Breakup Survival

Step 2: What to expect

Even if you saw it coming or made it happen yourself, you may find yourself unprepared for the initial impact of your breakup. Suddenly, you're no longer half of a couple. You may not know who to turn to. Everything around you -- your home, your favorite music, your loved ones -- may seem connected to your ex. That's exactly why the focus of this lesson is working through the initial stage of the breakup: ground zero.

Ground Zero
Breaking up can feel a lot like having a giant wrecking ball slammed into your life. Things that you took for granted yesterday may no longer apply to your life today -- everything is changing at a rapid pace. Although you are still intact, many of your dreams and plans for the future, as well as your day-to-day existence, may suddenly be unrecognizable bits and pieces.

Ground zero is also a place for beginnings -- even if you don't want to hear it right now. While your relationship has ended, you are embarking on a new journey. This can be terrifying at first. Maybe you liked the way your life was before, and you feel resistant to all the changes that a breakup can bring. Even if you were unsatisfied with your relationship, at least it wasn't the ''unknown''. No matter how you felt before, this is your chance to start again. And believe it or not, you will.

Sorting through the Rubble
The first question to sort out is, ''Am I the only one who feels like this?'' Absolutely not. The whys and what-ifs of a breakup can still be overwhelming, though. It may seem as if you're the only one who has experienced something so painful and no one could possibly understand your devastation. You may feel pressure -- from yourself or others -- to move on and get over it.

But before you can begin to move on, you must sort through the rubble left from your breakup, choosing what to salvage and what to leave behind. By identifying what went wrong, what your part in it was and how you'd like things to be different in the future, you can better ensure that you won't find yourself in the same situation in future relationships. You might be tempted to try to rebuild right over the debris, because assessing your past and reconciling it with your present and future isn't easy. But skipping over this process will leave you nothing but a shaky foundation

Next page: Is what I'm feeling normal? Find out.

The truth is, there is no set way to get through a breakup. In fact that's one of the most difficult aspects of the process. There are no ground rules (and certainly no etiquette rules) to follow. Because of this, it's important not to be too hard on yourself right now. Contrary to the early teachings of psychology, grief is not necessarily a linear process. Realize that it's normal to feel nonchalant one day and seething in anger or trapped in a fit of depression on the next. Does this mean that you are weak? Not a chance; As long as you are processing your thoughts and feelings -- by thinking, reading, writing and talking them out -- there is no ''right'' way to feel. Your feelings, as unwelcome as they sometimes are, are part of yourself. They are something to accept and deal with. Talking to those you trust about your feelings all through your post-breakup experience can help you get some perspective on this rapidly changing and confusing time.

What to expect:

  • Anger: Although it's important to acknowledge your feelings of anger in the beginning, it's generally best not to act on them. So how do you deal with all of that pent-up rage? Try kickboxing classes or writing angry letters to your ex that you don't send. You can probably also expect many angry ranting sessions with your friends, and maybe some furious pillow-punching. But perhaps the best anger advice is this: Remember that, like the other negative emotions that flood you after a breakup, it will fade.
  • Longing: You may feel compelled to reunite with your ex or jump into another relationship at this point. It can be scary at first to face the world without a partner. But if you allow yourself to feel your fear and your longing and really sit with those emotions, you will eventually come to terms with your feelings. The strength and independence that you can find through doing this is much more stable and satisfying than being with someone because you feel you can't be alone.
  • Obsessing: The rebuilding process often involves spending a lot of mental energy going over the past. Many women find themselves obsessively reviewing their relationships, asking themselves questions: Did my partner still love me during that last vacation? When did things start to go wrong? Should I have done something differently? Asking ourselves these kinds of questions helps us process our post-breakup feelings. Know though, that letting go is often a two-step dance: one step forward, two steps back. Once you're able to let go completely, you'll feel re-centered. At that point, you'll be able to look back over what happened and revel in your personal accomplishments (including getting out of a bad relationship) rather than obsess over what went wrong.

Next page: How long is this going to take? Find out.

How long is this going to take? The only answer to this question is, it takes as long as it takes. For some women that means months; for others it takes years. It all depends on the length and nature of the relationship, the way the relationship ended and the kind of person you are. Be patient with yourself and try to learn the difference between giving yourself time for recuperation and reflection and becoming stuck in a pattern that doesn't allow for growth.

Breakup First Aid
As you go through the turbulence of ground zero, you may find that you feel like a stranger to yourself. It's important to take the time to listen to yourself and see how you're really feeling. Keep these things in mind:

  • Treat yourself gently.
  • Don't make any big decisions.
  • You'll lose keys, money and time without knowing where they went. That's okay.
  • Lean into the pain. It's not bottomless. There's no getting out of the pain, there's just getting through. And you will, eventually -- that's guaranteed.
  • Take long baths.
  • Cry when you want to, and don't care what other people say or think.
  • Be very selfish.
  • Be with people who make you laugh, even if that leads to tears.
  • Ask for a lot of hugs.
  • Dress warmly.
  • Get a dog or cat, or cuddle the ones you have.
  • Write really awful, bitchy, irate letters to your ex and burn them, releasing those ideas to the air.
  • Love yourself, no matter how hard that is.
  • Compliment yourself.
  • Write your way through the feelings.
  • Get grief counseling.
  • Eat well.

Next: Survey the (Newly) Single You.

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