Romantic love is mystical and magical — permeating every aspect of mind, body and spirit until you are completely consumed. The intensity of the attraction, the depths of the desire, and the power of the passion are simultaneously exhilarating, intoxicating and terrifying. Tremendous courage is a prerequisite for the awesome vulnerability of opening up your heart, body and soul for love.
When that love is not reciprocated or sustained, it can be devastatingly sad, like a death. Like a flower that yearns for the sun until it blossoms completely, until every last petal drops, heartbreak leaves you feeling turned inside out. Not having your love reciprocated or being rejected can trigger a grief response that mirrors a depressive episode. Symptoms may include difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite, sadness, apathy, hopelessness and sometimes even loss of the will to live.
The heartbroken often struggle with feelings of powerlessness; frustration that it’s not within their control to make things the way they want. Many internalize the rejection of a break-up to mean that they are somehow not worthy, not capable of a sustaining relationship, or not lovable on a deeper level. This self-loathing can take root and cause a pessimistic view of the future, igniting panic and despair that love may never be found again.
Many people seek therapy to remedy a broken heart. In treatment, we try to understand and analyze our love relationships. Are we recreating old patterns? Filling a void? Addicted to love? Seeking ego validation? Dysfunctional? Delusional? Naive? Insane? Perhaps. Or maybe we are just human and subject to the forces of love.
Recovery from heartbreak is much like processing grief, so we go through the following stages:
- Denial (“This can’t be the end, I’m sure he will call.”)
- Anger (“I hate her.”)
- Bargaining (“Maybe if I behaved differently, it would work.”)
- Depression (“I never want to love again so I never feel this pain again.”)
- Acceptance (“It was. And now, it is over.”)
In my practice, I have counseled hundreds through the depths of the depression that accompanies heartbreak. I recommend the following:
1) Know your love and feelings were real. Just because it didn’t last doesn’t mean it wasn’t real or true. You’re not crazy, foolish, wrong or delusional.
2) Understand love is always a gift. Love is a blessing even if it ends painfully, for heartbreak bears great wisdom.
3) Consider that all things happen and people come into our lives for a reason. Eckhart Tolle says, “Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness.” A relationship that ends is not a mistake or failure.
4) Stay in the present. Don’t ruminate about the past or second guess your actions. Don’t worry about the future. (“Will he find somebody else? Will that relationship be better?”) Stay out of your head, for that is a dangerous place to go. Practice mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and meditation. Imagine breathing in what you need (strength, hope, energy) and out what you don’t (pain, aches, sadness).
5) Release feelings of anger, hatred and thoughts of revenge. Understand this are all related to ego and cause you more harm than good. Anger exacerbates anxiety and depression, keeps us tethered and prevents us from moving forward. As Nelson Mandela said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.” In a moment of quiet, repeat the mantra, “I forgive and release you and let you go.”
6) Let go of the attachment or connection. Don’t be a whack-a-mole and repeatedly poke your head up for rejection from the object of your affection. As Mark Twain said, “Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.” Care enough about yourself to conserve your energy for those who deserve it, starting with yourself!
7) Get support. Talk to friends and family who are empathic and kind. Tell them specifically what you need from them. If your friends are tired of your broken record, consider therapy or a support group. Get immediate help if feeling so depressed you are suicidal.
8) Know you are lovable. Do not misinterpret the end of a relationship as meaning you are somehow not enough. Sometimes people aren’t capable of giving us the love we need and deserve, which is their issue and not yours. You are exactly as you should be and are perfectly lovable just the way you are.
9) Practice self-love. Recognize masochistic and self-harm behaviors (not eating, substance abuse, risky behaviors, etc.) and nip them in the bud. As Buddha said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Stick to structure and routine and get proper rest, nutrition and exercise. Don’t isolate yourself or your depression will take a deeper hold on you.
10) Know this too shall pass. Put one foot in front of the other and time will heal your wounds. Even if you can’t imagine feeling better or being open to love again, you most certainly will. In my practice, I have been awed and amazed by the resiliency of the human spirit.