How To Mend A Broken Heart
Updated: Nov 2
'As anyone knows who's been through heartbreak - you need to find your way back to your self' - Armistead Maupin - Tales of the City
A broken heart, few of us ever escape that one, but why is it that some people bounce back and move on, whilst others are left wounded, believing they will never find love again?
Knowing that I was writing this blog, a friend who had been through a debilitating heartbreak asked me to share their experience:
'The first year I thought I was fine, the second year was worse and by the third year I thought I was going mad'. For some, heartbreak really can last that long; it can become a wound they carry forever.
The psychotherapist and writer Robin Norwood reminds us that: 'to be without the relationship - that is, to be alone with one's self - can be experienced as worse than being in the greatest pain the relationship produces, because to be alone means to feel the stirrings of the greatest pain from the past combined with that of the present.'
It is no understatement to say a broken heart is akin to a bereavement. Grief is the longing for what is lost and can never be again. Author Howard Jacobson captures the pain of this in his novel The Finkler Question, ‘Just when you think you've overcome the grief you are left with the loneliness’.
But perhaps the hardest part of a break up is knowing that the other person is still out there, getting on with their life, perhaps even enjoying themselves. Meanwhile for you, the world has stopped spinning and gone monochrome. And like any loss, there is no blueprint nor a timeframe for recovery.
As well as the grief, a break-up can be a serious dent to the 'ego', our sense of who we are. Caught up in a cycle of anger, self-blame and forensic questioning of what went wrong, it is not unreasonable to ask, 'why has this happened to me?' Heartbreak also impacts productivity; people find it hard to get on with their day-to-day lives and this can be extremely debilitating and exhausting. No surprise then that 40% of people who go through heartbreak experience clinically measurable depression.
A relationship needs two people to create it, whilst a break up can feel like an individual experience, especially if the other person has moved on. The fact is, you may never truly know why the other person made the decision to end the relationship and at some point you will need to accept that. There will always be unknowns and of course that can be unsettling.
At a deeper level you may be left with a nagging sense of not being good enough, of being incapable of love, or dare I say it, of being unlovable. Not so much 'why has this happened to me?' but 'what is wrong with me?' This shame process goes to a very deep place and again can seriously debilitate a fragile sense of self.
In his popular Ted Talk How To Mend A Broken Heart - 7 million views and counting - the psychologist Guy Winch offers a toolkit on how to overcome heartbreak and eventually move on. It is a persuasive argument:
He reminds us that gettng over heartbreak 'is not a journey it is a fight. You will need to be willing to let go and accept it is over. According to Guy, 'hope' is unhelpful when your heart is broken. He suggests that you stop hoping the relationship can be rekindled and start seeing your ex for who they are; rather than focusing on the minutiae of why the relationship ended, remind yourself of why your ex was wrong for you. This can be useful, if you take too much responsibility for why the relationship ended, after all there is 'you', 'me' and 'us' in a relationship.
If going heartbreak 'cold turkey' isn't right for you, how about trying this daily ritual which comes from a psychotherapist colleague of mine. They recommend leaning into the heartbreak: create a shrine, light a candle and actively mourn the end of the relationship. Allow yourself to do this for half an hour each day and then put it all aside and get on with the rest of your day. This can help if you ruminate too much and feel overwhelmed by feelings that come out of the blue.
If you are still struggling, there will come a point where you will need to ask yourself some tough questions. I suspect you will have experienced other heartbreaks and abandonments and there may be a pattern. You will need to ask yourself, 'why do I believe I deserve so little?' or 'why do I hold on to someone who cannot give me what I need?'
None of this is straight forward and it will take time. It will involve exploring what happened in your childhood and reflecting on how you were parented. The experiences of our early relationships are fundamental to who we are, they are the framework for how we function and feel in current relationships. If we do not explore and heal these wounds, we will just repeat the patterns.
'Hope' plays an important part here, the hope that you can change.
What may come as a suprise is that 'relationships' are the key to healing and finding your way back to your self'. Psychotherapy can be part of this. I believe that through the therapeutic relationship, in which we experience another with curiousity and openness, we begin to find the space and opportunity to try new ways of being, relating and loving.
Attached: Are You Anxious, Avoidant or Secure? How the science of adult attachment can help you find - and keep love - Dr Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller
Women Who Love Too Much - Robin Norwood