Be Strong After a Breakup

We've all been there. The break-up is raw, and a jumble of emotions are still raging. Being strong will be difficult initially, and that's when you should allow yourself to feel the grief. But soon you'll start to feel time healing the wounds, and you'll be better than ever, and stronger than ever, too.


Coping with the Grief

  1. Accept that the pain is normal. As the old song says, “Breaking up is hard to do.” Scientists have even shown that romantic rejection activates the same pathways in the brain that physical pain does.[1] It hurts when you break up with someone, and it’s completely natural to feel upset about it.
    • Some psychologists estimate that about 98% of us have experienced some form of unrequited love, whether it’s an unreturned crush or a nasty breakup. Knowing that you’re not alone probably won’t heal your broken heart, but it could make the pain easier to bear.[2]
  2. Let it out. Don’t pretend you’re fine. Denying or minimizing your emotions -- like telling yourself “I’m really fine” or “It’s no big deal” -- will actually make them worse in the long run. You have to process how you’re feeling so you can move past it.[3]
    • Cry your eyes out if you feel like it. Crying can actually be therapeutic when you’re upset. It can reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and anger. So go ahead, grab some tissues and wail your heart out if it helps.[4]
    • Express your emotions through creative pursuits, like art or music. Write a song about how you feel, or play a track that comforts you. Draw a picture of your emotional state. The only thing here is to stay away from things that are too sad or angry (think death metal). These may actually increase your feelings of sadness and anger.[5]
    • It’s tempting to let your grief out by punching or breaking things, screaming, or shouting, but avoid this impulse if you can. Studies show that using violence to express your anger, even if it’s toward an inanimate object like a pillow, can actually make you feel more angry.[6] To express your anger in a healthy way, try talking about your feelings to yourself or to someone you love.[7]
    • This will be easier with a family member or friend you trust. Find someone who has a shoulder you're comfortable crying on and let loose. They've likely cried on your shoulder at some point. Now all they're doing is returning the favor.
  3. Write about your feelings. Expressing how you feel, rather than bottling it all up or trying to ignore it, will help you accept that you’re in pain now, but it won’t always be this way.[8] Writing about your feelings openly and honestly can help you understand them.[9][10] The first step to coping with post-breakup loneliness is taking some time for introspection and reflection.[11]
    • Take 20 minutes a day for three days to let loose and write about your deepest thoughts and feelings about this relationship. Reflect on your experience while you were in the relationship, how you feel in the aftermath of the breakup, or what your worries are now that you’re not in a relationship anymore.[10]
    • Common reasons for breakups include a lack of independence, a lack of openness, or missing that “magic” feeling.[12]
    • Don’t worry about grammar or spelling when you write. You’re writing just for you, to express your feelings and thoughts.
  4. Examine your writing. Writing your emotion journal is the first step. The next is to look back at what you’ve written and try to figure out why you’re feeling what you’re feeling. Thinking through your emotions will help you understand them better, and can also help you catch any distortions that might be unfair to yourself.[13]
    • For example, a very common fear after a breakup is that we’re undesirable, even unlovable. It can be easy to feel like you’ll never find anyone who wants you again.[14] This is a natural reaction, but you shouldn’t convince yourself it’s true. Try looking for the evidence that plenty of people do love you, even if that one person you wanted most to love you doesn’t (or can’t in the way you wanted).
    • Look for global, internal, and irreversible statements in your journal. Research shows that these types of thought can lead to depression after a breakup and can make it harder to move on.[15]
