In my practice as a psychotherapist, I’ve worked with many clients who struggle to maintain their self-esteem after a bad breakup. Even if the reason for the breakup is clear, it’s easy to fall into the “What’s wrong with me that I can’t maintain a relationship?” way of thinking. And that can be a deep, dark pit from which no amount of ice cream can pull you out.
From the outside looking in, it’s easy to see that these thoughts are unfounded and not worth investing time and energy into. But when you’re the one going through the breakup, it’s hard to separate the emotional impact of a breakup from reality.
To help, here are five positive and true things to think about for the negative and untrue thoughts we dwell on post-breakup.
Think this: “A failed relationship is never just one person’s fault.”
Not this: “It’s all my fault.”
It’s easy to start exclusively blaming yourself for the demise of the relationship. You might look back and think, “If only I didn’t nag him so much,” or “I should have been more supportive about XYZ and then we’d have never broken up.” While those things may be true, remember that a relationship involves two people, and it’s never just one person’s fault that the relationship ended. Don’t let your memory paint him as a saint while you take all of the blame. Instead, remind yourself that you both have faults (which you can grow from) and that you don’t bear all the responsibility for the breakup.
Think this: “This relationship isn’t predictive of future relationships.”
Not this: “If he couldn’t love me, nobody will.”
My clients will often turn their recent breakup into a fortune telling event. They believe that because someone broke up with them no one else will want to be in a relationship with them. This is an inaccurate, not to mention damaging, way of thinking. Just because you and your ex weren’t right for one another doesn’t mean you are unlovable. You are lovable and the reasons this relationship ended are not necessarily predictive of future relationships. It may seem obvious, but it’s helpful to remind yourself of this fact every now and then.
Think this: “I am as lovable as I project myself to be.”
Not this: “There's something wrong with me.”
Don’t fall into the self-fulfilling prophecy trap. If you don’t believe you are lovable, your actions will communicate that; if you think to yourself, “No one will want to date me,” you are going to act that way. You might subconsciously keep others at an arm’s length emotionally, making it hard to meet new people because you are too afraid of getting hurt again. You'll end up closing yourself off from the opportunity to be in a successful relationship. Yes, it’s hard after a breakup, but try not to close yourself off emotionally.
Think this: “He was not the only amazing thing about me.”
Not this: “I am nothing without him.”
Sure, you may have loved having your ex in your life. But, post-breakup, it’s helpful to remind yourself that your self-worth is not solely dependent on one person’s assessment of you. Instead of focusing your attention on the loss of his presence in your life, access other sources of self-esteem. Be intentional about reminding yourself of your positive qualities. What are you good at? What are your talents? What accomplishments or qualities are you most proud of? It’s easy to forget that you are a unique, multi-faceted, and amazing human being when you are fixated on the one part of your life that isn’t going as well as you’d like.
Think this: “I have friends and family who love me and want to be there for me.”
Not this: “I’m so alone.”
Breakups are a wonderful opportunity to re-invest in healthy relationships outside of your romantic ones. Not only that, it’s helpful to surround yourself with supportive friends and family after you’ve gone through a breakup. I always encourage my clients to seek out emotional support from their network. The people closest to you are the ones who can help you see beyond the immediate effects of the breakup and look towards the big picture of your life. They can be there to help you remember what positive things you have going on in your life right now when it’s hard for you to do so.
It’s not an easy thing to move away from negative and unhealthy (and untrue) paths of thinking after a breakup. But the effort of redirecting your thoughts to a more positive, healthy, and truthful narrative will pay off quickly. Remember, a breakup can be a growing experience, and it doesn’t have to derail your life.
Photo Credit: Felix Russell-Saw