Knowing what not to do to get over break up will help you recover more quickly
Romantic rejections don’t just seem excruciating, they actually are. In a proof-of-concept study, participants who had recently gone through a painful breakup lay in fMRI machines (a brain scan that takes images while the person does a specific task) and were instructed to think about the breakup while looking at photographs of the person who broke their heart. What the researchers found was amazing: The exact same pathways became activated in their brains as become activated when people experience physical pain.
What makes heartbreak even worse is the pain they elicit goes on for much longer than pain typically associated with physical injuries. When you break your leg, it hurts terribly in the moment but minutes or hours later when your bones are set, the pain goes down to a dull throb. But the emotional pain caused by heartache lasts days, weeks and even months.
One of the main reasons it takes so long to recover from heartbreaks is people usually indulge in thoughts and behaviors that might feel natural and compelling but actually makes things worse. This happens not because we’re all masochists but because we lack the awareness and education to realize that our ‘natural’ way of responding to emotional wounds of all kinds (such as rejection, failure, or loneliness) often makes the injury worse—in other words, our basic ‘emotional hygiene’ tends to be very poor.
So if you want to stop hurting sooner rather than later, here are seven mistakes to avoid to get over break up when you’ve experienced a painful heartbreak:
1. Negative self-talk: One of the most common things people do after getting rejected is to be hard on themselves. You might find yourself listing all you shortcomings, faults, and inadequacies, calling yourself names, chastising yourself in other ways or recalling other rejections or failures from your past. Remember that your ego and self-esteem are already hurting—so don’t make it worse! Using negative self-talk after a painful rejection is akin to breaking your leg and then deciding to smash it with a hammer. Be as compassionate toward yourself as you would be to a friend whose heart had just been broken.
2. Brooding about your mistakes: Maybe you made mistakes in the relationship, and perhaps you need to learn from them but most people can figure out what those were rather quickly. Tempting as it is to brood about them and ruminate about them and go over them repeatedly—don’t. Once you’ve identified what your mistakes might have been, going over them again and again will only make you feel worse and delay your emotional recovery.
3. Idealizing the person who dumped you. One of the tasks of getting over someone is to take them off the pedestal and de-idealize both them and the relationship. If the person broke your heart, either they or/and the relationship simply were not as amazing as you thought they were. Therefore, you have to change your perceptions of who the person was to realistically include the various flaws and character defects they displayed during the breakup process. Romanticizing the person even further and dwelling on the good times will only make it harder and more painful to deal with the reality of the breakup.
4. Avoiding new romantic opportunities. Of course you shouldn’t throw yourself into dating when your heart is still freshly broken but you should also be proportionate in how long you give yourself to ‘grieve’ and ‘get over’ the person. If you’ve only be dating for two months it is neither necessary nor wise to take six months off from dating. Give yourself a reasonable deadline and then get ‘back in the game’ once that amount of time has passed.
5. Taking a break from activities you enjoy: Naturally you might not feel like doing the things you used to enjoy when your heart is still aching but here too, you should set a deadline for a reasonable amount of ‘mourning’ time and then re-engage in those things even if you don’t really feel like it. Avoiding such activities deprives you of important distractions and it squelches important aspects of who you are as a person. On the other hand, engaging in activities you used to enjoy, even if you can’t fully enjoy them yet, will help reconnect you to your core self and the person you were before the breakup.
6. Withdrawing from those who love and value you: The instinct to withdraw can be powerful after a breakup, but it should only be indulged for a limited amount of time. By avoiding the people who love and value you, you are depriving yourself of their caring, love and concern which are important for your self-esteem and recovery. Even if you don’t feel fully up to it, connect with people who care about you. Feel free to ask them to avoid discussing the breakup if you prefer not to talk about it.
7. Keeping painful reminders around you: Although it’s tempting to keep reminders of the person or the relationship around you (such as photographs, both printed and online, mementos, decorations, social media statuses, rings, etc…) remember that such items are also a vivid and constant reminded of the relationship and as such can also be very painful. While it might not be necessary to purge ever single reminder of the person, give thought to whether having such items around is preventing you from moving on and to the extent they are it might be best to remove them from eyesight.
And for an in-depth look at how to recover from rejection and revive your self-esteem check out Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts(link is external) (Plume, 2014).