Last year my uncle died shortly after someone I love went through a pretty traumatic breakup. I love all my family, but I wasn’t really close to my uncle and didn’t know him all that well, so I was more grieving for my mother and aunt than myself.
As I bore witness to the deep pain around me, I started thinking about the expectations we often hold of people when grieving a breakup, as opposed to grieving a death. We often expect them to feel sad for a while and then just get over it. Because the person didn’t die, after all.
I would never compare the loss of someone’s life to the loss of a relationship, but I wonder, do we even have to? Can’t we just honor both types of losses as difficult in their own way and respect that healing takes time for each?
I know from personal experience that breakups can evoke all kinds of complicated emotions.
They can trigger the pain of past traumas—times when people we trusted betrayed, neglected, or abandoned us.
They can conjure up deep feelings of shame and unworthiness, particularly if we blame ourselves for everything that went wrong.
They can ignite all our fears about being alone and what we believe that means about us and for us—maybe that we’ll never be happy because we’re unlovable, and no one will ever want us.
And they can force us to face parts of ourselves we’d rather avoid, pieces of a puzzle we’ve tried to complete with other people’s love, affection, and approval.
Then there’s the pain of accepting someone’s cruelty, if they weren’t emotionally mature enough to end things well, taking responsibility for their part and offering some sense of closure.
None of this is easy to get past. And there’s no set timeline for healing.
The truth of the matter is, it takes as long as it takes. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to help ourselves heal and move forward. It’s just means that even if we do all the “right” things, the pain may still linger, and that’s okay.
It’s also totally understandable—in general, and especially now, when we’re far more limited in our options for getting out in the world, doing things we love, and engaging with other people. All things that help when you’re trying to empower and focus on yourself.
If you’re feeling the pain of heartbreak right now, I hope you know you deserve a ton of credit for doing your best to get through this, especially during this crazy, surreal time. I hope you’re kind to yourself as you navigate the emotional landmine that is healing. And I hope the following pieces of advice, from Tiny Buddha contributors, help ease your pain, even if only a little:
1. It’s okay if you’re not over it yet.
“Healing takes time. Give yourself grace because it is the loving thing to do.
Would you keep asking your best friend why she isn’t over her heartbreak yet? No! That would be unloving, she needs grace. Feeling impatient with your progress or beating yourself up? GRACE. Just cried for hours on the couch even though you’ve had two amazing weeks? GRACE. Behaved in a way that you later felt bad about? Those are old habits arising, my friend—GRACE.”
~Lauren Bolos, from How to Come Out Stronger After Heartbreak
2. You won’t feel this way forever.
“There is, in fact, a light in the end of the depression tunnel. But the only way to get to that light is to walk through it. There is no way of getting around the process, and the earlier you begin the journey of mourning and healing, the sooner you will reach peace.
The journey is long, but there is no race and no competition. It’s a journey with yourself. There will be days when you will feel stronger than ever and some days will bring you back to your knees.
Just remember: The rollercoaster is the journey. So even when you are down, feeling as if you’ve made no progress, remember that progress is being made every day you choose to be alive.
Progress is being made every day you choose to not call the one who left you.
Progress is being made every day you choose to take another breath.
You are alive. You are strong. You will survive.”
~Brisa Pinho, from Grieving a Loss That Feels Like a Death
3. You deserve a lot of credit.
“Take credit for the good that came out of this relationship. No, it wasn’t all perfect, and there are some things you can take responsibility for in your past relationship, but what can you take credit for?
If you blame yourself for all the bad things, don’t you also have to take some credit for the good things that happened?
What positives came out of this relationship?
How did you grow as a person in your past relationship?
How did you mature and become a better version of yourself?”
