What the crazy year 2020 has been! Luckily, we have not only ‘All good things come to an end’ but also ‘Bad things don’t last forever’ sayings… Indeed, the on-going pandemic and various consequences of national lockdowns have affected every human being on earth to a smaller or larger extent. And as a clinical psychology student and a beginner practitioner, I have noticed how bad quarantine is, in particular, for people’s mental health. Quite a few people I know have gone this year through difficult breakups. In this light, I want to talk here about surviving painful breakups and starting new relationships.
Allow yourself to grief
Various psychologists had researched how people deal with different losses and found that breakups, divorces, and the death of most loved ones, produce similar emotions of grief. The Five Grief Stages following negative, life-changing experiences include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. They are not necessarily experienced in this order. Instead, they are expected and natural reactions to setbacks like breakups. Every relationship is different, and their endings vary too, but it is important to let yourself feel whatever emotions take over. Cry as much as you need to, shout into your pillow, punch a boxing bag, or run 5 miles.
Allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling and take as much time as you need to. ALL your feelings are valid. Even if you are angry at your ex-partner, or sad and betrayed by them, maybe you want a second chance, you still have hope. Breakups are no joke. Your heartache might be so painful that you might even get a feeling similar to one’s death. What is true in a sense, given that particular person is most likely gone from your life for good. But not everything is lost. For now, breathe and let out your emotions. It’s worse if you suppress them and explode one day with more power and pain.
Distract yourself wisely
Sadness and other symptoms felt during grief are similar but not the same as depression. You might have no energy, no motivation, feel pain, and emptiness, which can develop into a depressive episode if experienced for longer than two weeks. After breakups, it is usually less severe and still possible to distract yourself from those feelings. I have noticed that being of help are physical workouts and talking to friends (or specialists). Physical exercises stimulate your brain to release endorphins, which reduce pain and improve self-esteem. Any form of working out helps! How can talking to people help, you ask? Psychotherapy wouldn’t be used for so many years if talking didn’t help. Friends also can give you perspective on things: they motivate you to keep going, remind you how great you are, and boost your self-esteem too! Taking up hobbies and doing self-care activities are also ‘healthy’ ways to distract yourself during times of inner crisis.
Focus on your strengths
Psychotherapists are taught to identify and amplify clients’ strengths in order to create hope and motivation for them in challenging life situations. Research shows how people in distress have sort of a ‘tunnel vision,’ focused mainly on their problems and negative self-attributes. A therapist instead looks for his client’s strengths and how he/ she dealt with different issues in the past. This way, a heartbroken or depressed person is encouraged to cope with his current problems more effectively. Think of what your good qualities are, what helps you relax and deal with stress. Use your learned coping strategies to deal with your breakup problem. Perhaps it’s your sense of humor or broad imagination. Maybe your stubbornness to prove people wrong and your determination to be the best. If you cannot think of anything, ask your friends what great qualities they see in you!
Learn from your mistakes
There are two extremes of people who either go from one relationship straight to another to avoid breakup pain and those who stop dating for ages in fear of rejection. Neither is good. You need time for emotions to settle down and to reflect on the relationship that has just ended before starting a new one. Or, also, before shutting yourself off completely. I remember Einstein’s quote that says, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you keep jumping through relationships like mad, don’t be surprised when your partners start looking the same. And I mean, if they cheat on you, or disrespect you, or put in zero effort – it might sound harsh, but perhaps this just means that now is time to change something in yourself.
Why does one feel a need to rush to have a new boyfriend or girlfriend? Can’t handle being alone for too long? It’s understandable yet should be avoided. Think back and reflect on what worked and what did not, know your expectations and needs. Imagine your ideal partner and your perfect relationship. And now go for it! If you learn from your mistakes, your future relationships will have a different (better!) ‘quality.’
Open heart, open mind
Now you might say, “Okay, I have cried my eyes out, gotten myself together, and now I am ready to start dating again. But what if I meet someone who will hurt me again?”. Well, that’s always the risk you must take, I’m afraid. You always risk getting hurt for a chance to be loved. If the pain weren’t worth it, no one would bother, yet people still do. Time really heals all wounds, but you must keep an open mind and give yourself a chance. Only if your heart is open people can show their love to you.
If you need to hear this right now – know that everything will be alright. If your friend is going through a breakup, be their shoulder to cry on. People remarry even after most painful divorces and find happiness again. There is hope, and there is love – if you open yourself up to it. Putting yourself out there in the world, all vulnerable and broken is scary, but it’s a risk worth taking if you still believe in love. I wish everyone strength and hope for the upcoming year. May the painful endings bring forth joyful beginnings!