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How to get over a breakup: The ultimate guide to letting go and moving on

There are few pains worse than a breakup, and the longer and more intense the relationship, the more devastating the breakup can be.

Regardless of who caused the breakup or whether the break up was a mutual decision or not, seldom does a break up leave both parties unscathed. In most cases, breakups absolutely cripple everyone involved.

But after you become tired of the pain and grief, you have to ask yourself: how do I get over this breakup?

In this guide, we cover everything there is to know about a breakup, from its symptoms to exactly why it hurts us so badly, and the right ways and the wrong ways to get over it.

The Dangers of a Break-Up

For every lucky person who has found their “true love”, they have their own history of disastrous breakups, unresolved heartaches, and messy failed romances.

Breakups can make you feel like it’s the end of the world – pain throughout your body, your heart shifting between ice-cold and burning, and tears that never seem to end.

Many people say that all it takes is time, and for the most part, this is true; time heals all wounds. Right?

But getting over a break up the right way is crucial – this means getting over a break up so that you are completely healed from the symptoms, without any baggage to carry into your next relationships.

Does this mean being sad is wrong? Not at all. Sadness is an important byproduct of any breakup, and letting your mind and body feel as it desires is crucial towards fully healing.

Some healthy sadness symptoms you may experience after a breakup include:

  • Insomnia
  • General apathy
  • Fear
  • Crying
  • Frustration and anger

While these symptoms can be difficult to deal with, know that they are expected, with their intensity matching the love you felt for your previous partner.

However, if you do not take the right measures to heal properly, you might fall further into a kind of depression.

If you have a minimum of five of the following symptoms, you might be suffering from depression:

  • Thoughts about suicide or death
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Emptiness and hopelessness for most of the day
  • Increase of anxiety movements, such as hand wringing or pacing
  • A lack of energy for most or all of the day
  • Sleeping problems (not sleeping enough or sleeping too much)
  • Apathy towards all activities
  • Concentration problems
  • Extreme weight or appetite changes

Why Break Ups Are So Hard – Social Rejection on the Ego, Body, and Mind

The sadness you experience after a break up can feel like the worst set of emotions you ever have to deal with in your life, paralleled only by the tragic death of a family member or loved one.

But why exactly do we react so negatively to the loss of a romantic partner?

The Ego

A break up is the most significant instance of social rejection that you simply can’t prepare yourself for until it happens.

It is not only a rejection of your companionship but a rejection of your efforts and perceived personal potential. It is a kind of social rejection unlike any other.

It turns out that the way we deal with the loss of a long-term relationship is similar to how we deal with the death of a loved one, according to mental health experts.

The symptoms of both relationship depression and death grieving overlap, caused by the loss of someone we have learned to depend on in our lives, emotionally or otherwise.

However, the loss of a romantic relationship affects us even more deeply than the death of a loved one, because the circumstances are a result of our own self rather than an accident or event that we could not prevent.

A break up is a negative reflection of our self-worth, shaking the foundations on which your ego is built.

The break up is much more than just the loss of the person you loved, but the loss of the person you imagined yourself as while you were with them.

The Body

Appetite loss. Swollen muscles. Stiff necks. The “break up cold”. The number of physical ailments associated with the post-breakup depression isn’t a coincidence, nor is it a game of the mind.

Various studies have found that the body does break down in certain ways after a breakup, meaning the pangs of heartache you feel after breaking up with your ex aren’t just products of your imagination.

But why do we feel physical pain when we lose something that should just cause emotional distress?

The truth is that the line between physical pain and emotional pain isn’t as solid as we once thought.

After all, pain in general – whether emotional or physical – is a product of the brain, meaning if the brain is triggered in the right way, physical pain can manifest from emotional grief.

Here are the neurological and chemical explanations behind your not-so-imagined post-breakup physical pain:

  • Headaches, stiff neck, and tight or squeezed chest: Caused by the significant release of stress hormones (cortisol and epinephrine) after the sudden loss of feel-good hormones (oxytocin and dopamine). The excess cortisol causes the body’s major muscle groups to tense and tighten
  • Appetite loss, diarrhea, cramps: The rush of cortisol to the major muscle groups demands extra blood to those areas, meaning less blood is present to maintain proper function in the digestive system
  • “Break up cold” and sleeping problems: Increase of stress hormones leads to the vulnerable immune system and difficulty with sleeping

While cortisol explains the everyday physical pangs and pains you feel after a breakup, there is an addictive element behind the perceived post-breakup physical pain.

