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How to heal a broken heart: 10 no bullsh*t steps to move on

Breaking up with someone you love can be one of the most heart-wrenching and soul-draining experiences you’ll ever encounter.

Were you the problem? Were they the problem? If you’re anything like me, your mind can’t stop racing with “what-ifs?”

One year ago I broke up with the love of my life. We were together for 5 years.

The emotions I experienced after we broke up weren’t fun at all. In fact, it was pretty downright terrible.

It may feel like it’s impossible for you to move on right now.

After all, how are you supposed to put the past behind you when you’re feeling emotionally destroyed?

But I’m here to tell you that it is possible. I can vouch for that.

In this article, I’m going to describe exactly what worked for me to heal my broken heart, and how you go about it for yourself.

Let’s go.

1. Accept that it won’t be quick a process

It’s incredibly common for anyone going through a breakup to wish that they could return back to normal almost immediately.

But this is rarely the case.

According to research published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, it takes 11 weeks to feel better after a relationship ends.

However, another study found it takes about 18 months to heal after the end of a marriage.

The fact of the matter is this:

The time it takes for anyone to successfully move on from a broken heart is different for anyone.

Love is a messy emotion, after all.

But what you need to remember is that there is no set time when you “have” to get over someone.

There are different factors at play for the healing process – such as the length of the relationship, the concrete ties you share as a couple, and the depth of emotion you experienced.

The healing process might be even more difficult if you didn’t want the relationship to end – which is what happened to me.

But this is what you need to remember:

Millions and millions of people have been through the pain of a broken heart before, and they’ve moved on to become a stronger, better human being.

You’ll be no different.

But like any wound: Heartbreak heals with time and you will eventually get over it.

For me, it took about three months to fully move on. But if I knew what I know now I’m sure it would be much quicker.

The bottom line is that if you know how to properly grieve, process your emotions and then focus on creating new sources of meaning, you can get over someone more quickly than moping around and feeling sorry for yourself (which is exactly what I did for far longer than I should have).

You just need to know the techniques and steps, which I cover in greater depth in my book The Art of Breaking Up. You can check out the book here.

For now, keep this mind:

Many people are going to tell you to go out and meet new people. This is good advice, but this isn’t the first thing you should do.

The most crucial step you need to take first is to accept that getting over someone you loved isn’t going to take a day or even a week. It will take time, and that’s perfectly okay.

2. It’s okay to be hurting

You might be feeling down, and upset with yourself.

But what you need to realize is that feeling crap when you’re suffering from a broken heart is completely natural.

Relationships are the foundation of everyone’s life. We’re all social creatures and we rely on each other to get by.

Not only that, but we derive a hell of a lot of meaning through our relationships.

So when a relationship has ended, especially one that was so fundamental to your life, you lose a significant amount of meaning. In fact, you almost feel like you lose a part of yourself.

That’s why you might feel empty or lost. After all, breakups can be seriously disorientating.

Most people who are in strong relationships incorporate them into their self-concept – and they define their own self-worth by being a pair.

Now that you have lost the other half of yourself – who are you?

This is why a breakup can be so painful.

Look, I honestly felt like a lost a part of myself and that I would never meet someone as good.

It also felt the past 5 years were a complete waste of time.

But this loss is precisely what needs to be accepted.

Why?

Because while you may have lost a significant source of what contributed to your self-worth, it also means that once you’ve truly acknowledged that it’s gone will you be able to build a better “you”.

If you can accept the pain and where you are right now, you’ll be able to focus on restoring new meaning in life and boosting your own self-concept.

Take it from me: This is an incredible opportunity to start afresh and find new meaning in life.

But to do that, you must accept that it’s gone.

3. Work on getting those pesky negative out of your system

This is the hard part.

But unfortunately, if you’re going to start feeling happy again, then you need to face up to what you’re feeling.

It’s natural to avoid negative emotions, and that’s entirely fair enough. They’re not exactly fun to deal with.

If I’m honest, I avoided what I was feeling and pretended that everything was okay.

But I was hurt deep down.

When I look back, it wasn’t until I confronted these negative emotions that I began the process of moving on.

If you try to avoid what you’re feeling right now and move on with life as if nothing happened, not only are you living a lie, but those negative emotions fester in the background.

And eventually, they’ll come to bite you back even harder.

The research suggests that emotional stress, like that from blocked emotions, has not only been linked to mental illness but also to physical problems like headaches, heart disease, insomnia, and autoimmune disorders.

The million-dollar question is though, how can we “accept” our feelings?

I’ve never been very good at dealing with my emotions, but a technique that helped me was a type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which was developed by Dr. Steven Hayes at the University of Nevada.

