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Understanding Your Emotions After a Breakup

If you're reading this, I feel for you. Breakups are really difficult to understand and deal with. They feel as painful as a loss, which, in essence, they are. Whatever you feel after a breakup, no matter how much you or society tends to judge and invalidate you, is valid. Your emotions are VALID. Society teaches us that breakups are natural, common, and easily dealt with. While the first two are true, the last one is not, AND this doesn’t diminish the fact that so many negative emotions can come before you truly heal. There is pain before healing, and it’s okay to hurt. Society tends to bash on people who outwardly express what it’s like to have loved and have lost. Look at Taylor Swift, a woman singing about natural human emotions when it comes to loving and losing, yet our patriarchal society brushes it off as her being an “emotional” and perhaps "needy” woman. I hope you know and internalize that that is SO false. But in case you don’t yet, as is hard when we’ve been taught something else our entire lives, I am glad you’re here, and reading this article. I have always felt that reading the psychological reasons of why I feel a certain way helps me validate and deal with them. I hope this can provide some of that solace for you.

Here's the Psychology Behind Your Emotions:

Your Self-Concept Changes

Self-concept is the beliefs you hold about yourself, how you feel about yourself. When in a relationship, your individual self becomes a relational self concept. You and another person become so entangled that your self concept becomes so dependent on them being in your life.

As women, we tend to define ourselves by our romantic relationships, more so than men do. So, when we experience a breakup, our self concept changes from a relational one to an individual one. This also reduces our self concept, making us feel worse about ourselves and confused in our identities. This then produces emotional distress, which can explain your grief. Essentially, a loss of relationship can feel like a loss of yourself.

What You Can Do:

Be Kind To Yourself: Treat yourself like how you would treat your best friend. Speak kindly to yourself. Do things that especially comfort you, such as watching your comfort movie/tv show while eating your comfort food.

Support System: Surround yourself with friends and family that you can depend on. Having a support system is important when going through tough times, such as a breakup.

Build Your Individual Self-Concept: Be open to new experiences and new hobbies. Try something new and stick to it. Explore your own interests and see what it is that you really enjoy to see who you are outside of your relationship.

Your Brain LITERALLY Rewires

Any new experience or relationship rewires your brain! In a relationship, your brain forms new neural connections with anything you associate with this person. Listening to a certain song with them forms the association between the two in your brain. The longer you are in a relationship with someone, the stronger the connections are.

This means that after a breakup, your brain has to rewire AGAIN (partly because your brain is always trying to protect you). The connections you formed with this person are still there, and can be shattered, if the positive image you had of them now becomes negative or even just awkward. This can also explain why going to the spots you shared and the songs that were yours can bring a lot of pain. What you formed together will be associated with them until your brain possibly rewires.

What You Can Do:

Therapeutic Unfollowing: Seeing your ex pop up on social media hurts. Seeing your ex not posting, which then leads to obsessively trying to figure out what they’re doing, also hurts.

Unfollowing seems childish, but in actuality, it's a mature decision. You don’t owe your ex a follow if it's doing you no good. Break that connection, it will be more helpful than you think.

Taking a Break from What You Shared: Maybe it’s hard because you frequent this place a lot or love a certain band, but things you shared with your ex can serve as a solemn reminder of them. How can you begin to move on if you’re constantly doing things that remind you of them? Take a break from doing things you did together and try something new.

Rewire your Memories: You can take advantage of neuroplasticity when it comes to how you see your memories. Next time you think of a memory, positively self-reflect and think about what this memory/the relationship/this person taught you. This takes repetition but will help you change a now negative association to a more positive one. Eventually, this will turn into gratitude, and negative emotions cannot coexist

with gratitude.

You're Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms

You know how people with addictions experience withdrawal symptoms when they don’t get their fix? The same thing happens after a breakup, when you lose your romantic connection. Being in a relationship releases a lot of oxytocin (the "cuddle chemical") in your brain because of the attachment and intimacy that forms. It also releases more dopamine (the "feel-good hormone") and gives you a sense of pleasure and incorporates that into the reward system.

Dopamine makes you feel euphoric and giddy, while oxytocin makes you bond and connect.

These chemicals, dopamine especially, can be extremely addicting, and people with addictions continue using because they experience the same release of chemicals. Too much can be detrimental and lead to constant craving of this temporary "high". The same can be said for breakups: you go from a constant release of these chemicals to a loss of them.