Researchers have found that an individual experiences relief from any ongoing physical pain when they hold hands with a loved one, and we can become addicted to this dopamine-fueled pain relief.

This addiction leads to physical pain occurring when we think of our previous partner shortly after a breakup, as the brain desires the release of dopamine but experiences stress hormone release instead.

In one study, it was found that when participants were shown pictures of their exes, the parts of their brain predominantly linked with physical pain were significantly simulated.

In fact, the physical pain after a break up is so real that many researchers now recommend taking Tylenol to alleviate post-breakup depression.

The Mind

Reward Addiction: As we discussed above, the mind becomes addicted to the satisfaction during a relationship, and the loss of the relationship leads to a kind of withdrawal.

In one study involving brain scan studies on participants in romantic relationships, it was found that they had increased activity in the parts of the brain most associated with rewards and expectations, the ventral tegmental area and the caudate nucleus.

While being with your partner stimulates these reward systems, the loss of your partner leads to a brain that is expecting the stimulation but no longer receives it.

This leads to the brain experiencing delayed grief, as it has to relearn how to function properly without the reward stimulation.

Blind Euphoria: There are also cases where you don’t know exactly why you are still in love with your ex-partner.

Your friends and family show you all their flaws, but your brain is simply unable to process these flaws or add them up when weighing their character.

This is known as “blind euphoria”, a process that is ingrained into our brains to encourage reproduction.

According to researchers, the saying “love is blind” actually has neurological underpinnings.

When we fall in love with someone, our brain puts us in a state of “blind euphoria”, in which we are less likely to notice or judge their negative behavior, emotions, and traits.

Researchers theorize that the purpose of this love blindness is to encourage reproduction, as studies have found that it generally wanes after a period of 18 months.

This is why you might still find yourself hopelessly head over heels with your ex long after you have broken up with them.

Evolutionary Pain: Much of the nuances of our modern behavior can be traced back to evolutionary developments, and the heartache after a break up is no different.

A break up causes an overwhelming sense of loneliness, anxiety, and danger, no matter how much support you might actually have from your environment and personal community.

Some psychologists believe this has something to do with our primordial memories, or sensations ingrained in us after thousands of years of evolution.

While losing your partner matters very little to your well-being in modern society, the loss of a mate was a much bigger deal in pre-modern societies, leading to the loss of status or place in your tribe or community.

This led to the development of a deep fear of being alone that we still haven’t totally managed to shake off, and perhaps never will.  

How To Actually Get Over A Break Up: The Process of Self-Concept Reorganization 

Breakups are difficult because they never feel like you’re just leaving another person; it feels a lot like you’re leaving a part of yourself.

Time spent cultivating, sharing, and creating memories together form a special bond between two people.

Oftentimes, the time you shared blossoms into a symbiotic relationship. Before you even know it, you’re codependent with the other person. 

You will find that your goals, beliefs, habits, interests, and even virtues might have changed after letting another person in your life.

Your relationship becomes more than just a social bond – it becomes an ever-lasting influence that touches every facet of your existence.

You only realize you can’t live without them until you’re forced to. 

People like to say that time heals all wounds, but the truth is that there are things you can actively do to improve how you feel.

By turning the break up into a process of self-actualization, you can spend less time hurting and create better results from your healing period. 

This is where the process of self-concept reorganization becomes most relevant. In order to move forward, you must redefine your individuality and distinguish your aspirations, personality, and hobbies from the other person.

By doing so you can “unmerge” with the other person and get back on your feet and heal properly. 

Steps To Self-Reorganization: From Codependence To Independence

Getting over something as traumatic as a break up doesn’t have to feel like an aimless voyage.

Just like anything else, if you turn something into a process, it’s much easier to get back on your feet and start the road to recovery.

Step One: Distinguish Yourself

Guiding Questions:

– How am I different from my ex?

– What beliefs, values, and principles do I have that make me unique? 

– If I could describe myself in three words, what would those words be?

Being broken up with someone can feel like pressing a reset button. After striving towards common aspirations and goals, you now find yourself alone and lost.

In order to move through self-reorganization, you must go through the foundational process of distinguishing who you are. 

By understanding that you and the other person are completely different individuals, you will start to realize potentials in your own individuality.

Maybe you have lost confidence in yourself and are unable to move forward without someone else’s help.

By affirming your own identity apart from the other person, you can start rebuilding self-confidence and independence. 

Step Two: Find Your Pure Essence

Guiding Questions:

– How have my beliefs, values, and principles changed since meeting my ex?

