself, check out my dating guide, Seeking Soulmate: Ditch the Dating Game and Find Real Connection.
Remember Why You Broke Up
It may be painful to recall what your ex said when things ended, but it is a necessary part of moving on. There is a reason why you are no longer together. Whether it is because they are no longer attracted to you, you cheated on them, or they have a higher calling and are leaving you for God, you need to accept the reality of why the relationship has ended so you can get past it.
If you need additional help, therapy can be a wonderful resource to provide you with support and new tools to assist in letting go. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, for example, is a short-term treatment model with measurable goals that can teach you how to change unhelpful, negative automatic thoughts and maladaptive behaviors that stop you from moving on.
In addition to the tried and true methods of being with loved ones, engaging in some good old-fashioned self-care, and singing “I Will Survive” at the top of your lungs, the above tips should help you mend your broken heart. Remember that everyone has had their heart broken at one time or another, and give yourself the space, time, and compassion that you deserve.
To find therapists near you, see the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.