It’s Important to Believe You Can Heal after a Breakup

Suicide is a real threat when you don’t believe you can get over it.

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

Copyright 2007-2018

Every few months I read an article about someone who committed suicide after a breakup or a person who went on a shooting rampage after a breakup.  I originally wrote this post for Psychology Today which is an institution that believes that nameless, faceless cyberbullies are more important than people who are abused or feeling suicidal. So I am rerunning it here: 

I urge people to spread the word that a breakup is a temporary thing and that you can get over it.  Let people know that a breakup is NOT the end of the world.  The only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world. We’ve all gone through breakups. Some of us before we reach teenagehood. Many of us many times.  The pain may seem enormous, but it can and does heal.

I’ve been doing breakup counselling a long time and I have gotten, several times a year, a call or an email from someone saying, “I’m not getting over it.  I will never get over this.”

This week I read another sad story about someone ending their life because they were bereft over a breakup. I had a family member (in law) whose brother killed himself when his girlfriend left. When I was an Emergency Services Clinician, I ran into many who were feigning suicide to get attention from an ex. Many clinicians would say that people who commit suicide don’t threaten it, they just do it.  But I have seen people do it after threatening and others who showed absolutely no clues and they just did it.

I counseled a family when their loved one hung himself on Christmas Eve after his girlfriend broke up with him.  The girlfriend was distraught but the family would spend every Christmas thereafter with the wound (and horrifying vision) of that Christmas Eve. 

The breakup was that morning so the suicide was very impulsive. He hung himself in her house so she would see him as soon as she walked in. That was an act of anger at her.  She was leaving the relationship. It’s not that she wasn’t traumatized by it, but she would get over it. His mother wasn’t getting over it; his siblings weren’t getting over it.  The nieces and nephews that wouldn’t get to know him might not get over it. The hurt that his family will carry is enormous and they did nothing to deserve it. That’s the thing about post-breakup suicides.  It usually doesn’t hurt the person who hurt the person who committed suicide. It usually takes out a lot of people who did nothing to deserve it. Post-breakup suicide is REAL and it happens. And it doesn’t have to. What is left in the wake of a suicide is usually horrible, and it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Breakups hurt and many people doubt they will get over it. You will.  You may even think of suicide. Thinking about it when you’re in excruciating pain is normal.  You can consider it, but you can let it go…just as quickly as it came.  Think about the things you have to be grateful for, including the fact that you don’t have a bad relationship anymore with someone who didn’t treat you right or who doesn’t want to be with you anymore. 

The things that are tough to get over completely are NOT romantic relationships; they are other, bigger losses.  Breakups are usually some of the easier things to get over in the general scheme of things.  What is TOUGH to get over is the loss of the hopes and the dreams, the family and the white picket fence, but you STILL can get over that AND have that with someone who truly loves you.

What feels like “I can’t get over this.” today is just the difficulty you are feeling…it doesn’t mean you can’t….it means you’re still in the thick of things.

I can’t change that I won’t grow old with my late husband. We had incredibly wonderful plans for retirement and if anyone deserved a rich and happy retirement, that hard-working man did.  I stay away from how unfair it is that he’s not here. I also stay away from wondering if I’ll ever get over it.  I take it a day at a time and that’s all I can do.  Some feeling of existential aloneness and loneliness is part of my being that I don’t care for, but it is what it is. I’ve had SO MANY PEOPLE tell me that what has happened to me in my life just isn’t fair, but I can’t go there. There are many people who have lost much more than I have.  I have things to be grateful for, and I keep those in mind every single day. 

I’ve counseled people who have lost a child, people who have had their lives wiped out by fire or flood or lost multiple relatives in accidents or had someone they love disappear and never be found.  Those are tough, tough losses and the grief is immense and intense.  It takes a long time to climb up those hills and yet, they do the work and some day they manage to turn the page. They still live good lives and manage to find happiness despite the holes in their hearts. They learn to live and to love around the holes, and they become heroes to others who experience similar losses and are able to reach out to them. Because they are still there and still standing. And you can be that power of example to someone one day as well. 

When you have losses that can’t completely heal, the goal is to get over it as well as you’re going to….to do the work and feel the sadness and anger and all of the feelings…to get as far in the healing process as you can get and then LIVE YOUR LIFE to the BEST of your ability and show others that it is possible. 

Remember, as I wrote in my last article on grief after a breakup HERE, acceptance at the end of the grief process is NOT happiness…it’s acknowledging the loss and acknowledging that you have changed but deciding to go on anyway.  Acceptance means you’re not lying down, you’re not becoming a martyr…but it hurts and it’s hard…

Acceptance is the place where you come to when you’ve done the work and know that you have changed.  You might always be sad on some level…there might always be a hole, something missing, on some level…but you’re going to go on and be as happy as you can be even with that hole in your soul. 

