Breakups cause your body to play tricks on you. The emotional changes trigger chemical changes, which can cause you to think and feel things you might not understand, or that you might regret. That's why it's important to understand what those breakup feels really mean. So you can kind of go, "oh, OK, that makes sense," and know it will pass instead of being all "why, God, why!?" as you live in a weird state of emotional torment.
Breakups are very stereotyped in the media. You're supposed to have this big emotional moment, then collapse into a pile of ice cream and despair, then miraculously wake up one day and realize that you're going to be OK. It doesn't usually happen like that IRL. When I counseled individuals and couples as both a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and a Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, I helped a lot of people through a lot of breakups. A bad breakup can be one of the most, if not the most traumatic event in your life so far, so no shame if you're really struggling.
But, as they say, knowledge is power. A little understanding of what's probably happening while you're going through the motions of a breakup can help you see patterns and understand that negative feelings eventually run their course. It can help you truly believe that better days are ahead off you, even when that seems like being happy again isn't in the cards.
1. Feeling Nothing
If you feel nothing after a breakup, it doesn't mean you're a sociopath, or that you didn't love your partner. Feeling nothing, or feeling foggy and numb, is your body's way of blocking out something terrible while your brain gets up to speed on such a big change. It's kind of like your body pressing its own emotional pause button so you can survive your day. It comes and goes, but eventually passes. Note: Feeling numb is normal. But if you feel numb for a really long period of time, you might want to talk to your health care provider to make sure you're not suffering from depression.
2. Feeling Stupid
Human beings are so complicated. You might have just broken up with someone who did terrible things to you, said terrible things about you, and totally betrayed you, yet you still miss them. You still wish you could see them. You might even wish you could be together again even though somewhere in your brain, you know it would be a disaster. This doesn't mean you're stupid, by any means. You're not stupid, weak, pathetic, or anything else negative. There are a couple things happening here. First, breakups cause chemical changed that work almost like addiction withdrawal. So your thoughts and feelings aren't always logical. Second, no matter how badly your ex treated you, you wouldn't have been together if you didn't have some kind of emotional connection and a few good times. It's normal and healthy to mourn the loss of those good things.
3. Feeling Intense Longing
Longing is the worst. It can be harder than all the other emotions combined, partly because there's not much you can do about it. In order to move past the negative emotions of the breakup, you need to distance yourself from your ex. But it's almost like your body is just crying out, yanking you toward this person who isn't in your life anymore. There's a loss of control and a feeling of helplessness. Intense longing doesn't mean you should see your ex. It just means you want to. It means you're in the throes of those addiction-like symptoms. If you push through, it will pass.
4. Feeling Physically Ill
The post-breakup cold or flu is totally a thing. One guy came to see me and said, "I'm so pathetic that even my own immune system doesn't want me." That's not true at all. Your illness comes from stress hormones. They cause muscle aches, fatigue, stomach upset, and a weakened immune system. Which is kind of unfair, because if you're like me, you're more emotional when you're tired or sick. Good self-care, like rest and fluids, will help you through.
5. Being Obsessed With Your Breakup
During my worst breakup, I spent more than a year thinking obsessively about my breakup and my ex. I didn't think I would ever be able to stop thinking about it. It worried me. I asked my therapist what was wrong with me and I was such an obsessed weirdo. Turns out I wasn't an obsessed weirdo at all. She assured me that the overwhelming amount of emotional turmoil would take as long as it took to get out of my system. Somehow just knowing that this was a normal part of the process and that an end was possible helped me obsess less, until one day I realized that I hadn't thought about it in a while.
6. Feeling Lonely
When you're feeling lonely it means, well, that you're lonely. Sorry that's not a better answer. Loneliness just happens. It's part of readjusting to being single and spending your time in new ways. Loneliness will come and go. What loneliness doesn't mean, thought, it that it's time to run back to your partner. If you do that, odds are you'll end up right back where you are now, with delayed healing. Better to make decisions like that after the worst of your breakup feels, and a fair chunk of time has passed.
7. Feeling Irrationally Angry
If you've never been an angry person in your life, and suddenly you reach a point after your breakup where you're just filled with all this rage and regret, you can rest easier knowing it happens. Your ex and your breakup didn't change you into a mean, bitter, spiteful person. That's just how you feel in the moment. Don't feel like you have to over-analyze your anger. You can simply be mad that things didn't work out, because that sucks. Stewing in your anger and thinking about reasons why you could or should be angry will just make you more angry.
8. Feeling Like Revenge Is In Order
Pro tip: revenge looks satisfying on TV, but it's not the right thing to do, and it won't truly make you feel better You might end up feeling worse once you're back to feeling better. Plus people get hurt, or end up in jail when revenge goes wrong. It's like throwing gasoline on a fire. Better to let that fire burn out. You don't need the extra drama.
9. Feeling Vulnerable
After a breakup, you might feel like a raw nerve. A scared puppy. You might think twice before you trust someone or love someone. You might be skeptical about other people's motives. You might even do things to push people away. This isn't because you're broken. It's because you're vulnerable. You're afraid of getting hurt again and you're not ready to take on any more pain if things go wrong. This will pass in time, if you let it. If you have trouble trusting or loving again long after the breakup has blown over, seek help because it's not healthy to keep everyone at an emotional distance forever.
No matter what breakup feels you're having, a trained counselor who you feel comfortable talking to can help you through them. They can give you tools for when you feel your worst, act as a sounding board so you can vent, and give you a fresh perspective on your life. There's no shame in seeing a counselor or therapist over a breakup. I promise. Anything that gets you back to a happy life more quickly can never be a bad thing.
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