There’s Hope after Heartbreak: 5 Things to Help You Heal

by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed. Copyright © 2006-2019

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 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. Then I will, inevitably, get an email from someone saying, “I’m not getting over it. I will never get over this.”

I want to address the “I’m not getting over this, I want to die.” feeling.

Some people seem to talk about suicide and never do it, others give warning months ahead of time and still others seem to have done it on impulse.  It’s terribly hard to predict.

But it’s REAL and it happens.  What is left in the wake of a suicide is so horrible and it doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s been 7 years since my husband passed. I miss him every single day. Will I ever get over this? I don’t know.  The pain I felt after he passed was the worst in my life. I would come home and literally collapse on the floor.  Once down there, I would punch the floor until my knuckles were raw and bleeding, and YES I did think that I wouldn’t survive. I’d either kill myself or die of a broken heart.  But each day I tried to get through one more and then one more and then one more.

It’s hard to lose your partner. It’s hard when the life you’ve known suddenly is no longer there. In Getting Past Your Breakup (GPYB) I write about the emotions of grief after a breakup. It’s important to know and understand the feelings and to know they’re normal, they’re okay and they end.

There is a certain amount of disorganization and confusion when you’re grieving. It’s normal and natural. Your mind is reorganizing the world and adjusting to the new landscape.  You’re not thinking clearly but you will.  It’s okay.  But know that you are not thinking clearly and this is no time to make a permanent decision about a temporary condition.

So what to do?  There are 5 very important things to do in order to heal.

  1. Let the feelings out.
  2. Work the good stuff in.
  3. Look at the past and what went wrong.
  4. Plan for the future for what you want in your life.
  5. Make a decision to move on and accept the breakup and carry the message.

1. Let the Feelings OUT

Getting Past Your Breakup was the first breakup book to address, head-on, the fact that what you experience after a breakup is GRIEF.  Pure, unadulterated grief. And most of the “advice” you’ve gotten over the years: move on, don’t waste your tears on that one, there are other fish in the sea etc. etc., is all BAD ADVICE.

You must feel as bad as you really feel. And how will you feel?  You will feel sad. You will feel angry.  You will feel anxious.  In the very beginning you will be overcome by emotions. If you’re numb, it will wear off.  When I fell apart after throwing my abusive, cheating husband out, it was the myriad of emotions – all from many many unresolved losses NOT just the end of my marriage – that did me under and caused me to beg him to come back. I didn’t want the miserable S.O.B. back but I couldn’t figure out another way to stop the bleeding. Actually, there is no other way.  You have to feel as bad as you really feel.

The BEST thing my ex did was say NO to me. 

It FORCED me to deal with my feelings and though I thought it might kill me, it didn’t.

It’s important to allow yourself the emotional bloodletting for a few days to a couple of weeks.  Just allow yourself to be and feel.  It’s okay.  Journal. Pour your heart and soul into a journal and just get it OUT.

After a couple of weeks, allow yourself a set amount of time to cry a couple of times a day.  Decide on an “off button” that signals that crying is done for now.  I used to drive from the commuter bus stop to my house and it was almost 40 minutes.  I would cry in the morning and the “off” was pulling into the parking lot. On the way home, “off” was hitting the garage door opener.

I did cry at other times but knowing I had these 2 times allowed me to compartmentalize my grief and live my life for most of the rest of the day.  On the weekends I would go decided times to cry as well and set the “off” button. My phone had an alarm that was set for 30 minutes and I would use that as my “off.”  It’s important to let yourself grieve while still getting done what you need to get done. Otherwise you’re going to think you’re falling apart.

You may be overcome by what Therese Rando calls “grief spasms” that just come up and overwhelm you like a tidal wave. Lean into these and know they pass and lessen over time.  It’s your mind’s way of helping you heal. It doesn’t feel like help, but it is.

2.  Let the Good Stuff IN

It’s so important to take care of you during this time.  Self-care is very very important, which is why I emphasize it so much in my books.  My clients and boot campers all know that I make self-care a very big issue in their recovery. You cannot do the hard work of grief if you DO NOT DO SELF-CARE.  Again, GPYB was the FIRST breakup book to bring these two concepts together (now everyone has jumped on this bandwagon).

