When we were young, we were told that one day, we’d live happily ever after. But now that we’ve grown up, we’ve come to realize that relationships — and life in general — is far, far more complicated than that. Bustle has enlisted Susan Piver, a New York Times best-selling author of The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, who teaches around the world on communication, creativity, and relationships, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous.
Now, on to this week’s question:
Q: My boyfriend broke up with me about 3 weeks ago. I am still in love with him. Everyone keeps saying it will get better, but that's yet to happen. I'm having a really hard time focusing at work, and I've been obsessing about what could have gone differently. I feel like I can't deal with this feeling all the time, and that I don't know what to do anymore. Yes, I'm seeing a therapist, but that's only once a week. How do I move forward when I feel this bad?
A: It’s the worst feeling ever, right? That’s because it is. When your heart is broken, heartbreak becomes your entire world. Every thought, conversation, song, and movie somehow mirrors your heartbreak back to you by reminding you of what you had, what you lost, or what you could have had.
Those who are not heartbroken (at the moment) don't understand or recall what it feels like. It's easy for them to say, “Cheer up, it will get better!” But the truth is that it will. You will not always feel this way, I promise you. But the path through it is not as simple as “snap out of it.” It is actually a profound reckoning with love itself.
While many things can break your heart, heartbreak from a breakup feels different than heartbreak from, say, not getting the job or discovering that someone you love is ill. There are three qualities of romantic heartbreak that set it apart, and in order to heal, we must first understand them.
How Romantic Heartbreak Is Different Than Other Heartbreak
Symptom #1: “Insane Obsessive Thinking”
It seems impossible to think of anything else. All day long (and sometimes all night long), your mind rings with what ifs and how comes and if onlys. What if I hadn’t said hello/worn pink/was shorter/taller/older/younger, would we still be together? How come I scare everyone away eventually? If only I hadn’t terrified him/her with my intensity/ambition/accomplishments/failures, this never would have happened. And so on.
Symptom #2: Shame
When someone you love leaves you, it throws your self-esteem directly into the crapper. The idea that anyone would ever again find you desirable, lovable, or beautiful seems farfetched. Every flaw you ever imagined in your looks, personality, aspirations, or beliefs is magnified by infinity. All confidence is gone and it is wildly uncomfortable to be in your own skin. You may brutalize yourself with insults that, if someone else said them to you, would make you punch them in the face.
Symptom #3: Doubt
...In everything basically. In your judgment. Doubt in the intentions of others. Doubt in love itself. This last one is particularly painful. If you can’t trust the thing that makes you happiest, if what you most desire also terrifies you, what are you supposed to do with the rest of your life?
Luckily, there are three steps you can take to heal your heart. They are not easy and they don’t work immediately. The steps below are not so simple. They require commitment, honesty, and patience. However, they work.
How To Heal
Step 1: Meditate
If you are constantly being attacked by your own mind, there is little you can do to reassert your agency. It will sabotage you at every turn.
Instead of ordering your mind to go to its happy place, I suggest relaxing with your mind as it is, full of pain and confusion and sadness. The way to do this is “meditation.” (You can find meditation instruction here.)
In meditation, you stop running. Instead, you turn around, sit down, and look your situation right in the eye. This is what begins to reestablish a sense of control, and is a gesture of power and bravery.
Please don’t take my word for this. Try it yourself. I suggest 10 minutes a day and if you start sobbing, well, just sob. Hang out with yourself until it subsides. Commit to being by your own side. It isn't easy, but it changes everything.
Step 2: reestablish confidence in yourself
My teacher, Tibetan meditation master Sakyong Mipham, taught me how to do this by taking the five steps below. Instead of making inner changes, these modifications focus on alterations to your outer world. Interestingly, confidence doesn’t necessarily return by convincing yourself that you are indeed fabulous. It comes from the way you treat yourself.
The fives steps are:
1. Clean up your space.
This is actually quite powerful. When you are despairing, it is so easy to let everything go. The simple act of restoring order to your space has a potent effect.
2. Wear nice clothes.
I don’t mean fancy, expensive, fashionable, or new — I mean clean, well-fitting garments that make you feel happy. Stop rocking crusty sweats and his/her old t-shirt that may or may not still smell like him/her. Off with these garments! Wash your damn clothes. Put on what makes you feel beautiful.
3. Eat good food.
I’m not saying it has to be healthy or gourmet. If you are vegan, eat organic, seasonable vegetables. If you are a carnivore, buy a good cut of meat. If your beverage of choice is water from the Brita, replace the filter. And if it’s whiskey, buy yourself a nice bottle. The point here is treating yourself to quality.
4. Spend time with people who really know you
For now, stop hanging out with anyone who commiserates over the stupidity of relationships or, conversely, is constantly trying to cheer you up with platitudes. Be with people who make you feel like your best self, who smile upon your depth and sensitivity, and have some sense of when you’ve slipped over the edge into wallowing and pull you back.
5. Spend time in the natural world.
Being in nature reminds us that everything on earth, every single thing, has a natural cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. A tree will give you more confidence than a book of affirmations, I swear. If you live in a city, eat lunch in the park or simply notice people’s tiny gardens or window boxes. Let the beauty touch you. It is truly healing.
Step 3: change the way you think of love itself
The truth is, when most of us say we are looking for love, we don’t really mean it. We are looking for someone to make us feel safe. Safe is great, but it is not love. Love is dangerous. Love is powerful. Love reminds you of your essential vulnerability.
To reenter the arena with a sense of strength, rather than looking around for someone to love you, look around for a way to give love. In every situation you encounter, there is a way to do this. I don’t mean be nice and sweet and put yourself last. That’s just stupid. Rather, I mean that when you are talking to a friend, pay attention to what she is saying. Really listen, give her your ear. When you are having an argument with a relative, don’t give up your position, but try to see theirs as well. When you see a stranger on the street looking forlorn, send them good vibes in some way that feels natural to you. What I’m saying is that in every interaction, there is a way to give. Always.
When your heart is broken, you feel weak. Giving love reaffirms your strength and goodness and just makes you way happier, way faster than moping around waiting for someone to love you.
I totally get how much you want to move forward. But before you can move forward, you have to ground yourself. These three steps will help you start where you are right now. Acknowledging your feelings without trying to manipulate them is the ground of your journey.
Wishing you all the strength and softness you need to navigate through.
Images: Giphy, Imagur