Surviving a breakup comes with challenges. I say “surviving” because breakups can be downright debilitating. It is such a rollercoaster of emotions. You might have known the breakup was coming, or maybe you were the one to initiate it- either way you can still feel blind-sided. There are probably a thousand questions running through your head. How did this happen? How did we get here? Could I have done something differently? Will we get back together? Will I ever find love again?
When they say love is like a drug, they are not kidding. There is scientific evidence that shows in the early stages of falling for someone our brain releases the “feel good” neurotransmitter, dopamine. The release of dopamine can create a euphoric-like feeling where you have more energy, excitement and motivation. When you go through a breakup it’s the opposite; you are flooded with cortisol and stress hormones. Essentially, you are in shock. Because of this you might have a hard time sleeping, concentrating or eating. Everything reminds you of this person and every reminder is another shock to your body. It’s torture! Did you know your brain has been hard-wired with the patterns and routines that you created as a couple? No, you’re not going crazy- you’re going into survival mode and it's completely normal. Your brain has interpreted the separation from your partner as a threat and the separation is like withdrawal for your body.
What to do:
Research shows after eight weeks your body’s emotional response to triggers or reminders will begin to subside. Until then, you need to help calm your nervous system and get rid of the stress hormones. You can do this by exercising, stretching or pacing your breath. Other calming techniques can include: mindfulness exercises and progress muscle relaxation.
Change behaviors and break habits- when you want to send the text write it out but don't send it or send it to a friend (utilize support!). If you share kids or dogs make sure to keep interactions limited. With distance and no contact those neural pathways in your brain will begin to prune away and eventually your new reality will set in, your life without this person. If you keep going back to this person you will not allow this to happen and you will not make space for the new. The on-again, off-again relationship will lead to worsening heartache.
Remember, feelings are temporary, feelings are not facts. The feeling of LOVE can be wrong. Dialectical Behavior Therapy suggest these opposite actions for love: AVOID the person, avoid all contact with everything that reminds you of the person including photos, messages, social media, places you were together, places you planned to or wanted to go together and/or places you know the person has been or will be. DISTRACT yourself from thoughts of the person and stop expressing love towards the person. REMIND yourself of why the love is not justified by rehearsing the “cons” of loving this person.
Amy Chan, founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp encourages you to identify what you are grateful for in this exercise: Write down what happened, the facts of what happened (not interpretations), your accountability in the relationship (it’s not all one person), what did you learn about yourself (find the lesson), what you’re letting go, what you are forgiving and what you are grateful for. Take that letter and BURN IT. RIP IT UP. Repeat this process if you need to.
More importantly, if you are noticing a cycle of unhealthy relationships in your life use this opportunity to investigate more about yourself and relationship history. Who are you attracted to? Relationship after relationship are you re-creating the same emotional experience? What is the pattern (emotional experience)? Are you resentful? Are you over-forgiving? Are you always trying to be the hero and save someone? Are you trying to change someone? How were you modeled love and healthy relationships growing up? You might keep being attracted to people who mirror that same relationship and model of love you were shown as a child. If you were modeled that love=chaos and dysfunction then you are going to seek relationships that create chaos and dysfunction. On the contrary, if the relationship is peaceful and calm you might engage in self-sabotaging behavior because you feel like the person is “boring”. It’s normal!
Talk to a therapist who can help you to learn more about your chemistry compass. As humans we like what is familiar and if your familiarity is unhealthy, a professional can help you to navigate toxic relationship patterns and redirect your chemistry compass. When you put in the work, breakups can lead to positive growth and maturity, deeper self-knowledge, and better days ahead. Remember, you were you before this person.