if you were born with / the weakness to fall / you were born with / the strength to rise
I know this will be hard to hear if you’re slap-bang in the middle of a separation with your life partner. It hurts so much it feels like you’re in physical pain. The grief you’re experiencing is as if someone has died. You feel unlovable and like a failure. Hell, you’re not really sure who you even are any more… so how do you go on? Well, the short answer is that you must learn how to love yourself after a breakup.
Believe me, I know what it feels like to not shower or be able to get out of bed. I know the anxiety and misery of not eating for a week and unintentionally losing half a stone. I know the humiliation of begging to be taken back; the reckless anger and spiteful words you can’t un-say. It feels like the world is ending.
And even as you admit that, you feel like a walking cliché because of course it isn’t. You’re still alive. There are still things to be grateful for.
So why does it feel that way right now?
When I went through my first major breakup, I wasn’t prepared for the tidal wave of emotions I’d feel or how to navigate them. I didn’t know what ‘normal’ looked like. So I hope that I can help to guide you through your own journey to recovery and ultimately self-discovery.
Whilst it’s going to be one of the most challenging times in your life, what you probably don’t appreciate at this moment is that this is the character-building stuff of self-growth that only you can go through and come out of the other side. I promise, you’re going to look back stronger.
Is It Normal to Hurt This Much?
Flowers grow back even after the harshest winters. You will, too.
Firstly, before we talk more in-depth about why it’s so important to love yourself after a breakup, I want to address the maelstrom of unsettling emotions battering you from every angle.
It might help if we probe further into some of those key phrases from earlier:
It feels like you’re in physical pain
Particularly when you are the one being left, the pain you experience is sharp and stinging. Studies show that the emotional pain of rejection (for instance, humiliation, insignificance or abandonment) is actually coded in the same neural pathways of the brain as physical pain.
The grief you feel is as if someone has died
It may seem like an over-the-top or dramatic analogy, but you’re not completely wrong. Psychologists have documented the link between the feelings you experience when a major relationship ends, and the grief you go through when losing a loved one to death. The death you’re experiencing is not only the loss of that person, but also the death of the relationship and your hopes and dreams for the future. You should therefore expect to experience the 5 stages of grief through denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
You feel unlovable
No matter the reasons for the breakup, but particularly in cases of cheating or where someone just doesn’t want to be with you anymore, feelings of unworthiness and low self-esteem are completely normal. What’s wrong with me? How can they go on living their life without me? Am I not enough? It’s important to practice self-love to overcome these damaging thoughts and beliefs.
You feel like a failure
Breakups can also trigger feelings of shame. When things don’t work out as you planned with the happy-ever-after, it’s easy to feel a sense of personal and social stigma. When your instinctive biology is kicking in and telling you that you need to settle down and have babies, as well as society telling you that you have to have these things to be successful, it’s no wonder you’re feeling this way.
You’re not even sure who you are anymore
We are social creatures and we navigate our inner world through our connections with others. The person you have lost has likely taken up a huge part of your physical and emotional landscape for a long time, so feelings of isolation are common. When you are in a couple, your identity literally changes. Research shows that breakups therefore have a knock-on effect on your own self-concept and changes in your sense of self.
The Most Important Relationship No One Ever Tells You About
To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.
Loving yourself has become a bit of a cliché in the world of self-help and development. You’re probably thinking about steamy bubble baths, positive affirmations or practising yoga.
Whilst there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, I think it over-simplifies a point that many of us never really stop to fully comprehend.
What parents, teachers and well-meaning adults neglect to tell you is that the one consistent relationship you have in life is with yourself. You were born alone, and you’ll die alone. Whilst others come and go, whether through chance, choice or death, you are the one constant that you can rely on.
And therefore if you’re the kind of person who has terrible self-talk and can’t stand being in a room on your own for more than 5 minutes, but puts everything including the kitchen sink into a relationship, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that this is the wrong way round!
Loving yourself isn’t just about being able to love others more openly, honestly and genuinely (although these are certainly positive by-products) – it’s about creating your own life of passion, purpose and fulfilment, which really has nothing to do with anyone else and everything to do with your relationship with you.
My gut feel is that how much a breakup affects you probably directly correlates to how much of a sense of self you actively maintained outside of your relationship, whether that was through friendships, personal interests or individual dreams.
Of course, a breakup will always hurt if you were vulnerable and you loved. But if you were clinging to a relationship for fear of drowning, it wasn’t healthy.
9 Steps to Love Yourself After a Breakup
After a breakup, your first instinct may be external validation through dating sites or one-night stands, which gives you a small victory and sense of value in the moment. Or you may gravitate towards a comfort zone of over-eating, drowning your sorrows with cheap red wine, or stuffing your emotions down with mindless shopping. Whatever your weakness, it’s probably going to look more tempting than ever during this time.
