Kaitlin Broderick LCPC

Relationship breakups are something that almost everyone experiences at one point or other during their life. They can leave us feeling devastated and confused. More often than not, our romantic relationships are the area in our lives where we have devoted the most time and energy into, and when this is suddenly taken away it can leave us feeling lost and uncertain. These are some common similarities that many people experience after a breakup and tips on how to get through this painful experience. 

Many people feel a rollercoaster of emotions ranging anywhere from sadness to anxiety to anger. These emotions may all come and go within the same day. On top of all this, breakups can actually manifest in physical pain since social pain and physical pain can share the same neural pathways in the brain. In the beginning of a relationship your dopamine and oxytocin or feel-good chemicals increase. When a breakup occurs, these feel-good chemicals decrease and your cortisol levels (you can think of this as a stress hormone) increase which can result in nausea and anxiety. 

On top of all these physical symptoms, there are many similarities people’s minds go to after a breakup. Obsessing over every little detail of the relationship and wondering where it all went wrong is common. Catastrophizing is also frequent where a person begins to truly believe “I will never find someone like them again”  or ‘I will be alone forever”. Another common manifestation after a breakup is to distort the reality of the relationship, focusing only on the good aspects and conveniently forgetting all the reasons why this person may not have been a good match for you. Force yourself to think of all the things that annoyed you about your ex or all the times you felt unhappy or insecure in the relationship. Recognizing that your mind is creating these cognitive distortions and forcing yourself to remember the negative aspects of the relationship can help you to look at the situation in a more realistic way.  Another thing to be aware of is that occasionally breakups can cause old traumas or things from our past that we haven’t dealt with to resurface. For example, if you find yourself feeling completely devastated after a brief relationship where you weren’t even that into the person, it may be that something from the past or old abandonment issues are coming to the surface. 

Although it may be tempting to follow your ex on social media, this is a surefire way to prolong the suffering and is one of the most painful things we can do to ourselves. Although this may be difficult to do, removing your ex from your social media accounts and getting rid of pictures or objects that remind you of them will make things easier and speed up the process of the recovery from the breakup. It might help to think of an addict trying to get over an addiction-every time you look at pictures of your ex you are getting a temporary “hit” that only prolongs the recovery process. 

It is also normal to wallow for a bit of time and neglect exercising or eating well. Be kind to yourself-you may not immediately feel motivated to take care of yourself and eat well but if the wallowing or isolation becomes excessive or prolonged it may be helpful to see a professional. 

Examine what areas of your life you feel may have been neglected during the relationship-maybe it was your career or your friendships and family-and devote your energy into those areas that you felt were neglected. Breakups hurt terribly in the moment but ultimately they can help you grow, find balance, and think about characteristics you do and don’t want in a partner moving forward. 

If you would like to talk to a therapist about relationships, we offer a range of counseling services including individual therapy, relationship therapy, and couples counseling in Chicago. Contact Symmetry Counseling today.