Surviving a Breakup

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Reader’s Question

I am going through a hard breakup. I just wanted to know if there’s anyone out there who can help me out with tips or suggestions about moving on.

Psychologist’s Reply

One of the uncomfortable truths about relationships is that they at some point come to an end — sometimes by our own choice and sometimes by ways totally out of our control. Regardless, the loss of someone we care for can cause intimacy trauma unless we can find ways to cope and eventually recover. Over the years, if we have struggled with intimacy trauma repeatedly, we can find these emotions hanging around and reemerging in our new relationships.

One of the ways to limit the amount of intimacy trauma we experience is to begin to really listen to the conversation we are having with ourselves after a breakup or divorce. We need to listen to what we are telling ourselves about the loss. Here are some of the common conversations that my clients have with themselves that begin after a breakup.

I can’t live without them! I have to have them in my life.
These are some of the most common thoughts we have immediately after a breakup that lead to feelings of desperation and panic. Those we love and care about become very important parts of our lives. But we need to remember that no matter how close the person was to you, there was a time in your life when this person was not around. There was a time before you met them. You survived without them long enough to eventually meet them, right? The conversation with yourself needs to involve on some level you telling yourself you can be alright without them. There is meaning for your life outside your relationship, maybe you just lost sight of it along the way.
I’ll do whatever it takes to get them back.
I hear this a lot. The fear of being on our own or the need to avoid the loss we are experiencing can be enough to send us into a tailspin of anxiety and desperation. The absolute truth is that we can’t recover from the loss of a relationship until we accept that the loss has happened. Allowing yourself to accept the truth about what has happened can be one of the toughest things to do. You can stay in denial, bargain, plead for forgiveness, and promise that things will be different, but until you accept the reality of the situation, you cannot begin to recover. I know it sounds cruel, but having hope that you will get back together will only delay your recovery. Letting that go and giving into the recovery can be very hard.
Who will ever want me?
Being dumped or losing a relationship can easily bring on feelings of self-doubt and self-blame. We can easily convince ourselves that one rejection will lead to another and another and finally to the end result of being alone for the rest of eternity. The truth is, being rejected or turned away hurts. It’s tempting to come to a conclusion, in that conversation with yourself, that there is something wrong with you. Almost all of the breakups I’ve seen have been two way streets. By that I mean it is rarely just one person’s fault or mistake. Being in a relationship means that both people have to provide a healthy environment for the relationship to exist. If one or both people cannot do this, the relationship is unlikely to survive — and maybe even shouldn’t. Your conversation with yourself needs to take ownership for your part of the breakup, but recognize too that it is not all your fault. It takes two people to start a relationship and it takes two people to bring it to an end.
I can’t be alone.
Jumping into a new relationship after a devastating breakup is typically a bad answer to the way you’re feeling. Often we do this to avoid those feelings of loneliness. We think that if we can preoccupy ourselves with a new interest it will rescue us from difficult feelings. The truth here is that now you are dealing with the stress of a new relationship and grieving the old one at the same time. That can really make a mess of what could actually have been the right relationship for you. We need time to grieve our losses. Everyone’s amount of time is different, but many of us convince ourselves we are ready to start a new one when we are not. The conversation with yourself needs to address where you are emotionally in your recovery. Are you still thinking about the pervious person daily? Are you afraid and lonely still? Have you grown enough to bring a healthy place for the next relationship to survive in?

For anyone experiencing a breakup, you can start having this conversation with yourself today. Talk it through out loud if you need to. Give yourself the room and time to start your recovery process. A journal can help you see your progress if needed. Support groups for loss and grief are out there as well. If these feelings totally overwhelm you, which they can, seek help from a therapist.

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