How To Mend A Broken Heart
Updated: Feb 18
'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 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 becomes a wound they carry forever.
Author Howard Jacobson captures the pain of heartbreak in his novel The Finkler Question, ‘Just when you think you've overcome the grief you are left with the loneliness’.
It is no understatement to say a broken heart is akin to a bereavement. Grief is longing for what can never be again. But perhaps the hardest part 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, where life was saturated colour now it is monochrome. And as with grief - there is no blueprint nor time frame 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?' 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. Heartbreak also impacts productivity; people are unable to function and get on with their day-to-day lives. It is debilitating and exhausting. No surprise then that 40% of people who go through heartbreak experience clinically measurable depression.
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.
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. 'Hope' can be increadilty destructive when your heart is broken. Guy suggests that you need to actively stop idealising your ex and not focus on the mystery and conspiracy theory of why the relationship ended, instead remind yourself why your ex was wrong for you, and if necessary, write down a list and keep it on your phone. When you feel collapsed, remind yourself why the relationship did not work; this can be a way of rebuilding ego strength.
Of course part of any relationship breakdown is accepting that you may never truly know why the other person made the decision to end the relationship. What is yours, what is theirs and what was co-created is blurred. There will always be unknowns and whilst that can be unsettling, an acceptance of that without the habit of forensic analysis, is essential.
You may have lost your identity as a couple, but in moving forward the key is to return to your own identity. As Armistead Maupin writes, 'you need to find your way back to your self'.
There are many paths. Being aware of your relationships patterns may be useful but it is just one part. Reconnecting with activities that bring you joy is of course essential. Taking a risk with something new can give you meaning and purpose. Staying connected is key. Stepping off the path into your inner life can feel mysterious and challenging but it is where the healing happens.
In the meantime, let us remember this from the activist Najwa Zebian:
'Sometimes we give love to the wrong person, and we sit there and wonder, 'how could I have given love to that person? They don't even deserve it, or 'what a waste of time.' But the thing is, you shouldn't think about it that way. You should think of the fact that you were able to give love, because if you are able to give, that means you have it inside you.'