Is it possible to heal a broken heart? If it is, how do you do it? These are perennial questions of the kind that we ask without ever really expecting an answer. If you are suffering in that way this post will guide you through some useful ideas.
Losing someone or something you love is one of the defining human experiences. Loss is universal and inevitable; we’ll all experience it in some way at some time. That doesn’t help much if you are grieving, but it does mean that we understand what helps. Though you may not agree right now, especially if your heart is still aching, it is also a growth experience; we come out the other end stronger and a little wiser.
But, if you’ve recently been through a break-up and the emotional pain is still raw, you don’t want to hear the it-makes-you-stronger-and-wiser argument right now.
It is intended as a consolation, but what people who trot out that sort of remark don’t get is that it adds insult to injury. When you are suffering you need sympathy, not promises of a rosier future. When you feel that bad in the here and now, the last think on your mind is your future without the one you love!
But, there is hope
Yet, you know there is hope, don’t you? It may be that you are hoping right now to be reunited with the one you’ve lost. Most likely it won’t happen (deep down you know that too, don’t you?), but fantasising is quite a useful way of getting through the initial shock; it gives you something to hang on to. That’s OK, you have permission to do that, just don’t invest so much in it that you block out a better future and all the possibilities it holds. The thing is, to be able to heal a broken heart you have to go through the experience, not around it. Getting back together (if that were possible) may seem like a solution to ease the pain, but in the long run, it may not be for the best if that stops you growing through the experience.
Back to right now though. If you are reading this you are probably looking for something to help you through a difficult moment. There are some suggestions to follow which include tried and tested techniques. These dos-and-don’ts will help you get your life back on track. Read through them, take your time to try them out, and allow time to heal yourself. Little by little, how you feel will improve. There is no miracle cure, but miraculous things can happen if you follow the steps and take care of yourself.
You have control
We are not alone in the animal kingdom to feel the pain of loss, but we are certainly the most sophisticated in the ways our thoughts and feelings are intertwined. This aspect is two-sided. On the one hand, the way we think – our memories, hopes and regrets, for example – keep the loss alive, so we feel it more keenly. On the other hand, because we can manage how we think, we have some control over how we understand tragedy, and what the experience means to us.
Because it affects us on several levels, emotional, spiritual and practical, grief can seem to bring your life to a standstill. This necessary halt is the way the mind and body make space for healing. Part of that process is how we make sense of our changed circumstances and prepare for the next phase in life.
A universal experience
You are not alone, even though it might feel like that. Since the beginning of time, humans have experienced and survived the pain of loss. No, this isn’t another of those ‘time heals’ lines intended to comfort you. But it is reassuring when you realise that, as a species, we are good at getting through this. Just look around you. Tales of loss, pain survival and most importantly, recovery, are everywhere. It is probably the most popular theme in song, poetry, and books throughout history. So take heart, you might feel bad, but you can think your way through this and ease the pain.
Thoughts and feelings
Step one in your recovery is to realise that thinking and feeling are separate activities. Understanding this will give you control and enable you to keep going however bad you feel.
You can have an unhelpful feeling, like, for example, feeling you don’t want to get up in the morning, and you can think something different like “Time to get up!”. Or, maybe you feel very sad, and the thoughts that go with that feeling are things like “I miss him/her so much”. If you change the thought to “I’m feeling I miss them, so I’ll find ways to distract myself”, you’ll find that you feel a little less sad. Do this regularly and you get better at controlling unwanted feelings. As you learn to manage your thoughts you will begin to get control of the feelings.
Unwanted feelings hang about longer the more you focus on them. If you have a bad feeling simply acknowledge it and move on to thinking what to do next to distract yourself (choose healthy behaviours).
Suggestions to heal a broken heart
If you have been through a rejection or breakup, unavoidably, you are going through a process of change. How you respond to this influences how quickly you heal. If you are open-minded, you can accept and live through the unpleasant feelings. That will lead you to become more resilient and more able to deal with life’s knocks in the future.