    • For example, a global statement might look like “This breakup is going to ruin my life.” It probably does feel that way sometimes, but it’s probably not as true as it feels. Try rephrasing this as a limited statement: “This breakup hurts right now, but it’s only one part of my life.”
    • An internal statement blames yourself: “This is all my fault” or “If only I’d done things differently, we wouldn’t have broken up.” Remember that relationships involve two people. The chances of anything being 100% one person’s fault are very slim. And in general, breakups happen because of incompatibilities, not because one person is “bad” or “wrong.” Try telling yourself something like: “This relationship didn’t end up working out because we just weren’t suited for each other. People are different and have different needs. It’s okay.”
    • An irreversible statement is, well, irreversible: “I’m never going to get over him/her” or “I’m never going to not feel this way.” Remind yourself that all feelings are temporary. People change. Hearts mend. Try telling yourself: “I am in pain right now, and that’s all right. It won’t last forever.”
  5. Repeat positive self-affirmations to yourself. Breakups can really do a number on your self-confidence. Showing yourself a little daily kindness can remind you that you are an awesome person with a lot to offer the right person. The next time negative thoughts about your breakup show up -- and they probably will, at least for a while -- challenge them with one of these helpful affirmations:[16]
    • I am worth love and care, and there are people who recognize that
    • I’m upset right now, but it won’t last forever
    • Part of my pain is caused by brain chemistry, which I can’t control
    • My thoughts and feelings are not facts
    • I love and honor myself
  6. List your positive attributes. Breakups can cause you to doubt your self-worth. It’s important to remind yourself of all the good things about you.[17] Studies show that when you remind yourself that you’re worth loving, you handle rejection better.[18] Make a list of the cool, great, interesting things about yourself. When you’re feeling down, whip out that list and remind yourself that you’re a remarkable person.
    • Think about things you can do (especially if they don’t involve the person you just broke up with). Do you skydive, paint, write music, dance? Do you enjoy long walks or cooking a great meal? List your skills and remind yourself that you’re strong and capable.
    • Think about the things you like about yourself. Do you have a killer smile? A fantastic fashion sense? Remind yourself that you have plenty to offer -- and that the only opinion that really matters is your own.
    • Think about positive things others have told you about yourself. Do your friends tell you how supportive you are? Are you the life of the party? Are you the caring person who gives up your seat on the subway or bus? Remind yourself that others see your value, too.
  7. Get support. When you break up with someone, it’s natural to feel isolated or disconnected.[19] Reaching out to friends and loved ones will help you cope with these feelings and remind you that you have plenty of love in your life.[11]
    • Talk with your friends. Share your feelings with them. Ask them about their own breakup experiences. They can offer you support and advice.[20]
    • If your friends offer you feedback or advice, try to be open and listen to them. You don’t have to take their advice, but accept the spirit in which it’s offered. If you notice that over time they become reluctant to talk to you about the breakup, you may be dwelling on it too much. Remember to ask your friends about their own lives, too.
    • Sometimes, friends and loved ones may go too far. They may try to control your decisions or “fix” your problems for you. They may turn to bad-mouthing your ex, which isn’t always what you need. If your loved ones’ support is starting to go beyond helpful advice and conversation, show your appreciation for their support and let them know you can handle this on your own. For example, if a friend offers to give your ex a “piece of her mind,” you could say, “I really appreciate that you want to stand up for me, but I can handle this. Please don’t do that.”

