Whenever I’ve been dealt a painful breakup, I put it all out there in words. From personal essays that make their way into places for whom I write to private pieces that I keep just for myself as a way to make sense of it all, I am, essentially, writing that person from my bones. For me, that has always worked; for me, it’s actually been far better than therapy.
Although a 2012 study found that this might not be the best route to take when trying to get over someone, a new study says otherwise. According to psychologists at Villanova University, writing “redemptive narratives,” can reduce the stress, pain, and anger that comes with a breakup. It’s these narratives that, as the researchers explain, "encompass the idea that negative life events or circumstances can be meaningful points in individuals' lives that result in positive outcomes or silver linings." And, yes, to every loss there is a silver lining, even if you can’t see it in that moment.
The study took 100 people who had recently gone through a breakup, broke them up into three groups and had them journal a few minutes every day as a means to process the demise of the relationship. The first group was asked to focus on themselves in their journaling, the second group was asked to focus on the relationship itself, while the third group was asked to write about the relationship’s end. It was those who saw the relationship as part of their personal story, who were able to make the most sense of the breakup and feel better for it.
If you’re going through a breakup and are at a loss as to what to do next, here are six ways to, like I do, write that person out of your bones.
1. Choose Your Words Wisely
As the researchers found, in cognitive processing, people wrote the words “because,” “think,” and “should.” In doing so, they were realizing what was then, what is now, and why they’re better for it. The word, “because” alone, has an awful lot of power in it.
2. Journal Every Day
Even if you already write personal essays every day, it’s time to take up journaling. In the study, the researchers had the participants journal, on average, 8.5 minutes every day. It didn’t have to be some eloquent poetry or something perfectly edited, but simply your heart on paper — an honest account of what you felt then and feel now. No one has to ever see it, so let your brain run wild.
3. Know There’s No Wrong Way To Journal
Although the study found that different ways of journaling affected the participants in different ways, what they also found was that redemptive narratives and cognitive processing both help in reducing the emotional stress of a breakup. Basically, as long as you’re getting it all out there in a productive way, there’s no set of rules as to how one should journal.
4. Focus On How The Relationship Changed Your Life
As one who has recently gone through a dreadful breakup, I know that my life is better for having loved and lost my husband. Although it’s hard to put a positive spin on things sometimes, it’s an absolute fact that my life is SO much better without him; I am SO much better. This is what I've decided for the story of my life.
As University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne wrote for Psychology Today:
It was the reshaping of memories of the breakup, and the role the breakup played in the individual's personal story, that seemed to reveal the silver lining.
This is your story, and you get to decide how you’ll remember this, as well as how it will all end. You’re the heroine/hero in your own story.
5. Don’t Expect Miracles
While the study did find that emotional stress was lessened through this technique, it didn’t totally erase all the breakup pain. If anything, it’s a coping mechanism and a way to process what happened; not a way to erase everything as if this is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind type of stuff. Besides, you wouldn’t want to erase all that pain and stress, because it just adds to your character and from it you learn.
6. Realize That So Much Can Come From This Moment In Your Life
I’m going to quote a tattoo I actually have on my forearm by Mr. Ernest Hemingway: “You especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it-don't cheat with it.” So. True. Look at how many Grammy Awards Adele scooped up with her album 21 or how Elizabeth Gilbert majorly cashed in on her book Eat Pray Love — these were both creative endeavors that came out of bad breakups — and there are thousands of other examples I could list.
Yes, you’re journaling for yourself, but you never know if you what you come up with will be so relatable that the masses will take note… and Julia Roberts will end up playing you in the movie version of your life.
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