Without this constant release of oxytocin and dopamine to keep you chronically happy, you experience emotional withdrawal. Symptoms you may be feeling from this include feelings of anxiety, depression, fear, confusion, and irritability. Physically, you can have a loss of appetite and fatigue.

What You Can Do:

Engage in Coping Mechanisms: Like people who suffer from addiction, you need to engage in coping mechanisms that can help destress you from the emotional distress you’re experiencing now. One effective coping mechanism can be working out. Physical activities, such as running, release a lot of oxytocin, which can help stabilize your mood. Other useful coping mechanisms are meditation, spending time with nature, journaling, trying a new hobby, and even having a crying session.

Journaling: Writing down your thoughts and feelings is effectively proven to lessen anxiety and negative feelings. If you don’t want to open up right now, being able to open up on writing is a great way to unload. Get it off your chest and nobody has to read it!

Your Friends Don't Get It

You may be a little annoyed or frustrated at your friends when they say things like, “you can find better,” or “there are better fish in the sea,”. Reading articles like this may feel annoying as well. These can all make you feel like your healing journey is being oversimplified and that you don’t have the time or validation you need to grieve. Your friends’ advice may be frustrating to hear, and that is perfectly normal: they can’t see your situation with your own eyes.

Most likely, your friends are over empathizing, which is when people place themselves in your situation and act accordingly. This isn’t exactly empathizing because they’re not acknowledging how you feel in your situation. They’re saying what they would want to hear, which may not be what you need. You may need someone to rant to and be a listening ear, rather than give you advice you’ve heard over and over again.

What You Can Do:

Know your feelings are valid, being annoyed at your friends for not giving you what you need right now is valid. Acknowledge that they are trying to help and that the gesture is nice, but communicate what you need from them right now.

Communicate what support looks like for you right now, and they will change the way they talk to you. Listen to yourself, you know your needs better than anyone else.

Peer Support: Listening and speaking to people who get it and are going through something similar may be the support you need right now. At Inward, you can get this in the form of group chats!

You Feel Like You Need Closure From Your Ex

There’s this misconception that you can only get closure from your ex, especially if they are the one that broke up with you. This is the illusion of control, where you both believe that the person who initiated the break up has control and power over the one who was broken up with. This is because the former did it on their own terms for their own reasons, so the latter may be left with confusion and doubt. This may also justify ongoing communication after a breakup if you think answers can only come from your ex.

BUT closure can only come from you. The end of a relationship and the relationship history IS, in fact, closure. In your gut, you have all of the answers you need, which may be hard to acknowledge and face. It is scary, but you have that much power to control your emotions whether you want to or not.

What You Can Do:

Address your insecurities about the nature of the breakup. What is the root of all of these insecurities? Is it the fear of feeling unworthy? (which is an extremely normal fear). Addressing your faults in a relationship and the insecurities you may have felt during and/or after can help you address your needs for both yourself and your next relationship. Sometimes, we want to see our relationships in a certain way in order to preserve it, but looking at why you two didn’t work out and connect in the way you wanted to is important.

You Feel Like a Failure

Breakups do not have to mean failed relationships. It’s pretty standard to feel like a failure to your ex, the relationship, or even to yourself, but relationships are too nuanced to be viewed as successes or failures. You feel this way because society frames breakup culture this way.

Feelings of low self worth and rejection also contribute as well: we associate these feelings with losing and we hate to lose. Breakups come with this stigma of losing, which explains why it can be hard to even end a relationship when you know you should. Feeling like a failure can also lead you to question what you’re doing with your life, what this means for your future, and this is SO overwhelming.

What You Can Do:

Recognize that relationships aren’t always meant to last forever. That idea came from the time when divorces were either impossible or looked down upon, but nowadays, 50% of marriages end in divorce. Reflecting on what you learned in a relationship can prevent you from ruminating on it as a failure.

I hope these help you to better understand what you’re feeling and validate them. I know that I can’t completely understand where you are or even your situation, but I do understand that breakups are extremely hard as well as the negative emotions they bring up.

Breakups are proven to invoke similar emotions to that of losing a loved one. It’s hard to go through this alone or even know who to turn to.

Luckily, we have a program at Inward specifically FOR BREAKUPS. Our breakup program offers a holistic approach to begin your healing process. You can start at $6 a month and will have access to mutual support, 24 hour chat support, and practical daily tools to help you on your journey. Here, you can speak to other people who get it and get more tools and exercises to help you throughout the month.

We are here to understand, validate, and help: we are here for you.

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