Staying Strong

  1. Cut off ties with your ex. When you two broke up, it likely happened for a reason. Not contacting your ex is an important step in healing from a breakup.[20] You may feel desperate to contact your ex, especially in the beginning, but remind yourself of the reasons you broke up.[21] Stay strong and stay away from that phone!
    • Romantic love stimulates dopamine pathways in the brain, making you feel “rewarded” for your emotions. When you break up, your brain treats it the same way as it treats a drug addiction. No matter how hard it feels, don’t give in to the craving, or you’ll never kick it.[22][23]
    • Don’t call or text your ex. If you need to, delete his or her number from your phone and contacts. Don’t email or send messages on social media.
    • Cyberstalking is a real thing. Don’t look up your ex on Facebook or Instagram. You’ll only concentrate on the pictures of him or her being happy and having a good time. You’ll keep looking for clues and memories, keeping you from feeling better.[24] If you have to, block your ex on your pages so you’re not tempted.
    • Don’t “vaguebook” (post vague statuses on social media) in a bid for attention. Focusing on the past will only keep you from moving toward your future.
  2. Get rid of mementos. Holding on to treasured gifts from your ex or photos of the two of you will hold you back from healing and moving on. You may even find that having them around triggers feelings of sadness, loneliness, or anger.[16]
    • Delete photos of your ex from social media accounts (or at least crop him or her out of the photos).
    • Resist the urge to do things that you used to do together, like listen to “your song” or visit your favorite date spot. These things will keep you focused on the relationship you don’t have anymore, instead of allowing you to go out and form new relationships (and strengthen existing ones).
    • Memories aren’t always triggered by things. Even sounds and scents can trigger a memory or emotion.[25] If this happens, don’t try to ignore or deny it. Acknowledge the feeling: “Oh, that smell reminds me of our pizza date nights. I miss those.” And then move on.
    • If you have things that seem too nice to throw out, consider donating them to a charity or thrift store. You’ll be able to let go of that t-shirt/coffee mug/teddy bear, and you’ll be making a positive difference in someone else’s life, too.
  3. Play nice. It’s too easy to go out and slash your ex’s tires, key his or her car, or egg his or her house. You could spread rumors about him or her and start the gossip mill going, but don’t. This behavior will only keep you locked in the past instead of focusing on how you’re going to move past the breakup. It may even lose you some friends.
    • About half of people admit to stalking their ex in some way after a breakup, from making unwanted phone calls to threatening or even vandalizing an ex’s property. Carrie Underwood may make it sound like fun revenge, but this type of behavior just makes it harder to recover from the breakup.[26]
    • Stalking and destructive behavior is also illegal. Is your ex worth an arrest record? Didn’t think so.
  4. Avoid rash decisions. After a breakup, it’s common to want to get your hair cut or dyed or get a tattoo. This helps us feel like we're changing our identities and that we can be a whole new person, a person that didn’t have this relationship. Remember that your brain chemistry is altered during a breakup, and your judgment is more than likely impaired right now.[15]
    • Let some time pass. If after a few months you still really want that tattoo because it symbolizes something important, go for it then.
  5. Keep yourself busy. Distraction is only a temporary cure, but it can really help take your mind off the pain from your breakup.[27] Keeping yourself busy with things you enjoy, especially if they’re new and exciting, will help you realize that your life isn’t over after all.
    • Read that book series you’ve been meaning to get around to but never have. Join a book club so you can talk about it with others!
    • Take a class, learn a new skill, pick up a new hobby. Learning new skills will remind you that you’re capable of growth and achievement.
    • Call up people you’ve been meaning to chat with for months and haven’t. Remind yourself that you’re surrounded by people who love and support you.
  6. Exercise. Exercise is a good way to vent your frustration and pain. It releases endorphins, those chemicals in your brain that make you happy. Regular moderate exercise can help you fight off anxiety and depression, too.[28] Aim for 30 minutes a day to feel that rush.
    • If you think your schedule doesn't allow it, think again. Look into high-intensity interval training where you only need to work out in small, 15-minute chunks. Alternatively, do a bit in the morning and then at night. It doesn't have to be all at once.
    • Make less noticeable efforts, too, like parking far away from the entrance of where you're going or washing the car by hand.
    • Just don’t approach exercise as a way to “fix” yourself. This is an unhealthy way of approaching it, and can lead to body image distortions and other mental health issues. Exercise because it’s good for your body and mind, not because you feel you “need” to in order to be desirable to others.

