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Healing from a Broken Heart

Finding the light in the darkness

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Healing from a Broken Heart

Recovering from life's heartaches and heartbreaks can be difficult, but from the darkness can be found new light.

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The sound of a heartbreak

The loss of a social connection such as a partner, friend—or a pet—hurts. Studies show that this sense of a lost connection can even cause physical pain.

Laura Devlin, registered psychological associate and managing director of Beaches Therapy Group (beachestherapy.ca) located in Toronto, says that it’s often helpful to see the loss you’re going through as a type of death. Allow yourself time to grieve, and expect your emotions to come in waves, says Devlin.

“Depending on the length of the relationship, this might be happening for some time,” says Devlin. “Allow yourself to go through this grieving period with grace and compassion.”

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Finding the light

It may be difficult to identify a positive side to a breakup when you’re in the thick of experiencing heartache, acknowledges Devlin. However, in working with clients for the past decade, she’s reframed it as an opportunity to reflect on your relationship with yourself—in particular on the aspects of yourself you may have neglected.

A growth mindset will assist in turning the painful into the positive here, she says. You can start by getting curious about your preferences and personality by asking questions like: “What do I enjoy doing? Where do I like to go out to eat? How do I like to decorate my place?”

On a psychological level, says Devlin, a breakup is like pressing the pause button on your life, providing the opportunity to analyze your patterns, including your attachment styles, triggers, and habits.

At times, there may also be an upside to the pain we experience in relationships. The authors of a 2015 study out of the University of California remind us that the pain of a lost social connection may lead to greater depth in a relationship—or to new relationships—which only became available to us after a painful experience.

For instance, the research revealed, communicating hurt feelings in a romantic relationship may give way to new levels of intimacy and the pain of exclusion could motivate you to seek out new social connections.

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Reaching for the light

“First and foremost, in this digital age, try to create guardrails in your life, so you’re not exposed to reminders in your life,” says Devlin. This could include removing that person’s number from your phone or limiting your exposure on social media.

“These reminders make it more difficult to grieve,” says Devlin. “Knowing they’re travelling or going out with friends can be very harmful.”

Other activities like therapeutic journalling using, for example, online journal prompts or distractions like spending time with friends or engaging in activities you haven’t done in a while, can be soothing.

It can be very tiring to be processing grief, so Devlin prescribes plenty of “TLC,” including watching feel-good movies, yoga, and so on.

Devlin also recommends talking through your experience with a trained therapist in order to help you to integrate the experience. Integration can involve talking about positive aspects of the relationship, what wasn’t so good about it, and outlining the reasons you ended it. Integration is a valuable tool because it helps an individual work through the painful emotions and feelings to the point they are no longer destabilizing.

“If you find yourself experiencing intense feelings for months and years, you should reach out for support,” says Devlin. “It may mean something deeper is going on.”

Devlin has observed that those who had been desperately afraid of losing their relationship often find that other things enter their lives, such as new job opportunities or connections, and fill the void left by their prior partner.

 “When you’ve let go of something that wasn’t working, there are more opportunities to bring things into your life that do work for you,” says Devlin.

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The science of attraction

Where our instincts could lead us astray

Scientists use the term “similarity-attraction effect” to refer to how we, as humans, generally like people who are like us.

A recent study explored the common habit of identifying a characteristic we share with someone, and then intuitively believe that person’s core essence matches ours.

This way of understanding others can encourage connection, but also has a darker side, says the study’s author: it may contribute to drawing boundaries of “us and them” between ourselves and others based on a first impression. That’s because simply reflecting on how much someone is like us as a means of forming our first impressions of a person can cause faulty—or premature—impressions of others.

While the study authors don’t reference romantic relationships specifically, it may help to apply the findings to our dating lives. It just might help us find happiness after heartbreak.

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Four ways to support a loved one dealing with a broken heart

  1.          Don’t just ask if there’s anything you can do for a grieving friend. Make a specific offer to help, such as providing food, helping with housework, or running a specific errand.
  2.          Use your active listening skills, like nodding and making eye contact. Try not to interject with reflections on your own experiences with grief.
  3.          Instead of greeting your friend with a routine “how are you?”—bound to be met with an obvious answer—instead, ask “How are you feeling today?”
  4.          Keep your judgements in check. The grieving process is unique for everyone.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2024 issue of alive magazine.

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