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How to Reclaim Your Self-Respect After a Bad Breakup

Learn three important steps that will help you love yourself after love ends.

eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock
Source: eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock

Let’s face it: Breakups can be messy. When love is at stake, most people are generally operating from an emotional mindset, not a logical one. When you are feeling the pangs of heartbreak and loss, it’s not uncommon to do and say things you would otherwise never consider. But if there is one thing worse than ending a relationship with someone you love, it is hating yourself on top of it. Healing from a bad breakup is a process that can’t begin until you are able to feel good about who you are.

Following are three ways to reclaim your self-respect and self-confidence:

1. Establish clear boundaries.

Setting boundaries can feel like you are accepting the loss, and you may not feel ready to let go; however, it is an essential step in the process of regaining your emotional well-being after a breakup. Having clear boundaries does not necessarily mean no contact, though no contact may be what is best to separate from the other person. (See "How to Move On from An Ex You Still Love.") Having clear boundaries means that you act in a way that feels respectful of you and is consistent with the relationship you now have, not the one you had.

You don’t continue to give of yourself in the same way you did while you were together. You don’t continue to spend endless time on the phone providing emotional validation; you don't do the other person's errands and chores that they can do on their own; you don't continue to provide unwarranted financial support; if you previously lived together, you don’t continue to allow the other person to act as if you still do; and you don't have a physical relationship with someone who isn’t committed to you and doesn’t have your best interest at heart. Having clear boundaries doesn’t mean you no longer care about the other person; it means you respect yourself enough to take the space you need to move forward with your life.

2. Forgive.

Nothing makes you feel worse about yourself than perseverating on the lousy way someone else treated you, or on your own actions that you may regret. To free yourself of the past, you have to make peace with it so that you can stop thinking about it. Learning to let go by being able to forgive is an important step in this process. Forgiveness isn't about letting someone else off the hook for his or her bad behavior: It is an act of self-empowerment. When you forgive someone, you are releasing yourself from their ability to continue hurting you. It may be helpful to recognize that what anyone else does is a direct reflection on who they are and has little to do with you at all. If someone cheated on you, it demonstrates something about that person's character, and not that you are somehow inadequate. If someone tries to blame you for their behavior, it reflects their lack of self-awareness. Also, most people do not behave with the intention of hurting others; they act as a way to take care of their own needs. Understanding that the actions of another are rarely personal can take some of the sting out of the hurt and make it a little easier to put it behind you.

The more difficult, but perhaps more important, part of the forgiveness process involves forgiving yourself. A little self-compassion goes a long way: Remind yourself that hindsight is always 20-20. It is easy to look back and see how you could have done things differently, but in the moment, most people operate with the information they have to make the best choice possible for themselves, given their particular set of circumstances. If you feel you made a mistake, use it as an opportunity to learn something and grow instead of beating yourself up. If you don’t know why you did what you did, take the time to figure it out so that you don’t make the same mistake twice. If you did something that you feel hurt someone else, do what feels right in your heart and find a way to make amends with them. Most important, acknowledge that having flaws is part of being human, and doesn’t make you unworthy.

3. Focus on you.

After a breakup, you are likely going to have more time on your hands. Instead of rushing out to find a replacement partner to fill the void, take the time to work on you. You want to meet your next partner when you are the best version of you, not when you are an emotional train wreck. Spend some extra time at the gym, buy yourself a new wardrobe, or get a new haircut. Pick up a new hobby, go to a self-development lecture, or take a class on something you’ve always been interested in. When you are busy, out and about feeling good about yourself, your attention will be on something other than the breakup, and you are more likely to meet other new people with similar interests.

Breaking up with someone you love is one of the more difficult experiences in life, but when you refocus your energy on loving yourself and feel good about who you are, you can’t help but create positive experiences and attract other people on your wavelength.

I am an assistant professor at Emory University and the author of Think Forward to Thrive: How to Use the Mind’s Power of Anticipation to Transcend Your Past and Transform Your Life.

To view my 2015 TEDx talk, "Why You Don't Get What You Want," click here.

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