And this all makes complete sense when you’re feeling unlovable and unworthy.
I urge you to resist self-destructive behaviour, and instead use this time for self-care and quiet introspection. If, as we discovered earlier, you experience emotional pain like physical pain, then you need to give yourself time to recover. I promise that investing time and energy into yourself is the only long-term way to cultivate self-worth, self-esteem and resilience moving forwards.
From the immediate aftermath and turmoil of a breakup to the weeks and months that ensue, let’s look at the ways in which you can focus on yourself and rebuild a life that you’re obsessed with.
All great changes are preceded by chaos.
The immediate aftermath of a breakup feels like a bomb explosion; you may experience feelings of fragmentation, numbness, anger and pain. Be gentle and don’t expect too much from yourself. This time is about allowing yourself to grieve. Be prepared to ride the waves of emotions as they come and feel them all fully.
1. Block, delete & remove their stuff
Disclaimer: this may sound brutal! But you’ve got to take one more big scary step in the immediate aftermath of a breakup. Like healing from a physical wound, you won’t recover if you keep picking at the scab.
You’ve got to stop stalking your ex on social media. I know, there is a twisted pain-pleasure combination when you connect with them in this silent way. And whilst you probably recognise that living in your head like this isn’t healthy, you’re still addicted to the dopamine hit it gives you!
This is going to feel like ripping off a plaster. The short-term pain scares you, but I promise you will benefit long-term.
You may worry about their reaction, or giving them the satisfaction of knowing how much they have hurt you. But this isn’t about them anymore: this is about protecting your own sanity. So block them on social media and delete their number on Whatsapp if necessary. This way, you won’t be tempted to reach out or just forlornly follow their life as it moves on without you.
Self-discipline is self-love, and it’s even better if you don’t give yourself the option in the first place. You will thank yourself during inevitable moments of weakness.
Similarly, if you and your ex shared a home or they moved in some of their stuff, return anything that belongs to them. Things are imbued with memories. Whether you like it or not, they are going to lead you down sentimental rabbit holes and keep you in the emotional space of the past.
2. Brush your teeth & shower
It’s so easy to completely let yourself go during times of distress, and this only validates your feelings of low self-worth and esteem.
I’m not saying you need to put on a full face of makeup. A comfy hoodie and joggers are absolutely fine! But wash your hair, brush your teeth, and just look after yourself in a very basic way, even and most especially if you don’t feel like it.
Your subconscious believes everything you tell it, so treating yourself like someone who is worthy of physical care and respect is crucial to aiding your recovery.
3. Get it all out in your journal
I honestly can’t recommend this enough. When I went through my first major breakup, I made so many mistakes that delayed the healing process, but I think what really saved me (through sheer luck more than anything else!) was that I decided to start journaling.
Journaling is a way to connect with yourself at a deep level. Often when I’m writing down my feelings, I even surprise myself with some of the things which come out! Remember that no one other than you ever has to read this, so use it as a cathartic space to get everything out.
Go to the shops and treat yourself to a nice new journal, or have a look for your favourite on Amazon. This is an inexpensive but powerful act of self-care which you will be so thankful for.
Talk to yourself like someone you love.
Once the initial shock begins to fade, you move into the still-raw but accepted realisation that life goes on regardless. Your day-to-day experiences may appear dull, lifeless and without colour at this point. But have faith that this too will pass. Now is the time to start asking a bit more of yourself.
4. Make your health a priority
By this, I don’t mean anything crazy. What I do mean is having a minimum set of requirements for which you hold yourself accountable to each day. This helps to start restoring faith and trust in yourself, and builds evidence for the kind of person you want to become and the life you want to lead.
For example, try to think about the following:
- What time do you get up in the morning?
- Can you eat a healthier breakfast?
- Are you looking after your appearance?
- Is going for a walk or to the gym a part of your daily routine?
- Are you drinking enough water?
- Do you have a set bedtime?
All of these things benefit your physical health – diet, exercise and sleep – but they will also have a positive impact on your mood and well-being. Use this time to double down your efforts when it comes to looking after yourself, and just focus on one day at a time. There’s no quicker way to feeling strong and independent than being in control of your daily routine.
5. Surround yourself with loved ones
Like journaling, talking has a cathartic and therapeutic effect. When you feel able to open up about the breakup, make sure to speak with family and trusted friends about how you’re feeling.
