A breakup is a rite of passage. It is transformative. We are never quite the same after it. The breakup process is painful and disorienting. We, as initiates, are thrust into unfamiliar territory of deep fear, and we are clueless on how to maneuver it.
I experienced this initiation when my ex and I ended our relationship of 7 years. It was my most significant relationship – my first same-sex relationship, and my longest. I was devastated.
When I first met her, she took my breath away, and when we broke up, I literally could not breathe.
I had experienced such extreme emotions after the break-up, that there were days when all I did was cry. There were days when all I did was stay in bed. And there were many days when every minute was spent thinking about her, our past, and what I did wrong.
I had schemed on ways to get her back. I had fantasized that our relationship would be salvaged, and our problems would instantly disappear.
I had spun on my destructive and self-berating thoughts. What’s worse was that I had believed these thoughts.
And there were the body aches. I had felt extreme muscle tension and some days it felt like I had the flu. But I knew these physical symptoms were associated with the split instead of a virus.
You see, break ups can bring out the worst in us. More accurately, a break-up can fuel our fears. Any significant life event, such as an end to a relationship or a loss, is an impetus for our worst fears. And this could lead to anxiety and depression if unchecked. It’s a domino effect.
The good news is that there are tools that can help us ease the transition from breakup initiates to wholly healed and happy human beings. These are the key practices I found most helpful in my healing: Mindfulness, Self-compassion, and Gratitude or MSG.
First, I will cover mindfulness, the groundwork for which the other practices are made possible.
How to Get Over a Breakup with Mindfulness
What is Mindfulness?
To be mindful is to be aware on purpose and without judgment of what we’re thinking, what we’re doing, and what is happening around us.
To put more simply, mindfulness is being in the present moment, and not in our heads worrying about the past or the future. When we’re fully present, we’re not creating stories or coloring our experience.
When we’re mindful, we’re not wishing for our experience to be different than what it is.
It’s a simple act, yet it can be difficult to do.
Why is Mindfulness Important in Healing from a Breakup?
When we’re going through a painful experience, such as a broken relationship, we’re in our heads a lot. In my case, I had regret and shame about the past, but I also had fears about the future – will I find love again?
Other examples of our narrative:
- I wish I was a better partner
- I was such an idiot for doing [fill in the blank]
- I’m hopeless, I’ll never find someone
- I’m such a loser
- My ex is happy and in love with someone else, and I’m miserable and alone
This seeming perpetual thinking provokes more anxiety and hurt.
When we practice mindfulness to get over a breakup, we become the observer of our thoughts. We’re able to create space around our thinking.
By doing this, we can view with clarity the narrative that’s going on in our mind. We begin to dis-identify with the stories. And we discover that we’re not our thoughts, but the awareness of them.
When we gain this valuable perspective, we realize that our thoughts are not always true. In other words, most of what we tell ourselves are lies.
When I was doing my self-work, it was a turning-point moment when I realized that my identity was hinged on my partner, and I was attached to the concept of being in a relationship. It was no wonder that I experienced excruciating pain when the relationship dissolved.
This insight, although tremendous, didn’t erase the pain right away, but it did remove the intensity of it.
At that pivotal moment, I started to let go of my attachments. What followed was the inevitable wayfare of self-discovery.
If we’re not the thinker and we’re not our thoughts, then who are we? What comes next is a profound adventure of getting to know who we really are.
Armed with this knowledge and way of being, we’re in a more favorable position to make changes in our lives. Changes that are congruent to the truth of who we are.
Simple But Effective Mindfulness Technique
This method is what I use whenever I’m feeling anxiety, fear, or any discomfort, or when I notice that I’m spinning on my thoughts.
- Close your eyes or have a downward gaze
- Take a deep breath
- Put your awareness on your inhale
- Notice your belly rise. Pay attention to how the air is inhaled from your nostrils and into your lungs
- Then exhale and follow the breath as it leaves your body
- Count to 5 with every inhale
- Count to 5 with every exhale
- When a thought comes in, notice it without judgment and then let it float away
- Go back to your breath
How to Get Over a Breakup with Self-compassion
There is no one out there that can beat me in putting myself down. I am my loudest and most prolific self-critic. At least that was the truth back then. Fortunately, I am learning to be kinder to myself.
It’s easier to have compassion for others than for ourselves sometimes. During a traumatic event, it’s hard to have compassion for anyone.
