Rehashing the details of a particularly painful breakup is like listening to a broken record – it’s the same verse over and over:
“It’s over. We’re through.”
“But I can change. What do you want me to do? I’ll do it.”
“No. You’ve tried that before. It’s just not enough. This is it. It’s over. We’re through.”
Days, weeks, months and possibly even years later, you wonder if there’s something you could have done differently. Something you could have said to make that one perfect someone stay. You hold your breath when you hear your song, the scent of his cologne on another man takes your breath away and you turn and look, hoping it could be him.
The first boy I ever loved didn’t even know it. We were friends and, despite my earnest prayers, never anything more. I listened as he described his feelings for other girls, nervously clutching my hands to my heart for fear it might leap out of my chest and betray me, desperately maintaining the strong silence that marked my reputation.
Then, to avoid what I knew would be future misery, continued pathetic yearning, I went to college in another state.
While I do not know heartbreak like others do – jilted brides and grooms, divorcees, widows and widowers certainly lay claim to some of the worst heartbreak – I know the pain of rejection, how it completely and utterly damages your self-esteem, leaving you feeling unloved, unlovable.
And, let’s be honest, when you’re in the middle of it, it sounds like an outright lie when some “older, wiser” soul tells you, “Time heals.”
The truth, says Linda Morrison, a clinical psychologist who chairs the psychology department at the University of New England in Biddeford, is that the importance of the relationship and the level of attachment has an affect on how an individual handles loss and how long it takes to recover.
“Their hardiness, their mental stability to begin with, determines how the loss will affect their mental and physical health,” Morrison said.
She and others liken the process to overcoming other forms of psychological loss, a process defined and described by late Swiss psychiatrist and “On Death and Dying” author Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, as “the five stages of grief.”
According to Kubler-Ross, people pass through these five stages – denial, bargaining, anger, depression and acceptance – at their own rate, depending on the significance of the loss, number of previous losses, individual resiliency, presence of a support system, and permission to grieve from those around them. They may move back and forth between stages or become stuck in one stage – particularly anger or depression – before acceptance is reached.
“It’s important to take the time to mourn your loss,” Morrison said. “Don’t rush it. The process is different for everybody. One person might take two weeks. Another might take two years.”
Women who have gone through a divorce recommend keeping a journal of thoughts, feelings and “what went wrong” throughout their recovery so they can look back later, reflect and learn from the experience.
Because “many people are forced to cope for the first time with the breakup of a significant relationship during their college years,” the Villanova University Counseling Center has published an information sheet entitled “Relationship Breakup,” which makes recommendations on how “to care for yourself and help ease your distress during this time.”
The center recommends seeking social support from family and friends who will not only listen and provide encouragement, but also help you realize there are other people in your life who care about you. In addition, taking steps toward closure in the relationship, including such “loss rituals” as writing farewell letters and boxing up photos and other reminders of the relationship; making a daily schedule to structure your time and keep busy; and making other changes like redecorating living spaces, developing new interests and planning events with friends and family on holidays and anniversaries.
Or, as Morrison puts it: “Take time to reinvest in yourself.”