Whilst they can’t fix it for you, and you may even feel like they don’t understand, it will help you to feel heard and this is a huge part of the healing process. Bottling everything up inside will only increase feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Even on days you just want to hide away, try to say yes when a social invitation comes your way. Some advice says to completely book up your calendar, which I think is a bit extreme and actually runs the risk of you not stopping to process anything. But do lean on people where you need to, foster a healthy support network, and make sure you’re getting out of the house regularly.
6. Practice mirror work & meditation
You probably want to do this when you’re on your own, otherwise people may start to genuinely worry about you! But one thing which really helped me was mirror work.
Set aside a few minutes each day to look at yourself in the mirror and say positive things. For example, I love everything about you. You’re so beautiful. I’m so proud of how strong you are. It may feel silly at first, but looking yourself in the eyes as you say positive affirmations is a powerful way to access your subconscious and plant positive seeds.
Try to also build a meditation habit for 5 minutes in the morning or before bed. This will help you to switch off from over-powering and negative spirals of self-talk. For a further step outside your comfort zone, look for a weekly yoga group that you could join near you.
You find peace not by rearranging the circumstances of your life, but by realising who you are at the deepest level.
You will probably come to this stage quite by accident. You suddenly realise you’ve not thought about your ex all day because you’ve been so engrossed in your new life. What once seemed impossible – that life might not just go on, but actually be enjoyable – is now a distinct possibility. Small, budding feelings of hope and excitement are a good sign you’re moving in the right direction. Now is the time to unpack your baggage, to ensure your heart is open and ready for love again.
7. Do a relationship inventory
A recent study looking at romantic relationships and breakups of young adults found that when individuals took the time to understand the reasons for their breakup, they suffered less and were more satisfied in their next relationship.
People say that time is a great healer, but my own personal view is that self-investigation is the quickest and most effective medicine. I’ve been 6 months into a breakup before, and still been just as obsessed and stuck in the emotion of the past, all because I refused to see things for what they were or learn the lessons.
To accelerate your healing and give yourself closure, take the time to ask yourself some honest questions about the relationship and breakup:
- Why did the relationship end?
- What part did I/they have to play in this? (Even if you’re sure it was 97% their fault, be self-critical here!)
- What was good about the relationship?
- What did I love and appreciate about them as a partner?
- What wasn’t working about the relationship and what issues were present?
- What qualities did they lack which is important to me in a partner going forwards?
- When did I ignore my own intuition? What (if any) red flags did I overlook?
Curiously examining your relationship from a more objective standpoint can be a real turning point in the recovery process. It also helps to recognise patterns of behaviour and ways in which you are the common denominator. This allows you to take responsibility for the breakup, giving you things to actively work on and fix.
8. Consider therapy
Thankfully, long gone are the days when therapy was seen as taboo or a weakness. In my opinion, seeing a therapist should be something we’re all encouraged to do regularly throughout our lives, during the good times and the bad. Understanding yourself on a deeper level can only lead to positive results.
By doing a relationship inventory, you may be able to do the necessary inner work on your own. But if you’re finding things difficult still, it may help to unpack some of the trauma and baggage with a professional.
It is an initial investment in terms of cost (as well as time finding the right therapist), but what better money could you spend on yourself? By working on deep-rooted issues, you will be a healthier person to attract the right future relationship.
9. Lose yourself in an activity you love
If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to read my post on building a creativity habit: Why You Should Create More, Consume Less.
When your sense of purpose comes from inside yourself and you know how to achieve a level of fulfilment on your own, no one can take this away from you. You become adaptable and much more able to cope with the slings and arrows that are thrown your way.
When you’re going through a breakup, it is a wake-up call to remember your own individual interests and passions. The beauty of singledom is that you can indulge these with no need for compromise anymore! E. Jackson recommends ‘introverting’, which basically means using our downtime to rediscover the things and hobbies we may have overlooked in a relationship.
Stop trying to impress others and learn to fall in love with yourself again; what makes you tick, what makes you an individual, what lights you up? Someone who is confident in their own skin and talents is effortlessly attractive.
Life always waits for some crisis to occur before revealing itself at its most brilliant.
I can’t lie to you that this is an easy process – it isn’t! Breakups shatter your worldview and force you to look at your own life in more detail. What inspires me? Who am I as an individual? What drives me forwards?
Whilst this can be uncomfortable, they’re all good questions to be asking yourself, and getting comfortable with discomfort is the quickest path to growth. This will be a time you look back on as one of self-discovery and meaningful change, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.
Rebuilding is one of the most exciting things you can do, because you can choose to design your life however you want to. For some much-needed motivation to live more intentionally, check out these inspirational quotes.
Have faith and hold on. I can’t wait to see what bigger and better things the universe has in store for you.