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Tuesday, 23 Oct 2018

How to Handle a Break Up

By Dr Becky Spelman

break upA break up is never a pleasant experience, even in cases when you’ve left on your own terms, there can still be residual emotions that need to be worked through. It doesn’t matter whether it was the end of a toxic relationship, a mutual parting of ways, or even because of external factors. If you spend enough time with someone, you’re bound to develop feelings for them.

The sense of loss that accompanies a separation can be quite overwhelming, especially if you were the rejected party. The mental and emotional turmoil shouldn’t be trivialised, as the capacity to experience pain, while maintaining a functional life varies with each individual. This can become complicated even further if there is denial at play.

To get yourself back on track, there needs to be an understanding of where you’re at in your particular process. You may find yourself breezing back to self-sufficiency in no time, but if you’re stuck in a rut, being aware of these three steps can serve as a useful measure of recovery.

Grief – It is more often associated with physical death, but the ending of relationships play out in much the same way. There is a strong emotional attachment to a person, which, once it has ended usually results in us never seeing them, again. It is the death of them in our life.

Acceptance – This can be a fairly swift stage, but how soon you arrive at this point depends on how long you spend in the grief part of the process. Before you’re able to progress any further, there needs to be a letting go for you to move on with your life, which comes with acceptance.

Reclamation – The final and most important part of recovery involves taking back your identity. In a partnership, you risk becoming so intertwined with the other person you become co-dependent. To feel empowered once more, you need to remember what makes you great!

Going through a break up is a process of restoration.

This idea of reclamation is often overlooked, but if you draw on the verbiage used around relationships in social settings and pop culture, you can see the concept of shared identity seeping into the collective consciousness.

It’s no coincidence that couples are often referred to in the singular as an ‘item,’ and if you look to the mainstream with the dubbing of celebrity relationships, such as ‘Brangellina,’ referring to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, it reinforces the narrative, despite how harmless it may appear.


A recent study into MRI brain scans has shown how exiting romantic relationships has the same effect as withdrawal from cocaine or heroin. In short, you become physically addicted or dependent on the person you’re in a relationship with.

These findings go a long way in explaining why feelings towards ex-lovers can be so hard to shake, and also why so many fall into the pattern of on again off again romances. The process of reclamation hasn’t been recognised or allowed to take place.

To free yourself of these repetitious behaviours, you must engage in other pursuits, that, over time will lead to the creation of new neural pathways in the brain, and the end of your lingering co-dependency issues.

Here are some pointers to keep in mind if you’re finding yourself struggling with the fall-out of your break up:

Self Expression – Allowing yourself to feel the full spectrum of emotions during a break up is absolutely one of the healthiest things – and believe or not – kindest things you can do for yourself. If you’re sad, frustrated or angry, don’t hide it. Those feelings will only loom larger until they’re expressed. By acknowledging your emotions, you take ownership of them, allowing closure to be experienced much sooner.

Don’t Blame Yourself – Endlessly trying to rationalise your situation usually has one end result, and that’s telling yourself, ‘If only I would have done this or that better, then maybe…’ Relationships are learning experiences, and the benefit of hindsight can teach us a lot about how to do things differently in the future, but succumbing to unwarranted feelings of shame and guilt is not helpful in the recovery process.

Maintaining Distance – In today’s world of social media, this can be a tough one. We’re connected in so many more ways than before, maintaining boundaries is easier said than done. In the unlikely event an ex hasn’t appeared on your newsfeed, the urge to ‘check up on them’ could always prove too much. However, allowing them to remain at the forefront of your mind can seriously hinder the process of acceptance and reclamation. If you’ve agreed to maintain a platonic relationship, taking a break from each other might be necessary in the beginning.

See Your Friends – You might not feel like spending too much time with others immediately after a break up, but social interaction is a great healer. If you isolate yourself for extended periods, you risk being consumed by your emotions, replaying events over and over. Getting out with friends is great to fill your mind with positive thoughts, smoothing the transition back to a life of independence and self-assuredness. Distraction is a highly effective tool for getting yourself out of the mire, and there are no better distractions than people! Get out, have fun and create new experiences with old friends you’ve been neglecting.


For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.

You may also want to read our issue page about recovering from a painful breakup.

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