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How to survive a breakup (18 effective steps)

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Whether you’ve parted ways with a close friend or you’ve had your heart broken by a romantic partner, one thing is certain: Breakups are rough.

It’s not just because you lose someone you love that makes a breakup hurt.

Breaking up with someone makes you question your own worth: “Was I not good enough for this person? Why was I rejected? Do I not deserve love?”

Breakups, especially in long-term relationships, also cause a lot of anxiety about the future. This is why people adopt certain coping mechanisms after going through a breakup.

In this article, we’ll address all the in-and-outs of breaking up: what you’re feeling, why they happen, and how you can move on in a healthy way.

The Physical, Mental, Emotional Effects of A Breakup

When a relationship ends, your body experiences more than just emotional hurt.

Your brain and your body have their own reactions towards the complicated feelings you are processing.

This means that when you break up with someone, your physical and mental well-being are affected too.

The Mental Response

Our brains are incredibly powerful computers that process a ton of information every single day.

And like computers, the human brain can “crash” when you experience an overload of stimulation.

In the case of a breakup, there are so many thoughts and feelings running through our brains which can eventually overwhelm us.

According to science, there are three common ways the brain responds when you undergo a breakup:

3 reasons you’re hurting after a breakup

Image credit: Shutterstock – By Dmytro Zinkevych

1. Your brain goes through withdrawal symptoms.

A study conducted by researchers Lucy Brown and Helen Fisher found that when you experience an unwanted breakup, your brain reacts similarly to the way addicts crave a drug.

They examined a group of teenagers who recently broke up with their exes, but were still in love with them.

They scanned these participants’ brains as the participants were shown photos of their exes and found that brain areas related to cravings, rewards, and motivations lit up.

The study found that when we get rejected, our brains are intensely driven to find the love object.

These feelings are caused by the “happiness” chemicals: dopamine and serotonin.

These two neurochemicals are produced less after a breakup, which is why we feel sad or lack energy to do anything.

2. Your brain distorts reality.

This response is connected to the “addiction” theory explained above.

When you’re in love with someone, your brain is flushed with a hormone called dopamine.

Dopamine is the chemical messenger signaling pleasure, which is why it’s associated with both love and addiction.

As you go through the breakup, the dopamine in your body tries to find the love object.

This is why you spend hours and hours thinking about your ex.

As your thoughts dwell on that person, your memory tends to get distorted.

You tend to idealize your ex, which makes it seem like the relationship was better than it actually was.

3. Your brain signals physical pain.

After a breakup, your brain associates your ex with physical pain.

In a study done by cognitive neuroscientists in Columbia University, they found that the brain treats physical pain and romantic rejection equally.

Using brain fMRI scans, the neuroscientists examined people who experienced an unwanted breakup in the past six months.

The participants were asked to look at photos of the ex-partner, photos of a friend, and were exposed to pain with a hot probe on the arm.

When comparing the brain scans, they found that the pain-area of the brain lit up only when the participants felt physical pain or looked at photos of their ex-partner.

The theory is that our ancestors perceived that both physical pain and rejection can reduce the chances of survival, which is why our brains pay attention to these experiences.

The Physical Response

The stress of a breakup makes our brains go haywire. If you’re ever feeling a little crazy, know that it’s definitely normal to feel this way.

Even our own bodies begin to react negatively to the breakup, exhibiting physical manifestations of your heartache.

Sound familiar? Here are some of the ways your body may respond after splitting up with someone:

Broken Heart Syndrome: Emotional stress can induce intense chest pain and other symptoms akin to a heart attack.

Heightened blood pressure: Breakups can lead to a spike in cortisol, the “flight or fight” hormone.

When this happens, your body goes into overdrive fighting to survive. This increase in cortisol causes heightened blood pressure as well.

Acne breakouts: Stressful situations exacerbate acne, rashes, and other skin conditions.

Decreased immune system functions: Coping with elevated stress levels exhausts our immune systems, which makes it likelier for us to get sick after breaking up with someone.

The Emotional Response

Among the three, the emotional responses are the ones people are most familiar with.

These typically include sadness, despondency, lack of motivation. These are all normal feelings and come naturally to anyone experiencing a breakup, romantic or otherwise.

Although normal, it’s important to identify these emotions and understand why you are behaving in a certain way. If unmanaged, these emotions may have long-term impacts on your well-being:

You become less dependable: A study done in Switzerland found that after divorce, both men and women become less dependable. The sudden break from a commitment makes people less conscientious.

