The Ex-Factor – Surviving To Thriving After A Break-Up

Relationships are like glass.  Sometimes it’s better to leave them broken than try to hurt yourself putting it back together – (

Breaking up with someone can feel like one of the hardest things in the world to do and experiencing a broken heart is a universal feeling and a life event almost all of us have gone through at some point. 

Break ups are tough, even when they are handled with care because a split is still an ending, however it occurred.  Ending means change and change is scary. (Especially in a culture that defines relationship goals as “#Forever” where to end is to fail.)  At the end of the day it takes more courage and yes, is more loving to break up with the other person if you know in your heart it’s not right.

Whatever the reason, resist the temptation to find someone new fast.  (Probably the world’s best diversion from processing, right?!) It’s more difficult to heal and move on if you never slowed down to see the message in the mess for yourself in the breakup. After all, it took two to tango. You can’t go over it or under it (and you probably won’t get over it being under someone else!).  Give yourself the time and grace to go through it and allow yourself to mourn in your own way for what has ended and changed in your life.

Letting Go

Letting go is emotional and physical.  It’s important to focus on the primary loss but also, we can forget the secondary losses too.  For example, letting go of our old routines, maybe our homes, shared friends and financial support.  Our identity, everyday roles and our dreams must be renegotiated (perhaps realising how much you may have sacrificed and accommodated who you really are for the relationship). De-coupling is emotionally hard, challenging work and can raise deep questions if we have the courage to dig deep in grieving.  Helpful questions to ask could be:

What did you learn about yourself in this relationship?

What kind of people are you attracted to that don’t work out for you?

What was your intuition and wisdom telling you in your body maybe months or years ago that were signalling to you this wasn’t working that you didn’t listen to?

What can you own about the breakup and what promise to yourself are you going to make to not repeat the same patterns?

The process of mending a broken heart is not easy.  Guilt and Shame, Anger, Anxiety and Depression can all surface.  Every feeling is valid because it’s your experience (there’s no right or wrong way of moving through your process).  Love yourself at this time, understand the emotional and physical responses you may have (that no amount of ice cream eating on the couch can take away) and practise self-care. You may bounce between denial, anger, bargaining and depression and eventually acceptance. There’s no straight line.

 Love is a verb and if you are going to look after yourself here are some practical ways to do it:

Self Care Tips

  • Look after depressive symptoms / feelings – Be kind to yourself. whatever happened, who left who, or if it was mutual, it involves change.  Change triggers our stress response and is exhausting, even when change is good for us.  Depression is also a part of grieving process and realising you can’t change what’s happened (an important part of moving towards acceptance). Give yourself space to mourn. Cry if you need too. Tears are healing as it releases Oxytocin and endorphins and can ease our physical and emotional pain. (Please note, if you are having suicidal thoughts or self harm please see a doctor).
  • Your body needs to rest and rebalance. As change can feel threatening, your brain’s neurotransmitters will be balanced differently, they won’t be reflecting happiness due to the body’s stress response and cortisol will be high (which may in turn interfere with good sleep, see below)
  •  Maintain good sleep hygiene, minimise naps in the day when the sun is up. Try not to dwell on thoughts before bedtime.  Plan a time in the day to reflect on your feelings and maybe set a timer to avoid your thoughts dominating your day and becoming intrusive.
  • Recognise your energy may be low for a while and have self-compassion. Remember this will take time.  Decide what you can and can’t do right now.  Maybe having as healthy as possible pre-packaged food for a week or a couple of weeks as an example of making things easier for yourself where you can.
  • Get emotional and practical support from family and friends.  It’s ok to ask for assistance and being helped promotes Oxytocin, a bonding hormone that raises mood and boosts attention and prevents emotional isolation.
  • Keep a record of your moods. Journal to keep track of the times and intensity of any bursts of grief you may have.  You will notice a gradual easing from overwhelm and will learn different ways of seeing and doing things.  Neural pathways of the brain make new connections and develop alternative responses to what you used to do or feel.
  • Put good food in your body.  Not supplements but antioxidants, protein and water.
  • Move your Body.  This doesn’t have to be the gym.  A walk is free or dance madly in the house, music can be a great healer.  Whatever gets you moving and if you work in your target heart rate your levels of serotonin (feel good hormone) will rise.
  • Caffeine and Nicotine in moderation. These are stimulants which activate the stress response and are best used in moderation.
  • Aromatherapy.  Scents such as Jasmine, Lavender, Bergamot and Chamomile are all soothing for anxiety and stress.  It doesn’t have to be essential oils either.  Think of a scent that brings you calm and soothes you.  This could be fresh coffee, a favourite perfume or scented candle. Smell can boost your serotonin and dopamine hormones that promote positive associations and feeling good.
  • Laugh.  Remember the things that make you happy or used to.  Films or stand up for example.  Laughter can be the best medicine.  It surges the release of endorphins and can adjust serotonin activity.  All-natural feel – good chemicals.
  • Awe Experiences. These experiences can make us feel happier and increase positive emotions.  Primarily they help us to focus our attention not on ourselves but something bigger and as Summer Allen (Psychology today) writes, “make us feel like we are part of something greater than ourselves and make us more generous toward others.”  Deeper insights can be reached and promote positive neurotransmitters which in turn decrease stress, loneliness and depression.
  • Reassure yourself.  Pay attention to how you speak to yourself. Don’t criticise yourself.  What would you say to someone you love? Replace negative thoughts by focusing on what is going right.  Tell yourself “I’m nervous (insert your name) but I’ll handle it”.  Or “I’m anxious (insert your name) but I will be ok”.  Using your name helps you to remember the feelings aren’t all of you and gives you some distance mentally and emotionally to self soothe and calm your mind. (Being a good friend to yourself).
  • Give yourself a Gift.  Do something nice for yourself.  If you would like someone to give you flowers for example, don’t wait.  You can buy them for yourself and can be a reminder of your worth when you look at them. Also doing something nice for someone else or something (maybe feeding the birds) is dopamine and Oxytocin enhancing.  It just feels good! 
  • Everyday do something for yourself.  Don’t focus on replacing the person.  This is about you as an individual.  Don’t be tempted to reach out to your Ex via social media.  This is a separation process.  When the urge rises look to your support system.  Contact friends or family instead. Do just one thing each day for 10 minutes that makes you happy.  This can reset brain neurotransmitters and set new healthy patterns for yourself.

You are going to be ok.  Remember you are not the bad thing, it was the relationship that failed, not you.

Breaking up is a painful gift.

This is an opportunity to rediscover who you are and what you like. Don’t ask why the relationship failed and try to fix it or the person, (this just promotes more heart break).  Drop the emotional rope.  It only steals energy from the future and keeps you tied to a past that’s gone. 

Wisdom and listening to your intuition may be hard won but this is probably the greatest gift of learning you can hand down to your children and those after. 

“You are never going to be good enough for the wrong person” – Mel Robbins

Give yourself space to mourn what you thought was going to happen and time to visualise a new future.  Perhaps most powerfully love and forgive yourself.  Reach out to a counsellor or therapist if you feel professional support could be helpful to you.

Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it” –

 Maya Angelou

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Heather Morden

Heather Morden

I support women with low self- esteem to heal “unfinished emotional business” by offering compassion, awareness and the tools to break out of negative patterns. No judgements, just warm hearted confidential, down to earth support.

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