How To Cope With Heartache In A Healthy Way, According To Experts
There is nothing that stings quite so terribly as a broken heart. This has been pretty much agreed upon since the dawn of humankind. And while the feelings that accompany said major let down might make you want to crawl into a dark hole while scream-sobbing in sweatpants you've been wearing for weeks, there are, believe it or not, positive ways to cope with a broken heart.
"Heartbreak isn’t only felt in our romantic relationships," licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed professional counselor, and owner of Dea Dean LPC, in Ridgeland, MS, Dea Dean LPC, tells Bustle. "We can feel loss and pain when we lose a close friendship, when we feel rebuffed or rejected by a colleague or someone we respect or look up to."
When we imagine a relationship or friendship resulting in a lasting future and it ends or changes drastically, Dean says, we can feel blindsided, betrayed, and confused. And the intensity and duration of the heartache is hard to predict and dependent upon our personality, coping skills, and existing emotional support systems.
Below, take a look at what the pros have to say about healing from heartbreak and moving through it with kindness and grace, even when it's feeling pretty bad.
1. Acknowledge The Pain
Sometimes when you're hurting, you think the easiest thing to do is just surge forward and try to ignore what you're feeling. But acknowledge the pain, Dean says, don’t ignore it or belittle it.
"We tend to try to distract ourselves [...] but the best way to decrease the intensity of negative emotion is to acknowledge that it’s there and call it by its name," Dean says. When you acknowledge that you are in pain, you have given yourself the choice to deal with it and process it.
2. Don't Isolate From Others
Again, you might want to shut-in for awhile so as not to have to see others or explain the struggle of your current situation. But don’t isolate, Dean says. We need people.
"We need others to know who we are and to bear witness to our experiences," Dean says. "It’s normal to hunker down and want space to be alone when we are hurting, but we heal more fully when we’re brave enough to let someone in on 'what it’s like' to be us."
You don't have to be embarrassed by having strong feelings. Going through a rough time is universal, and those close to you will want to help.
3. Be Present And Practice Mindfulness.
Of course, replaying the tape of what happened over and over again, and dwelling on what could have been different, is totally normal. But as much as you can, try to be present with where you are right now.
"One of the stages of grief is 'bargaining,' playing out the 'What ifs.' 'Maybe we could have worked it out.' 'What if I had said this rather than that,'" Dean says. "Bargaining takes us out of the present moment and takes our mind to the past, to replay and rework history to attempt to find solutions that could have avoided the loss and the pain."
Dean recommends using guided meditations as a first step towards to practicing mindfulness.
4. Be Engaged In Your Life
Have you ever had the experience of breaking up with someone or ending a friendship, and feeling like you no longer know what to do with yourself or what you like?
"Make a list of activities or causes that give you purpose or fulfillment," Dean says. "We can often adopt the personas of those we spend the most time with, and let ourselves and our passions be lost."
If this happened in your relationship, Dean says, rediscover who you are and what kind of impact you want to make with the way you live your life.
"Get involved with people and activities where you’re surrounded by those who are likeminded," Dean says.
5. Imagine Your Future In A Positive Light
This might feel really challenging now, especially if it is feeling rough to do anything but think about what went wrong.
"Imagine your future and be active in building it," Dean says. "This is the hardest to do right after a relational loss as our minds prepare us for the 'worst case scenarios' of being alone, being without a close friend, or never finding another connection that matched the one we lost."
But know that's not true. While the feelings of heartbreak might be difficult to process, they are not going to be with you forever.
6. Let Yourself Identify What Happened
While, yes, you want to move on, it is also important to take time to understand what went wrong in your relationship. This can help to provide you with insight to move on and not repeat negative patterns.
"Find your part in it," Dean says. "Identify the qualities and dealbreakers for your next relationship or friendship and when you meet people, don’t compromise on the big stuff."
It’s easier to let big differences go in the newness of a relationship, but if you want certain outcomes in your life, like respect, loyalty, and kindness, Dean says, don't compromise in the future.
"Listen to what you’re told or shown in the beginning and understand you could be negotiating the differences you have with this person for the rest of your relationship."
While it's true that every relationship you enter into will have issues, we do get the privilege of deciding what issues we’re willing to sign up for, Dean says.
"Know what you’re willing to do and what you’re unwilling to do in your next relationship by taking time to consider your desires and wants before committing to someone or investing your emotional currency with them," Dean says.
7. Be Super Kind To Yourself
Psychologist Dr. Margaret Paul, a bestselling author and relationship expert, tells Bustle that it is important to be very kind to yourself as you feel heartbreak and the rollercoaster of emotions that might come along with it.
"Stay tuned into your body and feelings so that you know when you are feeling lonely, heartbroken, or helpless, and hold the feelings as you would a child who is hurting, with deep love and understanding," Paul says. "Just be with the feelings with deep acceptance of them for a few minutes."
Ultimately, Paul says, the feelings can tell you not only about the situation you are in or parting from, but also how to react lovingly to yourself and others in the face of them.
8. Be Willing To Let Go
Ah, the most difficult part of all. When people tell you to "let go" it might even set off some fire and fury inside, because while it sounds like a breeze when you say it, it's not.
In part, Paul says, letting go is just a practice. You can think about it as though you are simply, little by little, releasing the energy of the heartbreak out of you.
"Consciously be willing to release the feelings," Paul says. "Imagine the feelings of loneliness, heartbreak and helplessness moving through you and being released into the universe."
Ultimately you want to replace those feelings with acceptance and inner peace, Paul says. While that takes awhile, and takes some loving effort, it is possible. And just remember, the harder the heartbreak feels, the more compassion you should give to yourself.