It’s a simple 4 step process you can do anytime. I’ve summarized the four key steps here. I also expand on it in my book and provide other techniques to accept your emotions and move on with your life. Check out the book here if you’re interested.

If you think you might like it, I also suggest googling Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and learning more about it.

Here are 4 steps for one of the techniques that I found helpful:

Step one: Identify the emotion

If you have more than one emotion, just pick one. If you don’t know what the emotion is, sit for a moment and pay attention to your physical sensations and thoughts. Give it a name and write it down on a piece of paper.

Step two: Give it some space

Close your eyes and imagine putting that emotion five feet in front of you. You’re going to put it outside of yourself and observe it.

Step three: Now that the emotion is outside of you, close your eyes and answer the following questions:

If your emotion had a size, what size would it be? If your emotion had a shape, what shape would it be? If your emotion had a color, what color would it be?

Once you’ve answered these questions, imagine putting the emotion out in front of you with the size, shape, and color. Just observe it and acknowledge it for what it is. When you’re ready, you can let the emotion return to its original place inside you.

Step four: Reflection

Once you’ve completed the exercise, you can take a moment to reflect on what you’ve noticed. Did you notice a change in your emotion when you got a little distance from it? Did the emotion feel different in some way once the exercise was finished?

This exercise may seem weird, but it helped me in understanding what I was feeling after the breakup.

Understanding my emotions made it easier for me to accept them, and eventually, let go of them.

4. How was the relationship really?

It’s time to see reality for what it is.

Right now you’re probably telling yourself things like:

“I will never find someone as good” or “They were the perfect partner for me”.

But ask yourself honestly, was that really the case?

One of the most common and deadly mistakes we often make when trying to mend a broken heart is idealizing the person who broke it. 

We remember the amazing times we’d spent together, the fantastic emotions they’d made us feel, or how they would bring us breakfast in the morning.

However, all this does is deepen the emotional pain and complicate your recovery. And it’s not accurate. 

There are millions of people out there that you could potentially date. Do you really think that you’ll never find someone as good?

I was in the exact same position. I believed that I could never find someone who I could emotionally connect with as I did with my ex-partner.

But once my broken heart was healed, I could firmly see that this wasn’t the case.

I now know that there are plenty of people out there that I could develop a strong emotional connection with.

But I was blinded by love.

It’s the same for you.

Sure, you can remember the times you spent with your ex and express gratitude for those experiences.  

That’s fine, but if you truly want to move on, then you need to realize that it’s just your bias brain making it out worse than it really is. 

To help you stop idealizing the relationship you have, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

1) Were you ALWAYS happy with your partner?

2) Were there some negative aspects of the relationship?

3) Were you a happy person before the relationship?

Don’t hold back from the truth. Try to answer them honestly. You’ll most likely see that the relationship wasn’t as perfect as you think.

You might even start to see that your life has opened up in many other ways.

Marilyn Monroe said it best:

“Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” – Marilyn Monroe

And remember:

There’s a world out there for you to meet, and there are plenty of men or women who will make you happy in a relationship if you give them a chance.

5. But what if you have a chance to get back with your partner?

Look, most of the time when you’ve broken up with your partner, there isn’t much hope of getting back with them.

But sometimes, this isn’t the case.

Perhaps your partner wants you back. Maybe they went through a difficult period in their life and didn’t know what they want. But now, they realize that you two are actually a great couple.

Here are some situations where getting back with your ex is actually a good option:

  • You’re still compatible
  • You didn’t break up because of violence, toxic behavior or incompatible values.

If you still have strong feelings for your ex, you should at least consider getting back with them if the above two options relate to you.

Now if you want to get them back, you absolutely need to make sure that it’s possible. Otherwise, you could be harming yourself even more.

So if you are sure that it’s possible that you can get them back, you do need a plan of attack to get them back.

If you want some help with this, Brad Browning is the person I always recommend people turning to. He’s a best-selling author and easily provides the most effective “get your ex back” advice online.

Trust me, I’ve come across a lot of self-proclaimed “gurus” who don’t hold a candle to the practical advice Brad offers up.

If you want to learn more, check out his free online video here. Brad gives away some free tips you can use immediately to get your ex back.

Brad claims that over 90% of all relationships can be salvaged, and while that may sound unreasonably high, I tend to think he’s on the money.

I’ve been in contact with too many Hack Spirit readers who are happily back with their ex to be a skeptic.

Here’s a link to Brad’s free video again. If you want a foolproof plan to actually get your ex back, then Brad will give you one.

6. Remove all Contact 

Now if you’re one hundred percent decided to move on, then you need to be serious about it.

As tempting as it may be, every text sent or every scroll through their social media is simply making the pain harder to heal. 

You do not want to give yourself any false hope of reigniting the relationship, and nor do you want to be constantly reminded of what they’re doing.