~Vishnu, from How to Stop Punishing Yourself for Your Breakup
4. Your ex wasn’t perfect.
“Remember the bad as well as the good. Brain scientists suggest nearly 20 percent of us suffer from ‘complicated grief,’ a persistent sense of longing for someone we lost with romanticized memories of the relationship. Scientists also suggest this is a biological occurrence—that the longing can have an addictive quality to it, actually rooted in our brain chemistry.
As a result, we tend to remember everything with reverie, as if it was all sunshine and roses. If your ex broke up with you, it may be even more tempting to imagine she or he was perfect, and you weren’t. In all reality, you both have strengths and weaknesses and you both made mistakes.
Remember them now… it’s easier to let go of a human than a hero.”
~Lori Deschene (me!), from How to Let of a Past Relationship: 10 Steps to Move on Peacefully
5. No relationship is a failure.
“Our society seems to put a lot of pressure on the idea that things will last forever. But the truth is, everything is impermanent.
After a recent breakup, I found myself feeling as though I had failed the relationship. Then I stepped outside of my conditioned thinking and discovered that love and failure do not reside together. For when you have loved, you have succeeded, every time.
It was Wayne Dyer that introduced me to the rather practical concept that ‘not every relationship is meant to last forever.’ What a big burden off my back! Of all the souls hanging out on this planet, it seems to make sense that we might have more than one soul mate floating around.
Relationships can be our greatest teachers; it is often through them that we discover the most about ourselves. In relationships, we are provided with an opportunity to look into a mirror, revealing what we need to work on as individuals in order to be the best version of ourselves.
Each relationship will run its course, some a few weeks, months, years, or even a lifetime. This is the unknown that we all leap into.”
~Erin Coriell, from How to Love More and Hurt Less in Relationships
6. If you change your perspective, it will be easier to heal.
“Whatever story you’re telling yourself about the relationship, you need to retell it. You may be holding onto the sad and tragic version. You were left behind as the victim, as your ex was the heartbreaker who didn’t give the relationship a chance.
Shift the story to the one that is the most empowering for you. How about a story of how you both gave it your best? You fought, you loved, you laughed, and you cried. You tried over and over when things didn’t seem to work. You fought, forgave, broke up, got back together, and finally called it off for good.
You both gave it your all, but it didn’t work out. It wasn’t for lack of trying. It was you coming to the conclusion that you were different people, both good people, who were incompatible for each other. You both helped each other grow and become better versions of yourself.
The more you can flip your perspective on your ex and the relationship, the easier it will be to move on.”
~Vishnu (from How to Move on When Your Ex Already Has)
7. Sometimes you have to make your own closure.
“Closure is something everyone would like. We would like validation and understanding.
We can accept that someone doesn’t want to be with us. We can accept that the relationship has changed or that they want something else. What we can’t accept is our partner’s inability to communicate that fact effectively and tell us what went wrong.
Unfortunately, sometimes your partner does not have this same need, or they may have the same need but they’re better at hiding it and pretending they don’t. They would rather just push you, and their feelings, away.
In my experience, people can’t always be honest with you because they can’t be honest with themselves. It isn’t about you. We always want it to be about us and our flaws and failures, but it isn’t.
Many people don’t know how to deal with the emotions that come with a breakup, so they prefer to avoid their feelings altogether, and this is the most likely reason they won’t talk to you. It has nothing to do with you or the relationship or something you did wrong or that you weren’t enough.”
~Carrie Burns (from How to Move on When Your Ex Won’t Speak to You)
I suspect that last one is something many people need to hear. You may have played a role in your breakup, but if your ex hasn’t treated you with empathy and respect, it’s not your fault. No one deserves to be ignored. No one deserves to be treated like they don’t matter. And just because someone treats you that way, it doesn’t mean it’s true.
I know when I was in the depths of heartbreak I needed a reminder that, regardless of the mistakes I’d made or how my ex saw me, I was still a good person who was worthy of love and healing. You are too. So love yourself and give yourself the time and empathy you need to heal.
You are strong, you are doing the best you can, and you can and will get through this!