How To Mend A Broken Heart
Updated: Jul 10
'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 devastated, believing they will never find love again?
Knowing that I was writing this blog, a friend of mine 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 can last that long or even longer; abandonment can feel like a wound to be carried forever.
It is no understatement to say that a broken heart is akin to a bereavement. Grief is the longing for what is lost and can never be again. The 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’.
A relationship needs two people to make it happen, whilst a break-up is ultimately an individual experience, but perhaps the hardest part is knowing that the other person is still out there, moving on with their life, perhaps even enjoying themselves! With heartbreak there are always unknowns that have to be endured; there is no blueprint, or timeframe, for recovery.
For some, heartbreak impacts their ability to function on a day to day basis. No surprise then that 40% of people who go through heartbreak have clinically measurable depression.
Whilst heartbreak is a dent to the ego - 'why has this happened to me?' - at a deeper level, the question can be, 'what is wrong with me?' This is shame. Human beings try to avoid shame at all cost, subconsciously masking it with unhelpful, self-limiting behaviour or disowned feelings. When shame is activated and feelings are disowned, you may find yourself moving further and further away from a sense of self that feels balanced and 'whole', to something that feels fractured and cut off.
People who feel heartbreak acutely, are less likely to ask for help; they may be used to relying on themselves. In the past, they may have been told that they are too much and they may not trust anyone to be there for them. They may also be used to 'dumping' on friends or family, but this is very different from asking for help, which is about listening and reflecting as much as talking.
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. He makes a persuasive argument and it's worth watching. He reminds us that getting over heartbreak 'is not a journey; it's a fight.' You have to let go and accept it's over. He suggests being honest with yourself about why the relationship was not right for you. Write it down, and keep it close for when those moments of yearning flare up. According to Guy, 'hope', and by this he means 'deluded' hope, is not helpful when your heart is broken, as it prevents you from moving on.
But if I am honest, I am not sure about the 'quick fix, make this pain stop' approach; I can appreciate its appeal - been there, done that - but it feels a little aggressive at a time when you need to take 'exquisite care of yourself'. There will have been enough recriminations and self-judgement; no one needs to be under even more pressure, or to be set up for possible failure.
Which brings us to the idea, proposed by the author Armistead Maupin, that the key to getting over heartbreak is to find your way back to yourself. But what is meant by that?
This might sound surprising, but we find our way back to ourselves by being connected. Through connection the healing starts. I don’t mean random dating, though there is no harm in getting back in the saddle if you can keep it fun, rather it’s about creating, or reactivating, deeper connections. There are many options out there, depending on what you enjoy. As part of this, it may be time to consider psychotherapy. To have a space, just once a week for one hour, to explore feelings with openness and curiosity with another person, can be a unique and powerful experience. For many, it becomes a dry run for sharing and developing ways of relating, being and loving, and through that, people not only find themselves but they find out that they are able to move on and create new, loving relationships.
Guy Winch: How to Fix A Broken Heart - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0GQSJrpVhM
Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey - Florence Williams
Notes on Heartbreak - Annie Lord
A Manual for Heartbreak - Cathy Rentzenbrink
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