Instead, you want to forget all about them and make your own life great again. 

Of course, the idea of “just being friends” doesn’t work either. When the feelings are no longer mutual, then one party is just left stringing along. This is no fun for anyone involved. 

Thus, it’s often best to just remove all contact. 

Of course, if there are also kids or other circumstances involved, then this idea might be a little more difficult.

However, the general idea remains the same: you do not want to wish and hope for the relationship to reignite. 

Instead, you want to let it all go and move on with the rest of your life. 

In order to do so, you’ll need to understand the next point: 

7. Fill the Void

When someone leaves your life, you don’t just lose them. Instead, you also lose everything else they added to your world.  

For example, their friend group, the part of them that added to your identity, the Sunday morning walks you used to take together, or even just the breakfast they prepared for you in the morning. 

Thus, when you go through a breakup, you must also create a new life for yourself. You must find the holes left in your life and fill them with things you truly enjoy doing. 

Without doing so, an empty void will simply lead to distraction, misery, and self-destruction. You may resort to quick hook-ups, drugs, alcohol, or any other vice to fill the void.

However, this will only lead you down an even darker hole and leave you worse off than you were before.

So, what’s missing from your life since the breakup, and how can you fill those holes?

This a great opportunity to try out some things you’ve always wanted to do, like dancing classes or surfing. While these activities are also going to provide a great avenue to meet new people. Which actually links to the next point:

8. Find Social Support 

There’s a saying that 90% of good counseling is just talking about how you feel. 

Of course, it’s tempting to think that by talking about your feelings you’re just being a burden or that nobody else will understand. 

However, this is just like trying to pull yourself out of quicksand; you can’t do it. 

Thus, you need some social support around you. You need someone with whom you can speak your mind. Honestly, you may just be surprised at how much better it will make you feel.

I had some good friends I could lean on in my breakup, and it honestly just helped to have connection with others.

When you open your mind and start talking about how you feel, it’s like having someone to lean on to help you through the tough times. So, why wouldn’t you? 

King Solomon, one of the wisest people from the Bible has said, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”

So, who can you talk to? Find some family or a friend.

Work on your friendships. Much of the feeling of belonging that you crave from your main partnership can be had from friendships.

That includes both one-on-one friendships, and friendship groups.

If you don’t have as many friends as you’d like, work towards gaining them. Find things you love doing and meet people through them.

Call up old friends you haven’t seen for ages. Take a good friend out for a coffee and spend some time together, just the two of you.

Be part of your community. This doesn’t have to mean charity work (though it could). It could just mean being conscious of the people around you. Offer to take your neighbor’s parcels in, or to drop in and check on someone’s pet cat while they’re away.

Above all, take the time to be present. Don’t shrink away into your home. Be part of what’s around you.

9. Find your joy in life

Relationships, when they’re good, can bring great joy. It’s undoubtedly fun to wake up next to someone you love, to spend whole days hanging out, eating, drinking, talking, and laughing together.

It’s hard not to mourn the loss of that enjoyment if your relationship breaks up. But those moments, as wonderful as they are, are just one way to experience joy.

Separate the desire you have to feel happy from the desire you have to be in a relationship. Take control of your own feelings.

If you allow yourself to believe that you won’t feel joyful any other way than in a relationship, you probably won’t.

Take active steps to feel joy, every day.

If you’re struggling to bring joy into your life, here are some steps you can take:

Do small things.

If you feel as if you’re struggling to be happy, stop worrying about the big picture. Forget about how you’ll feel next year, or even next week.

Make the time you need to do joyful things. That might be going to see a movie, stopping in a cafe for a cake or indulging in a long bubble bath.

The more small things you do to bring joy into your life, the more you’ll see the bigger picture fall into place without any effort.

Have less stuff.

We often surround ourselves with physical things because they bring us comfort. We think that the latest TV or the newest phone will make us happier.

We throw out old, good quality furniture and replace it with a cheap flatpack, just because it’s new. All that really ends up happening is that we live in a cluttered home, with boxes of old stuff littering up the space under the bed and in the back of cupboards.

None of this brings happiness. Get rid of things that don’t make you happy, that you no longer use, and don’t buy new things unless you know you’ll really cherish them.

Decide to be happy.

Happiness is a choice. You won’t feel amazing all day, every day. But you can decide that you won’t let the storms beat you.

You can make a deliberate, conscious choice to see the best in every situation and to work through the tough times with faith that they will end.

10. Don’t Be Afraid of Being Alone

As a western society, most people are quite afraid of being alone. They’re afraid of sitting with their own thoughts and they’re afraid of being fully responsible for their own happiness. 

In short, you could say that they’re afraid of being the CEO of their own life.

However, no one else can guide you through your experience of the world. You are an individual, and it is up to you to navigate the world around you.