Both of my books talk about what you need to do for you that is helpful and healing.  Think of things that make you feel soothed.  Plan a “me” night at least once a week and a “me” weekend at least once every six weeks. Make a list of things you like.  Bubble baths, naps, massages, pedi/manis, golf, walks…and DO IT.  Make sure you make a date with yourself at least once a week.

When you feel like you can’t go on, it’s time to take care of 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.  You have to grieve the person as well as the secondary losses, friends, dreams, hopes, plans.

3. Look at the Past and What Went WRONG

After you have cried your tears and walked the floors and had all the physical and emotional responses to grief, and committed to “me” time and taking care of yourself, it’s time to look objectively at the relationship through the relationship inventory (in both books) and understand what went wrong and how.  Make a list of red flags you missed or ignored. Be honest about who owns what.  You can start to chalk up big strides at this point!  You’re doing it!  The GPYP workbook V3 will be out in the next couple of weeks. To be apprised of when it’s released, join our mailing list HERE

4. Plan for the Future and What You Want To Go RIGHT

In Getting Back Out There I write about Standards and Boundaries for your next relationship.  When you’re healing from a breakup, this is a good time to start writing about this.  Write about what you want in your next relationship and committing to yourself that you’re not going to settle for less.  Don’t wait until you’re ready to date to start doing that. It’s time to do it early in your breakup when you are remembering what was wrong, what was missing, what you really need to have in a partner.

It’s important to let the bad out (the grief) while letting the good in (self) care and looking at the past (what went wrong) while looking toward the future (boundaries and standards).

Decide what you want to do with your life and start planning for it.  Take classes, go traveling, start saving money. The future is WIDE OPEN…GO FOR IT!

5. Accept and Decide

All through life, some of us 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.

I’ve counseled people who have lost a child, and people who have had their lives wiped out by fire or flood or lost multiple relatives in accidents or had someone they love commit suicide. 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.

As I say in GPYB, 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 laying 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.

You need to know you will be sad again, it may not ever completely heal, but you’re going to do your best to live your best life.  And even those of us with certain losses that we carry with us manage to carve out a meaningful life and help others along the way.  If you’ve had a tremendous loss that has shaken you to your core and you are hurting, concentrate on YOU and only YOU now, but one day you can share with others how you got through it and they will be glad you are there for them.

When the sadness comes, you sit with it, you honor it and your loss and then you continue moving on again.

You CAN get over it…there are many losses you never completely heal from but there are others that you do heal from…in both cases you 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. If you work through a loss, truly work through it, you HAVE to change for the positive. You do. You can do it.

I once saw a book entitled Growing Strong in Broken Places and that is possible. It IS possible to grow strong in broken places. Do your work, trust the process and you can do it.

Don’t give up hope and don’t allow others to give up hope. Even if you don’t know others who are hurting, carry the message that a breakup can be the best thing that ever happened to you. 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. Many of us never ever will deal with some of the more horrific losses. But every one of us will go through a breakup of a relationship…and there is support and there is help and there is hope. And things can be so much better than before.

Become a Messenger of Hope

What I ask of all who have been hurt and who have healed is to 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.

Tell everyone: Don’t give up the day before the miracle happens!!!!

YOU CAN DO THIS!!! Pass it on!

Copyright 2018 Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

I Teach What I Know. I Have The Degrees, but I Have The EXPERIENCE and I don’t ask anyone to do anything I have not done.”

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If a post has a tag PT Article it means that it was once on Psychology Today and I am recreating and re-publishing for the blog…it takes a while. I recognize, by the amount of email I received and the traffic and comments my articles had, that my articles were VERY POPULAR. I had over 100 articles on Psychology Today that helped everyone. I’m trying to recreate them as fast as I can. They’re ALL coming – eventually….but I did my outline for the articles on my local machine, uploaded to PT and edited them there so I have to recreate the process…it takes a while..but I’m writing as fast as I can!!! If you want to know about how HORRIBLY an ABUSE VICTIM was treated by CYBERBULLIES and a publication that purports to be about HEALING – listen to the debacle HERE

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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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