It is well known that a breakup can lead to decreased well-being, and increased feelings of sadness and/or anger. Unfortunately, the loss of a cherished relationship can also represent the loss of certain relationship benefits such as social support, companionship, love, and sexual intimacy with another. The end of a relationship can certainly initiate lowered self-esteem and the possible onset of depression, but it can also provide an excellent opportunity for reflection, self-improvement, and most importantly, can provide a learning experience that may benefit your future relationships for many years to come.
Know when to ask for help.
With the possibility of depression, it is important to know how to recognize suicidal behaviors in yourself and others. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can connect you with the nearest suicide prevention and mental health service providers if you are:
Thinking about suicide
Having trouble eating and/or sleeping
Experiencing drastic changes in your behavior
Withdrawing from your friends and/or social activities
Losing interest in school, work, or hobbies
Thinking about writing a will, or making final arrangements
Taking unnecessary risks
Seem preoccupied with death and/or dying
Increasing alcohol and/or drug use
Have attempted suicide before
Assess your relationship realistically.
Truly healthy relationships don’t normally end suddenly, so it can be helpful to reflect on the different dimensions of your relationship, in order to understand why it did not work out.
Perhaps the relationship could have been wrong for you from the start. Maybe you did not want the same things out of life as your partner, or perhaps there were continuing deficiencies that existed within the relationship.
Know what constitutes a healthy romantic relationship.
Many people choose to break up because they are unable to create a healthy relationship. The following are necessary elements that must be maintained in order for any relationship to be completely fulfilling for both partners:
Mutual respect: Treating your partner as if they are valued & their reciprocation of this treatment
Compassion: Genuine concern for your loved one
Empathy: Openness to how your partner feels
Understanding: Understanding your partner’s feelings & actions
Acceptance: Accepting your mate for who they are & accepting yourself
Honesty: Your relationship is built on truthfulness
Trust: Willingness to let your partner know your private thoughts, feelings, & aspects of life
Communication: Ability to talk freely within your relationship; understanding how to approach your mate with concerns
Consideration: Mindfulness of your loved one’s needs & your own needs
Compatibility and mutual interests: Enjoying & valuing the same things; agreeing to disagree when you do not enjoy or value the same things
Personal integrity: Ability to maintain your beliefs & sense of self; offering your time & attention to the relationship
Vulnerability: Removal of barriers; ability to allow your partner to see you are human and prone to mistakes without fear of consequence
Remember the disagreements.
In order to further understand your breakup, think about whether you and your partner regularly disagreed regarding any of the following major relationship areas:
Recreation & common interests
Displays of affection
Time spent together
Mourn your relationship.
Remember that going through a breakup will require a mourning process. Grief is a natural reaction to any kind of loss. Going through a breakup is painful because it may represent the loss of not only the relationship, but of any shared hopes and commitments. When faced with a new uncertain future, it is perfectly normal to feel sad, angry, exhausted, confused, or anxious.
Let yourself process emotions appropriately.
Do not allow painful feelings to linger excessively, but do not attempt to ignore them either. It is okay to give yourself permission to function at a less than optimal level for a period of time; you may not feel up to being quite as productive at work, or it may be difficult to give attention to others as you have been accustomed to for a short while.
Be sure to take the time to acknowledge your feelings and allow them to process completely.
Even if it is difficult, attempt to talk to others about your feelings, so that you will feel less alone with your pain.
However, be sure to remind yourself that moving on is the ultimate goal, and that you still have a hopeful future with new hopes and dreams that will replace your old ones.
Silence your inner critic.
If your self-esteem is suffering from the break-up, it’s likely that your inner voice is being overly critical of your role in the break-up. Understand that it’s possible to make mistakes and be imperfect without being self-deprecating.
If you find that your inner voice is saying negative things about you, try stopping and writing down the negative thought. Then cross it out and re-write the thought as something constructive.
For example, “I was too clingy” should be crossed out and replaced with “I will work on being more trusting and confident.”
For example, “I mess up every relationship eventually” should be crossed out and replaced with “I will keep looking for the right partner and work towards a healthy, strong relationship.”
Use a journal to understand your relationship and its end.
