7 Ways to Manage a Break Up and Work Through the Pain


“Most of our troubles are due to our passionate desire for and attachment to things that we misapprehend as enduring entities.” ~Dalai Lama

Some breakups are so bad that they make you hate the sunshine. It’s up there gleaming, looking down on you, being all sunny despite the fact that you feel like a slice of hell. The suffering is relentless. The sky is ugly.

The ending of my last relationship was awful. I think it hurt as bad as it did because this wasn’t some random young woman who had just walked into my life. This was someone whom I’d been aquatinted with for years.

I know her family. I had a business relationship with her and we had been performing together as part of a musical group. It also wasn’t my choice to end things.

I once read that the pain of the death of a loved one, the pain of the end of a relationship, and the pain of a child losing a teddy bear are no different. Pain is pain.

And to the one who experiences pain, it can be all consuming and can seem like the end of the world.

I don’t like it when some people think that just because your relationship only lasted a couple of months you should hurt less than if the relationship had been longer. Again, pain is pain. No one has the right to judge it, put limits on it, or qualify it.

Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine that you’ll ever feel better. So, what do you do? You can hate it if you want, resent it, resist it, or wish it wasn’t happening.

The fact is that it’s happening. I wish I could tell you that I’d found the secret to making the healing from the breakup of a relationship easier or faster. I haven’t.

I do know that when all of the flirting, smiling, hand-holding, and special times on the couch are over, somehow you have to find a way to put the pieces of yourself back together.

I think the way to do this is different for everyone. Here are some things that I’ve found helpful.

1. Detachment

Far more than a Buddhist concept, detachment gives us the ability to move forward. I’ve had no reason to talk to my ex-girlfriend, so I haven’t. We have no children together and live far enough apart that we don’t run into each other.

Sure, the grieving is painful, but it’s not her job to be there for me during this process to comfort me. There’s no reason to hang out as pals—maybe someday, but not now.

2. Therapy

The thing I’ve most needed during this time in my life was guidance. I needed someone to talk to and someone to check in with. Sometimes, I make up awful stories in my head and I need someone to help me counter them. There are many different modalities out there. Try them all if you want to.

3. Walking

Yes, it seems so simple, but I started walking more. There’s something very therapeutic about putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward. It’s almost a metaphor.

Walking is a great way to get active instead of dwelling in your memories and replaying the ones that hurt. Walking clears the mind. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron wrote: “We walk out of the door with problems, we return with solutions. ”

Also, I remember my gym teacher in elementary school yelling, “Walk it off!” when I got hit with a tennis ball. I’m walking it off, coach.

4. Mindfulness

So much has been said about mindfulness and present moment awareness. The Internet is full of great resources, and there are probably free meditation groups near you. I won’t go into it too deeply here, but keeping your mind centered on the present and not reliving the past or worrying about the future is helpful. Even Obi-Won Kenobi recommended this.

You can begin with one conscious breathe in this one moment, which is all you ever have. Take some time and feel the breath flowing through you, the rise and fall, the slightest pause.

It’s okay if your mind starts to wander. You can always begin again.

5. Distraction

This might seem like the opposite of mindfulness, and maybe it is. Sometimes though, self-medicating with Netflix is okay. I blew through all of Firefly and both seasons of The Walking Dead. This is guerrilla warfare of the heart. We do what we must to survive. It’s far better than thinking of my ex and the impossibly beautiful way her eyes catch the sunlight.

I’m not suggesting repressing or avoiding your feelings, but sometimes we need a break. Just like a vacation can give us a new perspective on our work, a break from thinking can help us to look at a situation with new eyes.

6. Reading

I binged on books. I admit it. I read books on Buddhism, and Taoism, and Stoicism, all kinds of self-help books. Something about this felt proactive. It was like I was doing homework, like I was taking control of the process, doing all I could to help myself feel better.

7. Creative Expression

Writing has always been helpful to me. I guess that in this, one of my least favorite chapters in my life, with the catastrophic ending of my relationship, it’s no surprise that I started focusing more on my writing.

It’s saved me in ways that even playing music could not. I think I’ll release a collection of my essays sometime soon. Some of them are really good. I’m not saying everyone should take up writing, but creativity in any form helps, even if it’s baking a cake or playing with Legos with your friend’s child. Adele turned the painful ending of a relationship into an album. Go listen to Rolling in the Deep. Seriously.

I hope this doesn’t sound easy. It isn’t. But I hope you get something out of this list or even become inspired to create your own.

Sometimes we have to take great care with ourselves after a breakup, and that’s okay. It’s not so different than recovering from an illness or from surgery. Be gentle with yourself; rest if you need to. It takes as long as it takes.

Remember, we are all the same at our core. Everyone wants to be happy and no one wants to suffer.

Break-up image via Shutterstock

About James Gummer

James Gummer has no idea what's going on and is learning to be okay with that. He writes in Baltimore, Maryland where he also teaches drumming, qigong, and meditation. His collection of essays will be available soon. Visit him at james-writes.com.

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