– How do I feel about certain topics and issues?

– Am I comfortable with my current opinions and values? 

Taking pride in who you are is a crucial step towards independence. It’s difficult to reevaluate who you are after the relationship because being with another person can change you in ways you don’t even know about. 

Use this as a time to reflect on your truest, deepest principles. Evaluate your opinions and ask yourself if you believe in them wholeheartedly or out of influence.

By breaking down your current values, you can rediscover the things that you actually believe in, like to do, and stand for without outside influence.

Step Three: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Guiding Questions:

– What was life like before getting into a relationship?

– How did I spend my time before getting involved with someone?

– What are the things I enjoyed most about being single?

Projecting a future without another person your life can be downright unimaginable. To recalibrate your self-organization, it’s important to think back to the times prior to the relationship.

By doing so, you can find strength knowing that there was a time that you were fully independent, happy, and capable without another person in your life. 

By viewing the break up as another episode in your life, it becomes easier to welcome a brand new chapter in your story. 

Step Four: Move Forward

Guiding Questions:

  • Do I prefer to be surrounded by friends and family or would I rather be alone?
  • What new things can I try to improve and make my life richer?
  • What kind of person do I want to be after learning what I know now from the previous relationship? 

After rebuilding your identity and taking pride in who you are, it’s time to do things that will actually help you move forward.

It can be as simple as getting in touch with old friends or tracking your emotions through a journal.

There are different actions you can take to start moving on. Listed below are some actionable things you can actually do that will usher you closer to moving on:

Getting Over A Break-Up: The Right Way

1) Avoid Social Media For 2 Weeks

Why It’s Good: Social media is a giant distraction that will only get in the way between you and your healing process.

Remember, moving on has to be intentional, and scrolling through your friends’ and exes’ feeds won’t make you feel any better. 

Additionally, you will feel vulnerable and lonely after a breakup. Social media is filled with feel-good, happy go lucky, but not necessarily genuine posts.

It’s easy to get caught up in fake positivity and feel like you’re missing out. Use your time offline as a challenge to reconnect with yourself without any unnecessary distractions. 

How To Make This Happen:

  • Log out of social media on your browser and delete them from your phone.
  • If you’re having problems sticking to this rule, ask a friend to change all your social media passwords so you can’t get into them.
  • If two weeks is too long of a time, consider limiting your social media use to a few hours a week instead. 

2) Eat At Three New Restaurants

Why It’s Good: Getting dressed up and eating somewhere special is one of the best things about being with someone.

Now that you’re rediscovering independence, it’s crucial to teach yourself that dining out can be special, with or without company.

Discovering new restaurants is a great way to exercise independence.

You get to choose where to eat, how to dress, what to order, and what to do after the meal. Eating alone in a nice restaurant opens you up to pleasant experiences and encourages you to be comfortable with being alone. 

How To Make This Happen:

  • Look up new restaurants in your city that you have always been wanting to try. You can select anything from brunch places to upscale dinner locations. 
  • Take the time to dress up. Wear that dress you’ve been saving for special occasions; choose a dressier jacket. Dressing well will make you feel and look good. 
  • Don’t rush through the meal. Savor every bite and use pauses in between bites as a reminder of how much you’re enjoying your time alone. 

3) Establish A Morning And Night Routine

Why It’s Good: It’s difficult to go back to normal after a breakup, which is exactly why establishing a morning and night routine is imperative.

Having things to look forward to when you wake up and after you get home from work and school will make every day more exciting. 

Maybe you can adapt a brand new skincare routine or make sure you’re cooking healthy meals at dinner.

At the end of the day, what you choose to do in your own time isn’t really what matters.

Its purpose is to establish much-needed motivation to get up every day and move forward by knowing exactly what to do in the morning and evening. 

How To Make This Happen:

  • Make mornings and evenings more enjoyable by incorporating self-care into your routine.
  • Try to stick as closely to your routine as possible within two weeks after the breakup. You can start becoming more free with your time after you start feeling better.
  • Try different routines for weekends and weekdays. Maybe on weekday mornings, you’d like to start your day with a podcast, then have breakfast with friends first thing in the morning on weekends. 

4) Find A New Everyday Hobby

Why It’s Good: You will inevitably have pent up energy that will require release one way or another. Find a hobby where you can channel all that raw emotion.

The important thing is to find something you can do every single day. It’s a great way to make your days more exciting, all the while developing new skills and interests in the process. 