Reflecting on a break-up through writing has been shown to assist people in coming to terms with the process. Writing a narrative story of the relationship can help you better understand why the relationship didn’t work out, and assist you in communicating that understanding to yourself and to others.
It can also help you make better sense of what you want out of future relationships.
Evaluate while you journal.
The key to effective break-up journaling is for you to evaluate the breakup experience in the process of retelling it. It is important for you to include a complete narrative structure by including a beginning, middle and ending. This helps you to organize the events into a conceptually manageable format, and then you can more easily see the breakup as an outcome of identifiable causes.
Journaling while using this structure may help you to achieve a sense of closure and moving on with life, increase your feelings of control over your own recovery from the breakup, enable emotional coping, and thus improve your self-esteem once you are able to make sense of the events that occurred.
Begin your journal.
Now that you know the reason behind keeping a journal, it is time to start the journal itself. You can journal on the computer if you are more comfortable typing or you can journal by hand if you prefer to hand-write personal information.
Arrange the events of your relationship in chronological order.
Lay out everything that happened in your relationship in the order in which they happened. Be sure that your narrative is coherent.
In order for you to understand why the relationship didn’t work out, your story must have clarity and make enough sense that it could be understood by someone else reading it (not that you’ll necessarily want to share the journal).
Identify cause and effect.
Order the events of your narrative so that the causes and consequences are apparent. Provide specific examples that illustrate the motivations behind your breakup. This will help you develop an understanding of the relationship ending.
Think of you and your partner as characters in a story.
Establish your key characters as they relate to the causes and consequences of events that occurred during your relationship.
Try to make sense of each character’s feelings and attitudes in relation to the events and attempt to draw meaning from each relationship event.
Identify what you want from a relationship.
In a different part of your journal, write down what you consider to be a perfect relationship. Be specific and think about both what you want to put in to a relationship and what you’d like to get in return.
Compare the narrative of your breakup to what you want from your future romantic relationships.
Was your relationship that ended healthy and fulfilling? Did you have regular disagreements about major areas of your relationship? How would you want your future relationships to be different? How might you want them to be the same?
Reflect on your breakup.
Journaling about your breakup can help you achieve a sense of control over the relationship events. This may provide you with a more complete sense of your own understanding of the breakup, a sense of ownership, and help boost your self-esteem with those abilities.
Seek opportunities that will make you feel competent and successful.
What are you good at? Is there a loved one you can help with certain tasks? Participating in activities where you can succeed will help you feel accepted, recognized, and supported. If you can take part in activities that develop and/or utilize your strengths, your overall self-esteem can be greatly boosted, resulting in higher emotional, social, and physical well-being.
Volunteer for a charitable organization.
This activity has multiple benefits; it takes your mind off of your break-up, makes you feel good about yourself, and it helps others. Make the experience even more rewarding by recruiting a close friend or two to volunteer with you.
Get plenty of exercise.
Regular exercise makes people feel happier. You will likely feel better physically, with increased energy and motivation. Exercise has the added benefit of helping you be in better physical shape, which may make your clothes fit more comfortably and give you the added boost of self-confidence that often accompanies losing weight.
Your exercise routine doesn’t have to be rigorous, or involve a gym membership, to be effective. You can simply walk outside for 30 minutes a day or find a class that interests you such as dance, yoga, or stand-up paddle boarding.
Eat healthy, nutritious foods.
Choosing foods that are high in fiber and low in processed ingredients and sugar can help you feel healthier and look better. Not a great cook? Find a cooking class and explore the new freedom of following only your own food preferences.
Remember that a balanced diet includes a large portion of fruits and vegetables, a small portion of protein (such as lean meat), and a small portion of grains and dairy.
Spend time on your appearance.
Maintaining a clean and well-kept appearance is always helpful to boost your self-esteem. In fact, it is very common for people to find a new look (or at least a new hairstyle) after a long relationship ends. You don’t have to change your whole style, however, to look presentable. Leave the sweatpants at home and get dressed every day—including real shoes, not slippers—while you are on the road to recovery.
Surround yourself with a support network.
While no one else can improve your self-esteem for you, surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family who care about you and truly listen to you can help you get over your break-up and improve your self-esteem.