Learning to Thrive

  1. Have fun. This may seem next to impossible, especially if you’re still raw after a breakup. However, having fun is great medicine for your brain. It reduces feelings of anger and increases your feelings of positivity.[29] So go out with friends. See a movie. Go disco dancing. Sing karaoke. Do things you enjoy and let loose a little. You’ll feel better for it.
    • Laughter, it turns out, really is the best medicine. It releases endorphins, which are your body’s natural mood elevators. Laughter even increases your body’s ability to tolerate pain.[30]
  2. Treat yourself. “Retail therapy” can actually be good for you, if it’s done wisely. Research shows that when you go shopping after rejection, you tend to envision how your purchases will fit into your new lifestyle. Buying an outfit that boosts your self-confidence or replacing a piece of your ex’s furniture that isn’t your style can help you mend.[31]
    • Just remember: don’t use spending to mask your pain. Don’t go overboard with your credit card, either, or you’ll end up stressed out when the bills come in. Allow yourself just a few treats.
  3. Get engaged with your community. Taking the focus off of yourself can help you avoid rumination, that “broken record loop” where the only thing you can think about is how much things suck.[32] Studies show that showing kindness and compassion to others can boost your own mood and create a “ripple effect” of compassion in those around you.[33][34] So go out there. Make yourself a better member of a better community.
    • Volunteering is a great way to get involved. Check with your church, school, or local volunteer organizations to see how you can make a difference.
    • Serving or giving to other people can also give you a sense of purpose. Studies have shown that when you make contributions to a cause you believe in -- especially if it’s in person -- you’re likely to feel like you’re making a difference in the world.[35]
  4. Focus on being positive. Just because they broke up with you or doesn't want you back doesn't mean that you're worthless. There are plenty of other people who want you and would be willing to treat you even better than your ex. Find things that make you smile and laugh. Surround yourself with friends and people who care. You’ll feel better.
    • Happiness breeds success, after all.[36] The happier you are, the more positivity you'll cultivate around you, leading to bigger and better things.
    • Humans are really susceptible to “emotional contagion,” or picking up on others’ feelings and moods. If you surround yourself with positive people, you’re way more likely to feel positive yourself. On the flip side, if you surround yourself with people who are negative and bitter, you’re likely to feel that way.[37]

