Breaking up with a loved one is always a devastating experience, whether you are the one who decided to end the relationship or the one who has been abandoned. Scientific studies show that the top 3 most stressful life events have been related to emotional split-ups – death of a spouse, divorce and marital separation, respectively (Holmes & Rahe, 1967). What makes a breakup so difficult in the eyes of so many people is the combination of various psychological mechanisms underlying this situation: loss of a person you loved, strong feeling of injustice, sense of emptiness, fear of the unknown, failed emotional investment etc. We have all experienced these unpleasant sentiments: however, if you let them overcome you, it will just give the strength to your fear, anger and frustration and you will become the hostage of your own negative emotions.
Key to successful emotional management is in learning about yourself and your genuine feelings, taking control over your emotional life and resisting short-term temptation in order to get life-long satisfaction (Salovey & Mayer, 1990; Mischel, Ebbesen, & Raskoff Zeiss, 1972). Many famous women nowadays owe their glory and success to their breakups. Adele won six Grammies for the album inspired with her emotional crash; Halle Berry managed to escape the abusive relationship and to enter the list of the most paid Hollywood actresses; J.K. Rowling wrote the `Harry Potter` saga thanks to being a single mom juggling two jobs.
Even if your ambitions do not include a Grammy, an Oscar or a Nobel, we can all learn something from impressive life stories of these women: how to turn the negative situation to our own advantage. Next 5 steps will help you to return to the right path after breakup.
- PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION. It is essential to take some time rethinking your previous relationship and to evaluate what was good, what went wrong and most importantly, what can you learn from this experience and what kind of mistakes you will try to avoid next time around. Recent study conducted by scientists of Northwestern University (Larson & Sbarra, 2015) showed that spending some extra time reexamining different aspects of ex-relationship could make the recovery process faster and more productive. It may seem quite difficult to deal with breakup experiences while the wounds are still fresh; however, it is the only way to break away from all the negative emotions once and for all and to provide yourself a chance for clean emotional start.
- GOAL SETTING. No matter how much breakup hurts, there is one positive aspect to it that nobody can deny: you have much more time for yourself and you have the opportunity to discover what you want from life as an individual. First of all, think about your priorities: you may realize that they have changed and that there are other things you now find much more important, like building your professional portfolio, traveling, socializing etc. When you clarify this to yourself, try to set the goals that you would like to achieve in the following period of time. Make sure that those goals are SMART:
S (specific) – define your goals in a precise way
M (measurable) – set the exact standards that you will be able to evaluate
A (achievable) – stop chasing the impossible, it is just an excuse for not making the real change
R (relevant) – think about your biggest ambitions, don`t settle for less
T (trackable) – create one-week goals, one-month goals, six-month goals, one-year goals etc.
In a short-term way, goal setting will help you to overcome some negative aspects of breakup (having too much free time, feeling disoriented, lacking content). In a long-term way, it will push you to follow your dreams that you may already dismissed from your list as unreachable.
- CHANGING OF DAILY ROUTINE. Big changes in your life inevitably include small changes on a daily level. Just like in case of the previous step: don`t stick to the known, chase your dreams and do whatever makes you happy! Sign up for a new class or workshop: you will gain a new skill and meet new people with whom you have at least one common interest. Be adventurous: spend time outdoors, be active, explore new places (even if it is just a new pastry shop in a new neighborhood – the important step is to break the pattern!). Surprise yourself with a makeover: change your hairstyle, makeup style, interior details etc. By collecting new positive experiences, memories from the past will eventually fade away.
- RESISTING TEMPTATION. Now when you put your life in order, don`t let the fear or the moment of weakness pull you down again. At the beginning, avoid all kinds of temptation related to your past relationship: don`t stalk your ex via social networks, don`t ask your mutual friends about his/her whereabouts, delete his/her phone number and don`t answer any potential calls. After some time, you will realize how rewarding your new life is and the ephemeral temptation will lose all its strength.
- BE GOOD TO YOURSELF. Once you regain the control over your life, be aware of the possible obstacles on your new journey. Stress and negative experiences could easily induce the need for something that psychologists call `contact comfort`(Harlow, 1958): it can make you forget all the pain caused by your separation and activate the need to run into one`s his/hers arms. However, you can prevent these negative consequences by growing various self-protection mechanisms: having time just for yourself, relaxing, reading, going out with your friends, indulging your wishes etc. At the end, you need to learn to take care of yourself instead of waiting for someone else to do that for you. And do have that strawberry ice-cream. After all you deserve it.
CamomileQ gives you the tools to get over break up and boost your life through fun, interactive and science-based Hello Next! Forget your Ex App.
By Marina Musatova, Psy.D. and Katarina Mijatovic, MSc.
Harlow, H. (1958). The Nature of Love. American Psychologist, 13, , 673-685.
Holmes, T. H., & Rahe, R. H. (1967). The social readjustment rating scale. Journal of psychosomatic research, 11, 213-218.
Larson, G., & Sbarra, D. (2015, January 6). Participating in Research on Romantic Breakups Promotes Emotional Recovery via Changes in Self-Concept Clarity. Social Psychological and Personality Science. doi:10.1177/1948550614563085
Mischel, W., Ebbesen, E. B., & Raskoff Zeiss, A. (1972). Cognitive and attentional mechanisms in delay of gratification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 21 (2), 204–218.
Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. (1990). Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 9, 185-211.