How to navigate a breakup: an expert guide to moving on
Breakups are never easy, whether you’re the one initiating the breakup or the one being left behind. Letting go of an emotional connection can often be devastating, leading to feelings similar to grief or depression.
The process of healing from a breakup can take some time, and you may need some help along the way, but it is possible to emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before.
Here Balance speaks to Dr Lisa Turner, author and founder of CETfreedom, an organisation specialising in training professional relationship coaches, about the science behind breakups, why they’re so hard to cope with, and what you can do to heal from the trauma of a breakup.
Balance: What happens to our brains during and after a breakup?
Dr Turner: When we fall in love, our brain releases a powerful cocktail of feel-good chemicals: oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. These neurotransmitters induce feelings of happiness, pleasure and attachment. When a relationship ends, these levels plummet, leading to feelings of sadness, stress, and loneliness. Add to this, the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, the hormones can trigger the fight or flight response. We are left feeling anxious, fearful, and desperate. The joy we used to feel in things such as food, exercise or hobbies is gone, resulting in feeling unmotivated to do anything. All joy in life might seem as if it’s gone. Research actually shows that the brain processes breakups similarly to how it processes physical pain. When we experience rejection, our brain activates the same regions that are active during physical pain, which explains why breakups can be so emotionally painful.
Balance: Why are breakups so hard to cope with?
Dr Turner: Breakups are hard to deal with for a variety of reasons. Firstly, we simply miss the person. We get used to that person being there, even if they irritate or annoy us, we get habituated to their presence in our lives. Add to that feeling of grief, loss and abandonment along with other negative emotions such as anger, resentment, sadness, and fear of the unknown as your future plans may need to change. One of the most damaging things of all is if we internalise the meaning of the break up to make it mean something limiting or negative about ourselves. If you interpret the break up to make it mean that you are in some way lacking or unworthy of love, these interpretations can be installed as limiting beliefs and the effect of these can cripple, leading to ongoing struggles in future relationships. We may feel rejected, unlovable, and insecure about our worthiness as a partner. All of this can lead to a loss of self-esteem and confidence. We often define ourselves by our relationships, and a breakup can lead to an identity crisis as we try to figure out who we are without our partners.
Balance: What can you do if you’re the one that’s been left?
Dr Turner: Give yourself time and space to grieve the loss of the relationship. Allow yourself to feel the emotions that come up, whether it’s anger, sadness, or despair. Avoid suppressing your feelings or avoiding them, as this can prolong the healing process. Many well-meaning friends may try to take your mind off it or distract you, but this only further prolongs the healing. Instead, make sure you still take care of yourself during this time. Engaging in self-care activities such as exercise, meditation, and spending time with friends and family who are supportive can help. You may want to consider seeking professional support from a therapist or coach. Therapists can provide a safe and non-judgmental space for you to process your emotions and work through any underlying issues that may have contributed to the breakup.
Balance: What can someone do to heal from the trauma of a breakup?
Dr Turner: It’s important to avoid the assumption that all breakups are traumatic or that they have to be hard to overcome. This belief in itself can be very damaging as it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, that you’ll be hurting and suffering for a long time. Some things that can help are meditation, journaling, and therapeutic art. Continue to take care of yourself even if it isn’t easy, practice self-compassion and treat yourself with kindness and understanding. Make time for the activities you usually enjoy, and strengthen and renew your connections with friends and family. They can provide emotional support, encouragement, and a sense of belonging during this difficult time. Create a new routine to help you regain a sense of control and normalcy in your life. Establish clear boundaries with your ex-partner, particularly if you share children, pets, or belongings. This will help you maintain a healthy distance while you heal. This can actually be a great time for personal growth and development. Use this time to explore your interests, hobbies, and passions. Set goals for yourself and work towards them, whether it’s learning a new skill, travelling to a new place, or starting a new job.
Balance: Does the ‘no contact’ rule really work when it comes to moving on?
Dr Turner: The ‘no contact’ rule involves cutting off all contact with your ex-partner, including social media, phone calls, and text messages. This is particularly important if you have been in a relationship that has involved any kind of abuse or coercive control. It is essential that you avoid all contact with your ex as they may use this as an opportunity to reassert control and influence over you once more. There’s a reason you broke up. Remind yourself of what it was. Was there a mismatch of life goals and desires? Were your values and expectations wildly out of alignment? It may be tempting to reach out to your ex in the hope of reconciliation or closure, but this is generally a bad idea and it is far better to avoid contact for a period of time after a breakup. This can help you to focus on your own healing and prevent any further emotional harm or confusion. The duration of the no-contact period can vary depending on the circumstances of the breakup and the individuals involved. However, it’s generally recommended to avoid contact for at least 30 days and up to several months in some cases. By not engaging with your ex-partner, you avoid reopening old wounds and prevent unnecessary emotional turmoil. No contact may not work for everyone, if you share children or have mutual friends, it might be challenging to maintain complete separation. In such cases, it’s crucial to establish clear boundaries and keep communication strictly limited to essential matters.
Dr Lisa Turner is the founder of CETfreedom, a spiritual and consciousness awakening organisation, specialising in training professional coaches and practitioners in her signature process Conscious Emotional Transformation, (CET) and is the author of CET Yourself Free.