Equally, do you know what makes someone so attractive? When they do have their own life going on. When they have an individual drive for themselves and don’t need anyone else to make them happy. 

Speaker and author, Darren Hardy has said, “Build a life other people want to be a part of.” 

And that’s exactly the key. You must build a life that you love and then go thinking about what you want from a relationship. Many people do just the opposite and only end miserable.

As Tony Robbins has said, “Some people are in a relationship right now but they aren’t happy because their standard is that they must be in a relationship, not that they must have passion and excitement and pure joy and love.”

Why Are Breakups So Difficult?

By now, it should be fairly obvious that ending a relationship is never easy. Although, the question still remains as to why?

Why do we find ourselves in such a devastating state? Why do we feel such an intensely emotional, mental, and even physical reaction?

Interestingly, these are the same questions that some researchers from Columbia University set out to answer.

What they found, is that when people were shown pictures of their ex, the very same sensations as experiencing physical pain would be triggered. 

Specifically, the researchers said, “We found that powerfully inducing feelings of social rejection activate regions of the brain that are involved in physical pain sensation, which are rarely activated in neuroimaging studies of emotion.”

“These findings suggest that the experience of social rejection, or social loss more generally, may represent a distinct emotional experience that is uniquely associated with physical pain.”

Hence, the feelings you may be feeling right now should not be ignored, but rather overcome. 

Further, another study found that your brain will process a breakup in the same way that it processes a drug addiction withdrawal.

In that, you will often go to extreme lengths in order to obtain your dopamine reward, as the study reports,

“Lovers, like addicts, often go to extremes, sometimes doing degrading or physically dangerous things to win back the beloved. And lovers relapse the way drug addicts do. Long after the relationship is over, events, people, places, songs, or other external cues associated with their abandoning sweetheart can trigger memories and renewed craving.”

In Conclusion 

Healing a broken heart involves the following 7 steps:

  1. Don’t Look for a Rational Explanation to Explain Why the Relationship Ended: Guy Winch has wisely said, “No relationship break up explanation is going to feel satisfying.” Thus, there’s no reason to even look for one. Accept the one you’re given or make up your own and then move on. 
  2. Don’t Idealize What You Used to Have: Dan Sullivan has a saying, Always make your future bigger than your past. Thus, you needn’t look at your past while designing your future. Indeed, no matter how good you might have believed that you had it in the past, you absolutely can make your future even better.
  3. Remove all Contact: The last thing you need is constant texts or images on your Facebook feed to remind you of what you used to have. Thus, removing all contact is your bet. Remove them from all your social media channels and don’t send any texts.
  4. Fill the Void: When someone leaves your life, you don’t just lose them. Instead, you also lose everything else they added to your world. Thus, you must fill that void. You must find the holes left in your life and fill them with things you truly enjoy doing.
  5. Find Social Support: To repeat the words of King Solomon: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” To heal a broken heart, you need supportive people around you. You need someone with whom you can speak your mind and heart. Without doing so, it will be like trying to pull yourself out of quicksand. 
  6. Give Yourself Time to Heal: Trying to rush the healing process is likely only going to make things worse. Bottled up emotions always come back to haunt you. Thus, you must be patient with yourself and allow things to go with the flow. 
  7. Don’t Be Afraid of Being Alone: There is nothing wrong with being alone. The more you’re comfortable in your own presence, the more you’ll be prepared for an effective next relationship. 

Science is starting to show that a breakup has very real effects on the brain. For example, being shown pictures of your ex is much like experiencing physical pain.

Equally, being without your lover can easily trigger the same withdrawals as recovering from drug addiction. 

I hope these steps help to heal your broken heart, and all the best. 

Introducing my new book

To dive further into what I’ve discussed in this blog post, check out my book The Art of Breaking Up: How to Let Go of Someone You Loved.

In this book, I’ll show you exactly how to get over someone you loved as quickly and as successfully as possible.

First I’ll take you through the 5 different types of breakups – this gives you the chance to better understand why your relationship came to an end, and how the fallout is impacting you now.

Next, I’ll provide a path to help you figure out exactly why you’re feeling the way you are about your breakup.

I’ll show you how to truly see those feelings for what they really are, so you can accept them, and ultimately move on from them.

In the last stage of the book, I reveal to you why your best self is now waiting to be discovered.

I show you how to embrace being single, rediscover the profound meaning and simple joys in life, and ultimately find love again.

Now, this book is NOT a magic pill.

It’s a valuable tool to help you become one of those unique people who can accept, process and move on.

By implementing these practical tips and insights, you’ll not just free yourself from the mental chains of a distressing breakup, but you’ll most likely become a stronger, healthier, and happier person than ever before.

Check it out here.

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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 want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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