Acceptance is an inner peace that comes from doing your work and knowing that the work has made you stronger in some ways…you’re different and you still exist and you need to do more than survive…you need to thrive.  Your heart needs to go on.

It doesn’t mean not ever being sad again, it means recognizing there will be moments of sadness but that’s okay, for the most part you’re moving on.

It means making the DECISION to live your life to the best of your ability.  You can’t sit around waiting for the feeling to take hold…waiting to be inspired to move on…you need to CHOOSE to move on and DECIDE to move on. 

It’s important to know that if you grieve this loss, you will heal and you will get over it. Don’t give up…you can do this.

You CAN get over it…do your work and put one foot in front of the other and be the best person you can be and live life to the best of your ability.  Many people channel their sense of loss into worthy and noble causes, rising up to meet the challenge of life and loss. It’s important to reach out and tell others that you healed and they can too. Suicide is a permanent solution to a very temporary problem.

In the general scheme of things, in the flow of life, a breakup with a love is one of the lesser losses you can have and one that almost all of us share. There are so many other losses that are unique and when faced with them, people feel alone.  Many of us never lost a child or had a pregnancy terminate or faced infertility or had our house burn down and everything inside lost. 

Many of us never ever will deal with some of these horrific losses.  But every one of us will go through a breakup of a relationship…and there is support, help and hope. Things can be so much better than before. A breakup is a universal experience and everyone knows what a broken heart feels like and you can get over it. Truly. You can.

Please take the time to spread the message and carry the hope to others who might be hurting.  Even if you’re still hurting, if you’ve got hope and are determined to see it through, please please please let others know.  It’s up to all of us to get the word out. 

One caveat to this article that I MUST mention is when someone is ALWAYS threatening self-harm or “false alarms by an ex to get your attention” that I hear about so frequently and did when I was an Emergency Services Clinician.  There are people who use the threat of suicide to manipulate others. Sometimes it’s their ex, sometimes their family. When my youngest son was in GRADE SCHOOL, he had a girl who had a crush on him who threatened to kill herself if he didn’t talk to her on the phone and, being a nice person, he did. I found out about this and told him, at the tender age of 12, that he was NOT responsible for her and that if he really thought she was going to hurt herself, he should tell the guidance counselor. The next time she said that to him, he told her he was going to the guidance counselor.  She never said it again.  I’m so glad he learned this valuable lesson early.

It’s important to know that empty threats of self-harm are WRONG (as are faint-hearted attempts for attention). And if your family member or your ex is telling you that unless something happens, they are going to hurt themselves, call the police or the local Emergency Room or a professional or a suicide hotline.  Hand them over to professionals who can assess the situation. When I was that professional, I told families that if you’re codependent enough, a manipulator will put you through hell with empty threats and then YOU will feel like harming yourself.  If they’re truly in danger, you shouldn’t be the one to try to help. If you fail, you will never forgive yourself.

We had one client in ES whose much younger wife seemed to age before our eyes as she accompanied him to the Emergency Room almost every weekend. They would argue, he would say horrible things to her and she would want to leave.  He would threaten to hurt himself if she did, and even refuse to calm down until she came back around.

Whether it’s a spouse, a family member or an ex (especially an ex!), it is NOT your place to save him or her.  It is his or her responsibility to get help.  If you feel as if you need to do something, call the family or the police or the local Emergency Room, but do not – under any circumstances – get personally involved.  If they’re sincere about self-harm, they need help you can’t give and if they’re not, they are manipulating you and you should not allow that. 

But this article is mainly for those who truly are in despair and feeling hopeless.  A breakup is not anything to harm yourself over.  You can get over it.  

Don’t give up the day before the miracle happens!!!!

YOU CAN DO THIS!!! Share this if you know anyone who knows anyone who might be hurting and hopeless or might be suffering in silence.


Copyright Ⓒ Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author and a link back to the original content

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About Susan J. Elliott

Author, Attorney, Grief Counselor, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, Relationship Expert, Breakup Coach BA English Mount Holyoke College, magna cum laude, High Honors, Phi Beta Kappa M.Ed., Counseling Psychology, Cambridge College J.D. University of California, Berkeley Licensed to practice law in federal and state courts in NY. Licensed but Inactive in Texas and District of Columbia Creator of the Getting Past Your Past and Getting Past Your Breakup programs, seminars, workshops, bootcamps, videos, blogs and podcasts Author of Getting Past Your Breakup, Getting Back Out There and the GPYP Workbook
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