You lose your sense of self: When couples are so intertwined together, sometimes they lose sight of who they are when they’re alone. The emotional distress from a breakup makes people feel lost and confused about their identity.

You have difficulty committing again: In many cases, breakups that occur early in life cause significant effects later on. Committing to a new person becomes especially hard on the partner who was dumped without a proper explanation, since they internalized the breakup more intensely.

How To Work Through Your Feelings Using Psychology

Experiencing the end of a relationship can cause a lot of pain and stress. This may be because you have no clear rituals for saying goodbye to a significant other.

The process catches people off-guard and leaves them vulnerable to the uncomfortable feelings that occur.

Here are the common negative emotions that rise to the surface after breaking up with someone, and ways on how to keep them from eating you up inside:

Denial: You are in disbelief that the breakup is actually happening, and that the relationship is over.

Fear: You are frightened by the overwhelming emotions and how to face the future. You’re scared that you might never find love again or that you’re not going to survive losing this person.

Anger: You are enraged that the person you trusted and loved is doing this to you.

Sadness: You will cry a lot, even for no good reason. Tears are your body’s natural response to losing or missing someone.

Guilt: You might feel guilty because you’re the person breaking off the relationship. Of course, you didn’t want to hurt your partner but you also can’t stay in a relationship that isn’t right anymore.

Self-blame: You internalize the break up and blame yourself, replaying the things you’ve done or said that you think cause the split. You also second guess everything.

Confusion: You are disoriented because your world seems to have shattered suddenly. You find that the person you were anchored to is gone, so now you’re unsure of who you are or what you should do next.

Bargaining: You beg your partner for another chance, promising this time will be different and that you will be better.

18 steps to surviving a breakup

Even though these emotions may overwhelm you, know that they are normal reactions; in fact, they’re necessary to healing.

By working through these post-breakup feelings, you would have an easier time moving on and engaging with other people.

Here are some tips on how to deal with breakup emotions:

1. Allow yourself to feel

Don’t hold on to any sadness, fear, anger, or pain you associate with the split. Bottling up those feelings or denying them will only keep them around longer, and they can spill over to future relationships.

2. Cry at little

Crying is a cathartic part of the grieving process. As you try to understand why the breakup was for the best, set a time where you can just sit and cry. It’s perfectly okay.

3. Process your thoughts

Although we cannot control other people’s behavior, we can help ourselves grow and improve. Review what you’ve learned in the relationship.

It helps to write down your feelings, what you realized about yourself, and what this relationship taught you about life.

4. Take care of yourself

Be kind and patient to yourself while you’re healing. Self-care is the key to surviving a breakup, so use this time to rally your support network and treat yourself to new experiences.

Rest, exercise, sunshine, good nutrition, and proper sleep are the tools to get you back on your feet.

5. Talk to someone

When you talk to someone about what happened, you unburden yourself and find perspective. In times of vulnerability, it’s important to connect with others and rely on them.

6. Reflect on what a great relationship needs

To get over a breakup and learn from what happened, you need to reflect on the relationship and work out what went right, and what went wrong.

No matter the reason for the breakup, it’s important that you learn your lessons so that your next relationship is a successful one.

And for women, I think the best way to ensure success in the future is to learn about what really drives men in relationships.

Because men see the world differently to you and are motivated by different things when it comes to love.

Men have a built-in desire for something “greater” that goes beyond love or sex.

Even men who seem to have the perfect girlfriend and perfect life find themselves wanting more.

Simply put, men have a biological drive to feel needed, to feel important, and to provide for the woman he cares about.

Relationship psychologist James Bauer calls it the hero instinct. He created an excellent free video about the concept.

You can watch the video here.

As James argues, male desires are not complicated, just misunderstood. Instincts are powerful drivers of human behavior and this is especially true for how men approach their relationships.

So, when the hero instinct isn’t triggered, men are unlikely to be satisfied in a relationship.

He holds back because being in a relationship is a serious investment for him.

And he won’t fully “invest” in you unless you give him a sense of meaning and purpose and make him feel essential.

How do you trigger this instinct in him? How do you give him a sense of meaning and purpose?

You don’t need to pretend to be anyone you’re not or play the “damsel in distress”. You don’t have to dilute your strength or independence in any way, shape or form.

In an authentic way, you simply have to show your man what you need and allow him to step up to fulfill it.

In his video, James Bauer outlines several things you can do. He reveals phrases, texts, and little requests that you can use right now to make him feel more essential to you.

