How To Mend A Broken Heart
Updated: Feb 21
'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?
It is no understatement to say a broken heart is akin to a bereavement but perhaps the hardest thing is knowing that the other person is still out there - getting on with their life - enjoying themselves! Meanwhile you are trying to piece yourself back together.
And as with grief - there is no blueprint nor time frame for recovery.
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'.
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’.
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.
Whilst this might sound extreme, the fact is, 40% of people who are going through heartbreak experience clinically recognisable depression.
In situations like this, it is understandable that you would search out a quick fix to try and move on.
The Psychotherapist Guy Winch has done a Ted Talk - How To Heal A Broken Heart - on this very subject. His opening battle cry: ‘getting out of heartbreak isn’t a journey … it’s a fight.’
I agree with Guy that heartbreak can feel like a fight, but I also believe that after heartbreak, 'you need to find your way back to your self'.
Taking time to explore why you respond the way you do in relationships is not about changing who you are, rather it is about knowing yourself deeply.
An outcome of knowing yourself deeply is that feelings become less scary, behaviour is done with awareness and communication becomes clearer and is heard.
I really enjoyed Guy’s Ted Talk and he makes a particularly valid point: from today, you need to accept the relationship is over. It is finished. Your ex has decided, for whatever reason, to walk away. Do not hold out for hope.
As he says, ‘Hope can be incredibly destructive when your heart is broken’.
This might sound like tough love, but what Guy means by this is that much time and effort can be wasted idealising your ex, sentimentalizing the 'good times'. You have to let go.
The friend of mine who had been through debilitating heartbreak wanted their ex to remember all the good times they had spent together. This wasn’t about trying to win the ex back, but some acknowledgement about the significance of the relationship and what had been lost was needed.
So they printed out all the photographs of the two of them together. These were beautiful photographs, everyone laughing, the sun shining, days out and adventures shared. But the ex wrote back and said, 'this was your dream, not mine'. That was initially devastating but my friend said, there is something potentially healing in those harsh words.
We all create a narrative around love, but the fact is, it is a subjective narrative. There is a reason why an ex is an ex: they did not share your narrative or your idea of love. They wanted something different. You may never know what that is and this is not about proportioning blame - to yourself or your ex. You will not be able to change them, you need to move on.
And if you do not want to move on, ask yourself, what purpose does that serve? Maybe you need to take time out to lick your wounds? Maybe you need to reflect on what you need from a relationship and how you can ask for those needs to be met so that they will be, by someone who cares for you.
Remember: working through a broken heart is not about trying to control how you feel - to an extent a broken heart has to be endured. Talking through this with someone who is supportive can really help.
I leave it to the author and activist Najwa Zebian who reminds us:
'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.'