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Going through a break-up can be extremely difficult in a number of ways: emotionally, practically, financially and socially. It’s normal to feel a range of emotions, from loss, grief and sadness, to anger and frustration – and even some relief, depending on the circumstances.
A break up is a form of loss, so it can feel very much like you’re grieving. There’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Some people expect to go through a series of stages, but often grief involves oscillating back and forth between two phases: focusing on the loss, and doing practical tasks to deal with the situation.
If you want to help yourself through a relationship breakdown, there are some principles and tools we use in CBT that might be useful.
You’ll probably have practical tasks that need taking care of – for example, sorting out your partner’s stuff – and these might feel daunting. If you find you’re avoiding certain activities, try to break the task down into smaller chunks and plan when you’re going to do each bit. Aim to get a balance between things you need to get done and activities that bring you pleasure and enjoyment.
While it’s natural to think over what’s happened, or wonder if there was anything you could have done differently, watch how much you’re doing this and the impact it’s having on your feelings. Is scrolling through Facebook doing you any good? Be aware if you’re spending too much time dwelling on the past, or analysing things to the nth degree. This will probably bring up more questions than answers.
If overthinking is bothering you, see if you can notice the times and places when it’s most likely to happen and try doing something different instead. For example, if it happens when you’re commuting make sure you have a podcast to listen to on the journey.
You might find yourself thinking overly negative thoughts, such as “I’ll never find someone else” or “There must be something wrong with me”. Try to recognise that these are just thoughts – they aren’t facts. Take a step back, and see if you can find any evidence that the thoughts are true, then look for evidence that the thoughts aren’t true.
Have you noticed that you tend to do certain things after a break up – such as closing yourself off from social contact, or jumping into another relationship too soon? Be mindful of this, and if you find yourself falling into old behaviours stop and ask yourself: “Am I doing this in response to the break-up, or because it’s what I genuinely want or is best for me?”
Friends and family might have their own thoughts and expectations about relationships in general – or yours in particular. Friends could be sad that their group has been fractured, for example. Parents might have had high hopes for your future, and believe you should have worked on things. Comments like “But you were so good together!” could be upsetting and confusing.
Ask yourself: “Do they have my best interests at heart, or is this coming from their own life and their own experiences?” If you receive a lot of advice from a lot of different perspectives, sift through this to identify what’s true and helpful.
When you’re no longer in a couple, it can seem as though everyone else is! You might be more likely to notice people who are paired up, and wonder “Why am I the single one? Why is everyone else happy?”. First, remember that no relationship is perfect; people tend to curate the best bits for social media! And instead of comparing yourself negatively with others in couples, looking for areas where you ‘fall short’, focus on the characteristics you have that you know people value.
Loneliness can affect absolutely anyone, and you might feel lonely after a relationship ends even if you’re surrounded by other people. Our recent blog about overcoming feelings of loneliness might help here. If you’re experiencing depression or anxiety as a result of a break-up, CBT can give you techniques and strategies to manage your feelings. Begin your journey here.
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