Here’s a link to the video again.

By triggering this very natural male instinct, you’ll not only supercharge his confidence but it will also help to rocket your (future) relationship to the next level.

7. Look forward to the future

Learn to embrace the change that comes after the end of a relationship. Weathering hard times will let you value the joyful moments in life, so welcome the opportunities that excites you about the future.

8. Look at the bright side after a breakup

Breakups are unwelcome events, especially if you weren’t the one who called it quits.

Usually, the people who initiate the breakup are already over the relationship by the time they talk about it with the other party.

This leaves their significant other hurt, scrambling as they try to wrap their heads around the rejection.

Most people have difficulty accepting a breakup because they aren’t prepared to be alone again.

Society tends to think that being single is a curse since most people don’t like being left alone with their own thoughts.

If you find yourself blindsided by a breakup and are now afraid of being single, take the time to write down your thoughts and convince yourself how much of a blessing solitude is.

This exercise can help you find the bright side to the breakup, while also helping your heart and mind repair day by day.

Here are some positive sides to being single again that you may not have had the time to focus on yet:

  • You’ll have more quiet time.
  • You can put your own needs first, with no compromises.
  • You would have more control over your daily routines.
  • You can spend time with friends and family, especially those who felt neglected.
  • You may be more free to travel than you were before.
  • You can choose to take a job in a different area.
  • You can eat what you want, when you want to.
  • You will have opportunities to meet more people.
  • You get the whole bed to yourself.
  • You can be as messy as you want.
  • You won’t have to clean up after someone else’s clutter.

9. Detach yourself from the memory of your ex-partner

It would be difficult to move forward if memories of your former relationship are holding you back.

Don’t look at old photos or visit the places you frequented. If possible, get rid of all the gifts your ex-partner gave you and unfriend them on social media.

10. But what if your relationship was great?

This article is all about how to get over someone. And usually the best way to get over someone is simply to move on with your life.

However, here is some counter-intuitive advice that you don’t often hear: If you still have feelings for your ex, why not try to get back with them?

Not all breakups are the same and some don’t need to be permanent. 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.

And the best bit?

You don’t need to go through all the pain of getting over them. But 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.

11. Indulge in distracting activities

There must have been a lot of fun things you wanted to do while you were in the relationship that you couldn’t, so now is the time to enjoy those experiences.

Organize a road trip, clear out your closet, read a new book, or pick up a new hobby. Keep yourself busy and use this time to reconnect with the other people in your life.

12. Establish an exercise routine

Exercise boosts endorphins, dopamine, and other brain chemicals like endogenous opioids. These hormones are responsible for feelings of contentment and happiness.

Not only will you feel better about yourself, but you can also bring new people and activities into your life.

13. Eat well

Eating healthy, balanced meals regularly will prevent you from getting sick, which is the last thing you need.

Of course, no one will judge you if you have junk food every now and then, but be sure to keep it in moderation.

14. Renovate your space

Now that you’re single again, you can fix up your space the way you like it. Repaint the walls, declutter your stuff, and buy new sheets or scented candles.

Not only will you live more comfortably, but you’ll also refresh your room from any traces of your ex.

15. Avoid doing something impulsive

Count to ten if ever you find the urge to get a tattoo, find a rebound, or call up your ex-partner. Better yet, wait a week for the impulse to go away.

If it’s really difficult, find a friend who can help keep you from doing something you might regret later on.

16. Develop mindfulness

Mindful living helps you focus on the sensations you feel, and these habits are designed like mini-breaks to remove you from your headspace. Incorporate little things like breathing exercises, stretches, and nature walks into your daily routine.

17. Get through the day

Remind yourself that you only have to get through one day at a time. Recovering from a breakup comes in baby steps, rather than big jumps.

Give yourself a pat on the back for every day you overcome.

18. Embrace Being Single

The aftermath of any breakup can be a terrifying, emotional rollercoaster ride with seemingly no clear path to healing. However, accepting that the breakup happened and adopting healthy coping mechanisms can help propel you forward.

It’s also a good idea to look at a breakup as a time when doors begin to open again. Take the chance to rediscover yourself while you’re single.

You can find new hobbies, nurture friendships, and explore experiences you normally wouldn’t be able to when you’re in a committed relationship.

It’s important to learn how to love yourself, because you are the only person you’re guaranteed to spend your whole life with.