How To Make This Happen:

  • Choose a hobby that you can do for at least 20 minutes to an hour every day without fail. 
  • Challenge yourself in ways you haven’t before. Maybe sign up for a gym or try teaching yourself a language. 
  • When doing your hobby with other people, make sure you’re more focused on the craft than you are on socialization. Remember that this is about you and rekindling your creative spark and curiosity. 

The Wrong Way

1) Get A Rebound

Why It’s Wrong: Getting a rebound is one of the worst things you can do after a breakup. This common error is just another way to get your heartbroken.

You’re latching onto another person and projecting your insecurities from the previous relationship without giving yourself space or time to reflect and improve. 

Not to mention that rebounds are often shallow and superficial. Instead of building up your confidence, getting into a temporary tryst is a surefire way to lower your self-value. 

What You Can Do Instead:

  • Foster platonic relationships and seek positivity from friends and family members. 
  • Reel in feelings of vulnerability and focus on being comfortable with being alone. 
  • If you’re feeling lonely, surround yourself with good friends and spend time with them more often. 

2) Stay In Touch 

Why It’s Wrong: Some exes stay friendly after breaking up, and that’s great. However, it’s not advisable to stay in contact with the other person immediately after the separation.

Even if you think you’re just being friendly, staying in touch prevents both parties from rediscovering independence.

You’re only prolonging the codependent relationship you have with each other and are also running the risk of repeating the same mistakes that led to the break up in the first place. 

What You Can Do Instead:

  • Don’t try to force a friendship immediately after the relationship. Give yourselves some time to focus on personal growth before deciding whether to move forward as friends or not. 
  • Prioritize your feelings instead of the other person’s. Remember that you no longer have the obligation to be empathetic to what they’re feeling. 
  • Use the time away from your ex to evaluate them objectively and reinforce reasons that led to the breakup. 

3) Rethink Relationship Decisions

Why It’s Wrong: Taking a trip down memory lane rarely ends well. With guilt, loneliness, and fear of being alone, it’s easy to convince yourself that “it wasn’t so bad” and cling to your comfort zone as opposed to being forced to confront the reality of being alone. 

Nostalgia makes it easy to gloss over the bad things in the relationship and romanticize the entire experience.

When you do this, you’re forgetting the very real reasons why the relationship failed to work. 

What You Can Do Instead:

  • Stop associating yourself with the other person. You are no longer a “we”. From here on out, you are now your own “you”. 
  • Find peace in the decisions you have made. Accept that the past is the past and that the only thing you can control is how you move forward. 
  • Instead of keeping it all in your head, list down all the qualities you didn’t like about the other person. If it mattered to you then, there’s no reason why it won’t matter to you now that the relationship is over. 

4) Talk Smack With Friends

Why It’s Wrong: It’s tempting to release pent up frustration and vent to friends, but doing so will only reinforce the negative emotions associated with the breakup.

People like to think that badmouthing your ex is a cathartic experience, when in fact it’s only a way to relieve bad moments and become even more entangled with the entire break up experience.

It also takes away from the concept of focusing on yourself. When you’re badmouthing someone else, you’re engrossed in them, which takes away energy from prioritizing yourself. 

What You Can Do Instead:

  • Focus on love, positivity, and acceptance. Strive to move away from anger and move towards forgiveness instead. 
  • Ask friends not to discuss your ex. Remember that moving on is about who you are now, now who you were during the relationship.
  • Encourage friends and family to be positive about the breakup and view it as an opportunity for learning and self-development.  

Getting Over a Break-Up, Becoming a Better You

A break up is like falling into a pit, one that perhaps you were never expecting to fall into. And climbing out of that pit means finding your way back to a self-sufficient, independent, and proud you.

Once you escape that pit and get over the pain and heartache, you might finally say that you are “Okay”.

But being “Okay” doesn’t mean that you are done. Truly getting over a break up doesn’t mean finding your way to the person you were before you ever had the relationship.

It means becoming a person who has grown from the relationship and the heartache thereafter, someone bigger and better than you have ever been before.

Any experience, regardless of how much pain involved, is a part of your life and your history. Don’t bury it and forget about it. Use it to become the best version of yourself you can be. Only then can you truly say you are over the breakup.

If you find yourself still struggling, then check out my latest eBook: The Art of Breaking Up: The Ultimate Guide to Letting Go of Someone You Loved.

You’ll learn how to accept yourself, your feelings and the breakup, and ultimately move forward with a life full of joy and meaning.

After reading this eBook, you’ll have the knowledge you need to become one of those people who can accept, process and move on. 

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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