Linda arrived home one day to find a note on the kitchen table from her husband, stating that he no longer loved her and that he'd left their family home. Shocked and confused, she sat on her kitchen floor for two days, crying at the note and the inevitable repercussions of this tiny piece of paper. A fortnight later, she arrived at my office, desperate for help. How could she stand this? How could she possibly get over the breakdown of her marriage? What on earth was she supposed to do with all the horrible messy feelings?
A break-up can be devastating; no matter what the circumstances, it can be painful, shocking, and in some cases, totally unexpected. Some of us can recover from these situations and move on, whilst others never really get over that lost love. There's no getting away from these facts, but there are things you can do to not only survive a break-up, but actually grow from it.
Here are seven steps that will allow you to do both.
Step One: Start with Small Consistent Steps.
In the first painful few weeks after her husband left, Linda found it difficult to get out of bed every morning; she simply couldn't face the prospect of even one day without her husband, let alone the rest of her life. This kind of long-term thinking can be poisonous in the early days of a relationship breakdown. Instead, focusing on small consistent steps such as, getting through the day one hour at a time. What are you going to do this hour? Get up, have a shower, have some breakfast? That's achievable - after all, you've been doing this your whole life and you were doing it before your relationship even started. Don't be ashamed to begin with very small consistent steps.
Step Two: Accept the Situation Exactly as it is.
By this, I don't mean condone or agree with it - instead, radically accept the situation for what it is, warts and all. Denial won't help here; it will just set you back several weeks, when you could be recovering, healing and moving forward with your life. This can be incredibly difficult, but it will lead to a turning point. Why? Because it allows you the chance to start adapting to the break-up. One of Linda's problems was that a large part of her believed her husband would realise his mistake and return to her, and I had to help her fully accept that he no longer loved her. This was painful but absolutely crucial.
Step Three: Look after your Physical Health.
Your health will probably be the last thing on your mind after a break-up, but it is essential that you look after yourself, as your body will likely be in a stress response. Even though you may not feel like it, ensure you're eating regularly and healthily. And, do some form of physical activity, walking is one of the best ways of increasing dopamine in the brain, this will immediately help you feel just that little bit better. Listen to what your body needs and take some quiet time to reboot; being healthy will enable you to adapt more quickly to the changes in your life. Linda decided to take control and signed up for an organic food delivery service, meaning that for a month she had healthy cooked food and juices delivered to her door daily, allowing her to feel physically stronger and ready to adapt and recovery.
Step Four: Damage Limitation.
Keep repeating these words: How can I limit the damage? The answer to this question often includes taking psychological responsibility for what you need to do, such as having a difficult yet crucial conversation. In Linda's case, she had to find a way to take responsibility for a painful discussion she needed to have with her husband, after which she realised that he really did no longer love her. Everything she believed about their relationship had been shattered, and while this was hard to understand, it helped to hear it. After the conversation has taken place, you'll be in a better position to accept that things will change, allowing you to recover from the shock and become more resiliently fit.
Step Five: Be Productive.
After a break-up, you probably won't feel like doing anything at all, but there's nothing like being productive to help with the adaptation and recovery phases of resilience. Focusing on your job can be incredibly useful, even if you're just concentrating on a small aspect of it. Doing this will give you a feeling of control about the situation, when everything else about your life feels out of control. Linda began focusing on a project she was managing at work, putting all of her energy into this instead of spending her time thinking about her relationship. While this is a short-term solution, it can make you feel better about yourself and get you ready to tackle what comes next.
Step Six: Increase your Curiosity.
Almost all of the research on resilience - including my own - demonstrates the importance of curiosity; the more curious you are about finding solutions, the better able you will be able to focus on the solutions rather than the problems. Questions are your currency. So, take a few minutes each morning to ask yourself one of the following: What can I do today to help manage this situation? What can I do today to focus on the solution? What can I do today to look after myself? Linda did this every day; each morning on the tube, she'd write down five things she would do to look after herself, plus one question: What have I learned about myself and relationships? Question yourself, this helps develop a growth mindset. Developing a growth mindset in one area of your help you wire your brain to a growth mindset in another area of your life. Being curious is worth it.
Step Seven: Self-Compassion.
After a break-up, there can be a lot of reflection (which is important) and self-berating (which is harmful). Treat yourself as you would a loved one, and don't give yourself such a hard time. You're not useless, worthless, or a failure. Be compassionate with yourself and, more importantly, forgive yourself; too many people blame themselves for what happened, meaning they actually become the cause of their own pain.
Lastly, increase your self-kindness. For Linda, this was the hardest thing of all, as she was consumed with self-hatred. By taking little steps, she managed to forgive herself for what she saw as her own failings, especially when she focused on why the marriage actually failed and realised she was more compassionate and forgiving regarding her husband than she was of herself. In order to turn things around, she booked a holiday to Goa, somewhere her husband would never have gone because of the heat, finding she could be compassionate to herself as well as others.
In the end, Linda found she could survive - and indeed, thrive - without her husband, and as a result of the divorce, she felt like a different person. Although for a while she'd been sad, she gradually became happier and much wiser, learning from her past instead of cowering from it. The biggest lesson she learned from her divorce was that she had the mental toughness to get through it, and once she understood this, she realised she had the resilience to face anything. This courage allowed her to leave her job and start up her own events management company, something she would never have done before her break-up.
These seven steps can be the difference between giving into the heartbreak, and actually using it as a lesson to learn more about yourself and relationships, this will prepare you for your next relationship in a way which you may never have expected. Take the first small courageous step today.