Heartbreak Survival Guide
We’ve all been there… Dumped. Cast into the wind. Rejected. Set adrift. Is there anything worse than thinking you’ve found someone who worships you (and will let you worship them right back) to find out you were 120 percent wrong?
Ok, well yes. There actually are way worse things in life – death of a loved one, genocide, human trafficking, dog fighting and Justin Bieber concerts, to name a few. Nothing is guaranteed in life – not happiness, career success, fulfillment or love. And to think that the world owes you a soul mate is the definition of entitled.
But even if we rationally understand that, the heart is a powerful machine desperately looking for a genuine and lasting connection. And when a promising relationship doesn’t work out, it can knock you off your game entirely. (Side note: Fascinating theory on love and human connection here.)
Take one of my dear friends in Knoxville: beautiful, clever, talented and fun – but she’s been pushed into “crazy-ville” by her ex (that’s frankly not worth her time on a good day). A combination of “I’ve already invested five+ years so I might as well try and make it worth” mixed with “I was hoping to be married with kids by now” has made her claim the banner of misery and victimhood. As her friend, it’s my job to remind her how great she is and push her back into reality. This job (more of a volunteer position, really) has involved countless bottles of wine, late night talks and frantic GChats – but I’ve noticed that regardless of the details, everyone’s road to recovery involves the same basic steps.
And clearly I’m not a psychologist, but as someone who (over) analyzes every situation and is on a constant quest to evolve, allow me to share my (limited) insight on the matter. And where possible, I’ve tried to link to articles/other blogs that go into more detail.
Step 1: Surround Yourself with Positivity
Do a quick audit of your life… who are the friends, family members and colleagues that light you up? Make you feel passionate/excited about life? Make you feel like you’re wonderful, just the way you are? ID these folks ASAP.
Now, that doesn’t mean bring them all into your multi-layered hell of emotion because not everyone in your life needs a play-by-play. Find a few folks you can vent to and then make a point to surround yourself with the rest of your positive tribe – at all times.
Whatever you do, avoid girlfriends who are trite, negative and/or toxic. Manufactured drama is the opposite of help right now. This is key because scientists believe that our brain is actually wired in such a way that whatever we pay attention to (or not) has a huge impact on how we see the world and feel about it.
Step 2: Give Yourself a Break
“Why didn’t I see this coming? … But I love him, how can this not work? … How could he do this to me after everything I’ve done for him? … What did I do to deserve this? … How can I ever face the world again? … I’m such an idiot!”
Ok, take a deep breath and chill out. I truly believe there’s no such thing as being blind-sided or a “victim.” All the warning signs are there, we’re just typically too “happy” to recognize them for what they really are. When someone tells you who they are, believe them and act accordingly – regardless of how cute, funny or charming they are.
And never forget that mistakes/failure are only mistakes/failure if you don’t learn from them. If you’re lucky enough to walk away with insight into human nature (however small), that mistake becomes experience that makes you stronger and wiser (and in a better position to help a friend BTW). And whether it’s an extremely positive or negative experience, you literally need time to be able to make heads or tails of it. And that process starts with forgiving yourself.
Step 3: Get It Out of Your System – And Then Find a Creative Outlet
Allow yourself to grieve. Even a minor break-up is still a loss – the death of a dream, a comforting routine, or simply a streaming flow of adoration and attention.
The more you try to silence the demons and sweep your emotions under the rug, the more likely they are to come back later in some crazy manifestation that bites you in the ass.
So scream. Cry. Burn all of your pictures and sappy greeting cards (especially the ones that pledge true love and fidelity for a lifetime) in a brilliant inferno. Invite your friends over a weekend (but only one) of wine, comfort food and horrid Rom-Com movies.
Do whatever you need to do (that isn’t self-destructive) to allow yourself to experience the five steps of grief until you reach acceptance. Spoiler alert: the process is painful and arduous. But acceptance is a beautiful thing because it literally clears the mind and enables you to see things for what they really were…and why this was never the right relationship in the first place.
And once it’s out of your system – divert, divert, divert, and fill your life with positive “shiny objects”:
- Take up a new hobby – what are all the things you wanted to try that but never did because he wasn’t into it?
- Plunk a vacation on your credit card – the more exotic, the better.
- Finally get around to reading all those books collecting dust on your iPad.
- Start a blog (Tumblr is a great option because it can be anonymous and the tagging system makes it super easy to find other users going through the exact thing you are. There’s nothing like collective pain to give you a little perspective).
- Take up yoga/Reiki (article coming soon)/acupuncture/running.
…anything that allows you to get out of your own head and re-engage with the world.
Step 4: Take the High Road
This one can be the hardest. Elie Weisel said that the opposite of love isn’t hate – it’s indifference. If we’re angry, it’s because we still care. And where there’s anger, there’s usually acting out.
No matter how much he deserves it, avoid trashing his name around town. Don’t stalk his Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn accounts. Don’t approach his new love interest and well…do anything other than wish her good luck. And definitely don’t drunk text/email/call/Skype – luckily there’s an app for that.
Retaliation offers only moments of satisfaction. Want him to really pay? Move on and be happy.
Step 5: Don’t Be Afraid to Try Again – But Don’t Rebound!
At the end of the day ask yourself – so what? So what if I was “blind-sided” by my ex cheating on me? So what if I got dumped before I was ready to end the relationship? So what if someone that I loved hurt me deeply?
At the end of the day, rejection is mostly “ego pain.” Don’t let the experience make you closed off, guarded or untrusting – otherwise, you’re just going to screw it up when someone truly great comes along. Get over yourself – and get back out there.
As a guy friend (and of course it’s a male friend using a sports analogy) once put it: “you can strike out in life sitting on the bench or at the plate. Personally, I’d rather go out swinging at the plate.”
And frankly, wouldn’t you rather get rejected/hurt every single time than be the one who’s hurting someone else?
But. Don’t. Rebound. The single worst thing you could do right now is rush into a new and serious relationship. Loneliness is a powerful motivator, but being alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely (see step 1). I don’t care who comes into your life – take it slow. As in painfully slow because as mentioned, our brains/souls/hearts need time to make heads and tails about what we’ve been through and then learn from it.
Because that’s the point, right? If you’re a masochist that doesn’t mind being bat-shit crazy, then by all means, keep repeating the same patterns/habits/mistakes with no regard for growing/learning/evolving.
And in the end, like everything else in life, if you can be open and honest about your emotions, allow yourself to experience those emotions fully, and really try to grow/learn from the experience, I promise that you will heal yourself.
Bonus? It also seems that every time that happens, you make room in your life, and the universe rewards you with a new person (and thus new opportunity at the real thing) who is wholly and vastly better than the last person you were pining over.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s article (from Rachel Smith) on the best places to meet men in Sacramento!