Sending out an SOS…
Whether you realize it or not, you have a tremendous amount of power over how you feel. This is because your thoughts affect your emotions. So in the aftermath of a breakup, utilize this ability to change your emotions. This can be accomplished by using “opposite action to emotion.” This is a great technique to increase positive emotions when you feel overwhelmed by negative ones. This means when you’re feeling sad expose yourself to something that will make you happy, even if it is only for a few moments. Examples include: If you’re feeling lonely, call your friend Sandy who always makes you laugh. If you’re sad, watch a comedy. If you’re feeling stressed or frustrated, get a massage. The goal is to replace negative feelings with positive ones. I’m not suggesting that you bottle up your emotions, discount feelings of sadness, or exist in a state of denial. The truth is you will likely experience feelings of sadness no matter what. Opposite action to emotion will help bring in new feelings and empower you to process the negative emotions. It’s a skill of balance. Try to get all of your questions answered. After a breakup, we can feel vulnerable, experience self-doubt, and question our relationships with others. It’s common to have many questions for your ex after a breakup. Write them out before speaking to your ex. Once you speak to your ex, make sure you cover all of your bases. You may not get all of your questions answered, but it’s a step in the right direction.
30 Day Hiatus
After you’ve talked the situation out and both parties have had their questions answered (ideally), take a break from each other. This means no calls, texts, or emails. For many people, continuing to speak to an ex can complicate the situation and prolong the grieving process. If your goal is to get over this person, give yourself a time out from them. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never speak to them again or that you don’t care for them, it just gives you time to focus on yourself to heal – uninterrupted. Although every situation is different, I recommend taking a 30 day break. Whatever duration of time you chose be sure that it’s something you can commit to and follow through with. Make sure to tell your ex about your hiatus so they won’t misinterpret your absence as hostility, or indifference. Also, no cyber-stalking! As hard as it might be, unfriend them on Facebook and don’t follow their tweets. You’ll have urges to see what they’re doing, who they’re spending time with, etc. Don’t torture yourself by examining their every move, focus your attention on improving your life. Cyber stalking will only fuel your wild which is undoubtedly going to imagine the worst, without having all of the facts. Additionally, a breakup is hard enough, why complicate things and add more additional negative emotions?
Process the Loss
Allow yourself to grieve the loss of the relationship. Strategies to help you include writing down your thoughts and feelings, reading books that address loss, and reaching out to friends to digest what you’ve just gone through. If you don’t have support outside of the relationship build new relationships by volunteering, joining LGBT support groups, or taking classes as a hobby. If your emotions are too overwhelming or are taking a large toll on your social and/or occupational life- confiding in a therapist can be beneficial. The goal at this stage is to get through the loss by taking that sadness inside of you and letting that energy/emotion move through you into some healthy form. Drinking alcohol, doing drugs, or other impulsive behaviors can just delay the mourning process and can amplify the negative emotions – creating a new set of problems. Talk about your thoughts and feelings as they relate to your recent loss, so that eventually you can get to a place of resolution. This does not happen overnight so be patient with yourself. It’s normal at this stage to feel confused, have self-doubt, and question if you want to be back with your ex. Stages of loss include denial, anger, bargaining, sadness (depression), and eventually acceptance. Of note, people do not always experience every stage and many jump around the different stages of loss in no particular order.
Rebuilding Your Life and Healing
Now focus on the most effective thing you can do. Get back into the hobbies you once enjoyed. Get involved in volunteer work, social sports, or try a new hobby. The goal is to get back into the world where you can focus on events vs. focusing on the self. When we’re depressed it’s incredibly hard to focus on the outside world, due to feeling consumed by sadness. As you change your behavior you will start to notice you are experiencing new thoughts and feelings.After you’ve processed the loss focus next on healing. Ask yourself what was the worst part of the breakup or the relationship? Learn from the mistakes and problem-solve how you would handle the same situation if it occurred in the future. The next step is my favorite: create meaning. This takes some objectivity but it’s an important thing to do. Perhaps when you were with your ex you adopted a puppy together that you now love more than life itself. Or maybe your ex introduced you to French impressionism, haute couture, wine, punk rock music, or Italian motorcycles; all things you may not have been exposed to otherwise. Maybe it’s that you never knew you could have such strong emotions for another person, but now you know you can experience that connection and know what to look for in someone else. There’s a lot we can learn about ourselves from a relationship while continuing to move forward. Lastly, there’s forgiveness. Forgiving someone can take a long time as well as some pride-swallowing if we feel slighted or hurt. Letting go of anger and sadness through forgiveness can only enhance one’s life in the present. Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. This is one of my favorite analogies about the self-destructive nature of anger and particularly hatred. Remember, just because you forgive someone, does not mean that you accept or approve of their behavior; it’s just a sign that you’re ready to let go and move on.
Ex or No Ex?
The last step is re-introducing your ex into your life. Do you want to? What are the pros and cons of being friends with them? Is this possible? If they start dating someone new, how will you react to this? The latter question is an excellent way to gauge if you are “over” this person and how many old emotions could possibly be attached. It’s normal to have feelings of sadness, attraction, yearning, or detachment with your ex. It can be very specific to the person and situation. Ideally you will figure out what your boundaries are going to be with your ex before contacting them, what your goal is when re-connecting with them, and have a plan to help create these boundaries/goals. For example, if I want to be friends with my ex, I’d check in with them and see how they still felt towards me. If they don’t feel capable of a casual friendship- then I’d give them more time to grieve the loss. If they are ready for a friendship, then test the waters by spending time with them by doing something casual (coffee, hike, ect…). Be sure to watch your body language and verbal cues (i.e. don’t use words like babe, hon, or other terms of endearment). Some people can be friends after a relationship and some cannot. There is no wrong way. Just make sure your behavior matches your boundaries/goals.