Moving On

  1. Forgive and forget. After the initial phase of shock and grief has passed, you’ll find yourself in a place where you can let things go and remain cool. When you forgive your ex for everything that happened, the forgetting can start. That’s okay; it’s the natural cycle.[10] Remember: forgiveness is something you do for yourself, not the other person.[38][39]
    • One way to forgive someone is to start by remembering what it is you want to forgive. Recall how it made you feel. Notice your thoughts about yourself and about your ex.[40]
    • Reflect on this experience. What can you learn from it? Perhaps there are things you would do differently. Perhaps there are things you hope the other person would do differently. What will you look for in the future? How will you use this experience to grow?
    • Remember that forgiveness isn’t an excuse for bad behavior. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to reconcile with that person, or that you’re saying s/he was “right” to do what s/he did. It means letting go of the burden of anger. Forgiveness makes you free.
    • Remind yourself that you cannot control how others act. The only thing you can control is your own actions and responses.
    • Tell yourself that you forgive the other person for his or her mistakes. And remember that it can take some time for you to fully feel forgiveness -- that’s okay.
  2. Reflect a little, then think forward. Right now it’s likely that you’re dwelling on the past. Why is that? You can’t change it. It won’t do "future you" any good. What if you thought about the future? That would definitely make thinking positive much, much easier. Spend a little time reflecting on what you’ve learned from the situation, and then take some time to plan for the future.[32]
    • Use this time to consider what you can learn from this relationship to take into the future. What will you do differently?[41] Make a list of things you learned didn't work in the relationship and things that did work. Then write down the attributes you would like your new partner to have, what type of person he or she is, physical attributes, characteristics, and so on.
    • Consider whether you can see a pattern in your past relationships. Sometimes, people repeatedly fall for people who just aren’t good for them. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including how you interacted with your parents as a child.[2] Examine whether you seem to have a “type” that just doesn’t seem to be working out for you. Think about how you can break this unhelpful pattern next time.
    • Treat this as a learning experience. Breakups hurt. They suck. But they can also make you a stronger, more confident, more compassionate person, if you let them. Look for things you can learn about yourself and your needs.[42] What do you know about yourself now that you didn’t before?[43]
  3. Find who you really are. In a serious relationship, we often become half of the other person instead of a full and unique version of ourselves. This is often why breakups are so hard. But once you’re set free, you can find yourself again. You can spend time doing what you love, unhindered by anyone else’ opinion or constraints. Take some time to figure out what you value and who you want to be.[44]
    • When you were in this relationship, you probably made compromises. Now's the time not to make compromises and to listen to you. Have anchovies on your pizza if you like them. Sleep in on weekends if your ex was an early riser who always had plans. Wear favorite clothing your ex didn't like. Hang the art or posters your ex didn't like. Listen to the music your ex didn't like. All these are ways of regaining yourself, rebuilding your sense of self as a separate individual rather than half of the couple
    • What fell by the wayside when this relationship started? A friendship? A hobby? What time got taken from another aspect of your life and given to focus on this person? Think back about what you gave up. Is it still there waiting for you? Odds are, probably.
  4. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to stay inside our comfort zones because, well, it’s comfortable. However, it’s hard to really thrive without challenges.[45] Take this opportunity to try new things and take risks you might not otherwise do.
    • Too much comfort kills your motivation. Since you’re probably already feeling a little uncomfortable after this breakup, use this uncertainty to your benefit! Use it to transform the areas in your life that need a little work.[46]
    • Learning to get outside your comfort zone has other benefits, too. For example, taking (reasonable, controlled) risks makes it easier to accept that vulnerability and the unexpected are just facts of life. Once you accept this, it’s much easier to handle the next unexpected thing that comes up.[47]
    • This doesn’t mean you should take up extreme sports with no training, or decide to move to a foreign country without any knowledge of its culture or language. Start with smaller challenges and work your way up.[3]
    • Think of this as much-deserved freedom. You can go to school, live somewhere else, or finally get that kitten you wanted. You can spend your Friday nights in that art class you've always wanted to take. If there’s a dream you always wanted to pursue, now is the time.
  5. Give it time. You are heartbroken now, but you won’t be heartbroken later. It sounds cliche, but it’s cliche for a good reason -- time really does heal your wounds. You need time to get perspective on things. While it may be uncomfortable now to think of this person as a memory, later on s/he can be a memory you’re quite fond of and glad happened. People don't fade automatically, so don't be hard on yourself if the grieving process doesn't seem to go away. That's natural. But have faith that it will.[29]
    • The thing is that when it does pass, you won't really realize it. You'll wake up one day and realize that you haven't thought about this person for weeks. It happens slowly and under the radar. So just when you think nothing's happening, bam. It does. It always does.


  • Make a playlist of songs that inspire you. Include songs that make you feel confident and strong! When you start feeling lost or alone, start this playlist to get your focus back.
  • Remember to enjoy your life. It's good to move on and embrace who you are as an individual. Take this time to spend even more time with the people who really matter: Your family and your close friends.
  • Don't dwell on the past and make the most of your life.
  • Lay back and relax! Listening some nice music to keep your mind off it.
  • If you feel the strong urge to change your appearance after all, make sure to use things that don't last, like hair dye that fades gradually in a few weeks or maybe even clip-in extensions with bright colours.
  • Stay busy, being around friends is the most helpful way to stay distracted and be sure to choose wisely who you talk to about the situation. You don't have to satisfy every person in the world with why or how the break up happened. Being selective with who you share your vulnerability with will benefit you, you don't have to please everyone.
  • Never hold on to past and let it ruin your future. You should try to let go and forget of things if they make you sad, miserable and unfocused.


  • Remaining "just friends" is a big no-no. Accepting that your relationship is over is the very first step after a break up, and without this realization you'll be hard pressed to move on. Now is the time for renewal, not hopes for reconciliation. Sure, there may be a slight chance the two of you will get back together, but even the most astute "get your ex back" manuals start with this first simple step: take a break. It should be a long break, like a year or two. It's not emotionally safe to resume the friendship until you've stopped feeling romantic about your former partner completely – till you feel happy about it if they're dating someone else.

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Sources and Citations

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