There is a tendency to get immersed in our hurt and misery. And we are merciless when it comes to judging our shortcomings and inadequacies.
What is Self-compassion?
According to Kristen Neff, author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, having compassion for oneself is the same process as having compassion for others:
- Recognize that there is suffering
- Feeling moved by the suffering so that our heart reacts to the pain
- This leads to a desire to relieve the suffering, and a
- Realization that suffering is part of the shared human experience.
Why is Self-compassion Important in Healing from a Breakup?
When compassion is directed to oneself, the narrative gets transformed from self-criticism to kindness and self-care.
For example, after the breakup I had felt a lot of anger. I would criticize myself for being angry so I would force myself to feel happy. And when that didn’t work, I would get down on myself again.
When I took the Mindful Self-Compassion course, a program developed by Kristen Neff, I discovered that it was ok to have felt the range of emotions I had experienced after the breakup.
A mindful self-compassion practice shines a light on our harsh thoughts and feelings about ourselves without judging them – this is the mindfulness part.
By exposing our critical thoughts, hopefully we are motivated to be more kind in the way we view ourselves or apply other techniques to alleviate the suffering – this is the compassionate part.
According to this study, the practice of compassion leads to a slower heart rate and our bodies produce the hormone oxytocin.
Oxytocin, also known as the “bonding” or “love” hormone, when released into the body, offers psychological and physical benefits such as lowered stress and anxiety. It also plays a role in our being more relaxed, trusting, and having psychological stability.
Quick Self-compassion Exercise – Soothing Touch
When we’re feeling stress or anxious:
- Take a few deep breaths
- Place a hand or both hands gently over your heart, or somewhere on your body that feels comforting, your arm, stomach or face
- Try to feel the sensation of your hand over your heart, see if you can feel the warmth and gentle pressure of your hand
- When you inhale and exhale, feel the natural rise and fall of your chest
- Stay with this practice as long as it’s comforting
Here are other self-compassion exercises.
How to Get Over a Breakup with Gratitude
What is Gratitude?
Of the three practices, I find gratitude to be the easiest and my favorite.
The practice of gratitude is to be aware of what we appreciate or what we are thankful for. The true process of being grateful stems from within and is heartfelt and meaningful.
After the breakup, I had the perspective that nothing good was happening in my life. Although I had kept a gratitude journal for many years, that time period was particularly difficult to come up with something to be grateful for.
But it started with something small. I mustered up all my effort to write one line in my journal, and then the next day, I documented two things I appreciated. And after that, I found more things, until I got back into the habit of writing daily.
Why is Gratitude Important in Healing from a Breakup?
It’s easy to notice the “big and joyous” events, like the birth of your child, a promotion, buying a house or marriage, but it’s more challenging to appreciate something we consider banal or ordinary like rain drops, footprints or a scarf, and even more challenging when it comes to devastating events like a divorce, a sickness, or unemployment.
But even with a breakup, we can all find a silver lining in it, in my case, the split served as a way for me to see what I needed to work on. Being apart and the subsequent fears I felt catapulted me on a path to understand the root of my anxiety.
If we begin to pay attention and be thankful for the big and small, and the good and the bad, we begin to cultivate a reverence for life.
Gratitude Prompts to Get You Started
- What is an achievement that you’re proud of?
- Describe a happy childhood memory
- Look outside your window and point out one thing that you’re happy to see
- Describe one of your strengths
- What is your favorite clothing and why?
Check out these 101 Gratitude Prompts
If you’re feeling skeptical, I would suggest to at least start with a gratitude experiment and see for yourself. If it doesn’t float your boat, then drop it.
Mindfulness, Self-compassion and Gratitude or MSG, is the trifecta of healing. Each can be used individually or combined to get over a breakup or any difficult circumstance.
When we split from our partner, sometimes the reaction is to get them back. In my experience, that’s what I tried to do, and it didn’t work, which made it more painful. But the truth is that the Universe gives us not what we want but what we need.
You are hurting, which is why you’re reading this article, I have been there, but try for a moment to view your break up as an opportunity to discover who you really are. The fact that your life has taken you here (the breakup) is no coincidence. Go within yourself and the answer will be given to you.
I want to hear from you, what have you done to get over a breakup? Share in the comments.
Writer and globe wanderer, who's interests not only take her to distant corners of the world, but also to undiscovered regions of her inner Self. Proponent of the practice of ACIM, mindfulness, self-compassion, and gratitude, to transform her relationship with daily life challenges.