You’re Not Alone: 12 Common Reasons Why People Breakup

In a survey among college students at Case Western Reserve University, researchers found that more than 90% of people experienced being rejected by someone they were still in love with.

Interestingly, , more than 90% of the respondents also claimed to have broken up with someone who was still in love with them.

If you’re feeling like no one can understand you after a breakup, the statistic clearly shows that you’re not the only one.

Thousands of couples split up everyday so you’re definitely not alone.

Trying to figure out what went wrong? Here are common reasons why relationships don’t work out:

  • Bad habits (Excessive smoking, drinking, spending money, etc.)
  • Infidelity
  • Anger issues
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of affection and attention
  • Toxic, possessive or abusive behaviors
  • Dishonesty or betrayal
  • Financial theft
  • Lack of communication
  • Constant fighting about issues that don’t get resolved
  • No intentions to commit
  • Baggage from previous relationships

Breaking Down 10 Breakup Myths

Media and popular culture are responsible for ingraining certain concepts about love and relationships to us that aren’t necessarily true.

These ideas even permeate breakups, which is why myths about breaking up influence us and the way we handle them.

Some of these breakup myths are not healthy ways to cope with the end of a relationship. Are you guilty of adopting one of the following breakup coping mechanisms?

Myth #1: “What if I break up with my partner and they turn out to be ‘The One’?”

Debunked: If your relationship is no longer fulfilling and you can’t make it work anymore, it’s best to let that person go. Don’t cling onto someone because you’re terrified of being alone someday.

Myth #2: “I shouldn’t grieve over a terrible ex.”

Debunked: There is no magic switch you can flick that will turn your feelings off, so you should allow yourself time to grieve when a relationship ends. Even if your ex was a horrible person, you still loved them and enjoyed happy memories with them. It’s perfectly acceptable to grieve after you’ve lost someone, so don’t rush into “getting over” them immediately.

Myth #3: “I can still be friends with my ex.”

Debunked: Maybe in the distant future you can be friends with an ex-partner. However, it’s best to detox from them immediately after the breakup.

Cut the cord and create boundaries – don’t contact each other and don’t stay friends with them on social media. You can never really be friends with someone you don’t have platonic feelings for.

Myth #4: “I can’t have fun after a breakup.”

Debunked: This is a myth especially relevant after getting a divorce, because certain responsibilities (such as children) are part of the picture. However, you shouldn’t stop yourself from enjoying your life and just mope all the time. It’s actually good to have some fun after breaking up because it reminds you that life isn’t all the bad. Having fun also reinforces connections with other people around you, and you can recover your sense of self.

Myth #5: “I should get into a rebound relationship immediately.”

Debunked: It’s not fair to date someone as a rebound and it’s not certainly not healthy. A rebound relationship might let you feel nice for a little while, but you’re just stalling the grieving process over your ex. Be honest with your feelings and give yourself space to work through the emotions.

Myth #6: “I shouldn’t feel bad because I’m the one who broke up with them.”

Debunked: You can miss someone and still think that breaking up was a good decision. It’s okay for those things to co-exist. Don’t be so hard on yourself because you also had to break someone’s heart. Breakups don’t leave anyone unscathed.

Myth #7: “It should take only one month for me to get over a six-month relationship.”

Debunked: There is no exact formula or timeline for getting over someone. It’s also impractical to set expectations like this because even short relationships could be incredibly meaningful. Take as much as you need to heal and feel like yourself.

Myth #8: “It’s acceptable to break up with someone through text.”

Debunked: Unless specific circumstances prevent it, always give the courtesy of breaking up with someone in person. As sour as the relationship has become, you should still treat your ex with dignity and kindness.

Myth #9: “The recipe to feeling better is eating lots of ice cream and bingeing TV shows overnight.”

Debunked: We have rom-com films to thank for this myth, but doing this to cope with a breakup might make you feel even worse. Gorging yourself on junk food will make you feel bloated and cause pimple breakouts, so it’s best to do everything in moderation. And remember, everyone grieves in different ways, so find something healthy you can channel your emotions into.

Myth #10: “You have to show your ex that you’re over them.”

Debunked: Trying too hard to prove that you don’t care just shows the exact opposite. The best thing you can do for yourself after a breakup is to avoid your ex. This will prevent you from doing something you may regret later on.

 

 

FREE eBook: 4 Steps to Starting Over With An Ex

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We have one goal in mind with this book: to help you win back an ex (for good!).

If you want a foolproof plan to reverse your break up, you’re going to love this guide.

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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