You won’t be able to achieve much by sitting and thinking about how much you are suffering, or by filling your mind with bitter thoughts about the other person. You’ll do better if you get active and start to do things which are known to help healing, recovery, and wellbeing. Here are some suggestions:
Dealing with loss of any kind involves grieving. Part of that process is how we adjust to changed circumstances and prepare for the next phase in life, so allow yourself the time to move through it. This is not a hopeful time, it feels horrible. Many people deal with it by trying to recreate the past, as though getting another partner (or getting the old one back whatever the cost) will ease the pain. It can do, for a time, but the downside is that you rob yourself of the learning and growth that comes with the psychological transition (from what was, to what is). That is what grieving is all about, healing. Allow yourself time to heal.
The ‘double whammy’ of a broken relationship is that at a time when we are feeling broken-hearted we often have to deal with intrusive self-criticism. Pay no heed to those unwanted thoughts. Even if you are partly responsible for the break-up, blaming yourself isn’t helpful. File it away and use it as a learning experience. If the separation was totally unexpected, your critical thoughts might be about your failure as a human being, your looks, lack of style or talent… whatever. Understand that thinking like that is not helpful, and let the thought go.
Be kind to yourself
Treat yourself with the care and attention you would give to someone you love. According to Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, people take better care of their pets than they do of themselves. This points out that we often deny ourselves the compassion and love we deserve. Turn this into action by doing things to pamper yourself. After all, if a friend was suffering you’d do things to help them feel better, wouldn’t you? This is your time, do it for yourself.
Acceptance is a doorway to understanding and growth. Refusal to accept causes more pain, stress, disappointment and general unhappiness.
One of the greatest challenges that a person can face is that of learning to accept the things that they don’t like.
An important lesson that life teaches us is that there are some things we can’t control, hopefully, we learn it while we are young, and move on to tackling its consequence: learning to deal with the frustration, anger and disappointment that we’ll routinely have to face in life.
Accepting something doesn’t mean you have to like it. It means that you don’t waste time judging, criticising, wishing, hoping, and all the rest. You accept the circumstances for what they are, circumstances.
You have probably seen a lot about mindfulness lately; it seems it is recommended for so many troubles. There’s a good reason for that, it works! And there’s no better opportunity than when you are seeking solace to help heal a broken heart. The way to do it is to make learning mindfulness a central part of your personal growth plan. Taking classes or setting regular time aside to practice will benefit you in many ways. Learning the skills of mindfulness is one of them, but committing to something sends the message to your unconscious that you are caring for yourself. If you join a class, you’ll also be helping your social life.
This doesn’t mean social media! It means people. New people, people you like or admire, people you trust, people who respect you. This may seem obvious, but be choosy about who you mix with. Hanging around with the same crowd isn’t always the best idea, so be selective and mix with people whose company you enjoy. If it means making an effort to meet new people, that’s good too. Remember, this is about your growth and learning to feel better about yourself. Expanding your social circle also means you’ll avoid reminders of the one you lost, and reduces the risk of bumping into them ‘unexpectedly’.
Control your thinking
Avoid catastrophising, overgeneralising, exaggeration,… these can all increase a sense of hopelessness. You might feel as though “my world has come crashing down”, “I’ll never love again”, or that you have missed some incredible, never-to-be-repeated opportunity, but none of these is true. These can be classed as what psychologists call cognitive distortions, they are delusions. They make you feel better for a few minutes, but they bring you down. Any time you catch yourself thinking unhelpful thoughts, take control, change the thought, as described in You have control, above. See also 7 Ways to Change Your Thinking.
Help another person
Studies have shown that this is a really effective way of helping ourselves, Acts of kindness can help heal a broken heart because they boost your feelings of confidence, being in control, happiness and even how optimistic you feel. You can do this in a structured way, by volunteering for example, but also less formally by looking out for opportunities to help or support other people. Don’t wait to be asked, adopt a mindset of generosity towards humanity and seek out opportunities.
Any change brings an opportunity for personal growth and learning. You’ll be impatient to heal a broken heart, but you can also use the time to design a ‘new you’. Maybe you restyle your look, but ensure too that you change your outlook to match. Give some thought to how you want to become and the things you’d like to do. This may mean picking up on a hobby or passion you’ve neglected, trying new things… The world is full of opportunities and the future hasn’t happened yet, go towards it in a spirit of personal reinvention. Be brave and banish any negative thoughts that get in the way. As Dr Seuss said “When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”