A guy called Shakespeare once said: 'There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.' He was right.
As a relationship counsellor I have often been asked if there is a secret to handling a break-up well. Especially a messy one. Our experience of events as good or bad is determined by how we interpret them, and by how much we allow them to affect our self-esteem. Self-esteem is a combined feeling of self-confidence, self-respect and self-worth, and it can fluctuate constantly.
Why do break-ups hurt so much?
The more we care about someone, the more our perception of being rejected is likely to affect our view of ourselves. The ending of a relationship is a major loss and can leave us feeling vulnerable, emotional and unsure of ourselves.
Our physiological and hormonal ‘fight or flight’ response instinctively kicks in when we are faced with a threat to our self-esteem. Our heart rate increases, our senses are heightened and we feel sweaty or nauseous, tense or unsettled. We describe these physical sensations as negative emotions such as sadness, anger, embarrassment, confusion, or jealousy.
Why do we react that way?
If we are unaware what generates negative emotions then we will also be unaware that our subsequent actions are attempts to protect or repair our self-esteem. We do what makes ourselves feel better at the time. Maybe you’ll angry or violent at the other person, or cry, or drink or eat too much, or have a fling with someone else; and then later might think ‘I don’t know why I did that’.
The key to handling a break-up well is to take charge of your own thoughts and actions. All that being said, here the 8 top tips for getting over a really bad break-up:
1. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t blame yourself for how you are feeling. You might feel embarrassed, angry, lonely, sad, or ‘not good enough’. Your self-esteem has taken a knock and needs time to heal.
2. Allow time to grieve. Allow a few days to feel low and sorry for yourself. After this, limit yourself to perhaps 30 minutes each day. Let yourself cry or shout and release your emotions. Plan a useful or pleasurable activity to do at the end of the 30 minutes and then act for the rest of the day as if you are fine; very soon, you will be.
3. Practice self-healing and ask for help. Avoid escaping into over-drinking, over-eating or over-working because this won’t do you any good. Instead, ask friends or family to support you in self-healing activities such as exercise in the fresh air, trips out, or favourite past-times. These will help to put things in perspective and raise your mood and self-confidence.
4. Try to understand, not criticise. There is always a reason for a break-up and it is to do with how the instigator feels about themselves in the relationship. Be honest, what do you think wasn’t right in your relationship from your ex-partner’s point of view? Don’t blame or criticise yourself either for the break-up, you can only be yourself.
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5. Replace frustration with gratitude. What have you learnt about yourself as a result of this relationship, and break-up? What experiences and memories are you grateful for?
6. Take responsibility for how you feel about yourself. You are unique, you deserve to feel loved just as you are. Each of us first needs to accept and love ourselves, before anyone else can be expected to.
7. Focus on others instead of yourself. Go out of your way to be kind, thoughtful and understanding to those around you. Showing love, consideration and kindness to others is the most likely way you will receive the same in return.
8. Seek support. If you find it hard to raise or maintain your self-esteem on your own, or to understand what went wrong in your relationship, then seek support from a professional counsellor or psychotherapist. Seeking support takes a great deal of strength and is something you can feel very proud of doing.
For more relationship advice, check Cat Williams’ book ‘Stay Calm and Content No Matter What Life Throws At You’, available at Amazon.