Breakups suck, and traditional breakup advice doesn't make the situation any easier. Give it time, practice self-care, exercise and eat right, don't try to rebound to quickly—all that conventional wisdom may have its merits, but it feels so vague, so generic, so abstract at a time when all you need are concrete answers. Why did it end? When will I feel better? Why does it hurt so bad?
While the first two questions may require time to answer (see annoying advice above), the last question—WHY THE PAIN?—has an understandable explanation.
First off, love is a drug, and when you're deprived of it, you're basically in withdrawal. More on that later. But another reason it hurts so bad has little to do with our exes, and more to do with our own egos. Dr. Jean Kim, a psychiatrist, and self-described "culture shrink," nailed the reason behind the anguish in a post published on Psychology Today:
"Romantic relationships bring out intense emotions that often override logic or explanation. They often tie to deep-seated feelings about our own worthiness from childhood, our parental and peer relationships, and more. When a relationship ends, even on relatively good terms, there is still an emotional reckoning taking place — the end of something we may have hoped would be continuous, which was based on mutual adoration. After a breakup, there is still a feeling of rejection, something fundamental, something that says we cannot be together as before, and that is a tough blow for anyone's ego. When a breakup is unexpected or sudden, the rejection can be even more intense or traumatic. The rupture to one's self-esteem, the end of one's plans and hopes, and the reminder of one's past sense of rejection or failure can all be devastating."
At a time when the words "it's not you, it's me" are soul-crushing, Kim's reasoning flips the script. It's not them you miss so much, it's your own sense of self. And recovering it is far more within your control than you realize. In fact, there are several scientifically-verified ways to recover from the emotional bruises of a breakup that won't make you roll your eyes. Some of these methods are seemingly counterintuitive, others are surprisingly random—but all are refreshingly active, concrete steps towards recovery. Here's where to start:
Write to a Stranger
When it comes to healing from a breakup, several studies have shown that writing can be majorly cathartic. But where do you start and, more importantly, how do you avoid writing directly to your ex? Psychologist Karen Young has a smart suggestion. "Writing repeatedly about the process of the breakup as though speaking with a stranger about it, is [a] way to move towards healing," she explains on her site, Hey Sigmund. "As well as being an emotional release, it also encourages a fresh perspective and new insights."
By writing to a person who doesn't know you, you're forced to rationalize your relationship from a certain distance you might not otherwise have. This allows you to process your feelings on the page rather than letting them bounce around in your head. At the same time, writing to a neutral party forces you not only to describe your ex, but your own self—which is the first step in reclaiming who you are outside of the relationship.
Remember the Great Love You Lost
Mooning over the good times you had with an ex may seem counterintuitive to your recovery, but it's actually research-backed. Monmouth University psychologist Dr. Gary Lewandowski tasked 87 subjects—all of them single—to write about their past relationship. Each was randomly assigned to harp on either negative, neutral or positive memories from their romance. What he discovered was that the group forced to write about the positives were most likely to feel more positive overall. The idea is that in bringing up positive emotions and assigning them to a painful memory, the pain is replaced by feelings of positivity. Makes more sense now, doesn't it?
Make a Cry-Worthy Playlist
There's ample evidence that listening to breakup songs is actually a healthy part of the healing process. Here's the deal: breakups trigger a feeling of loneliness, that same loneliness you feel when someone tries to give you boring breakup advice. It's the feeling that nobody understands what you're experiencing, and that sense of isolation compounds the pain. But the music that mimics your emotional responses can actually provide comfort and, yes, company. "It normalizes the grief you are feeling so that you know you're not alone," explains Dr. Kim.
Remember when we talked about love being an addiction? "Love is a delicious cocktail of neurohormones, so you actually go through a kind of drug withdrawal after a breakup," Wendy Walsh, an L.A.-based clinical psychologist, tells Cosmopolitan. You are craving physical companionship to release some of that sweet, sweet dopamine and oxytocin in your brain. Don't judge yourself. There's nothing wrong with a brief fling to get your fix and remind yourself how desirable you are. There's also a chance it could end up being something more. New research suggests so-called "rebound" relationships are just as likely to last as those that develop long after a past breakup. There's also some evidence to suggest "that getting involved sooner rather than later predicts individuals feeling more confident in their desirability as partners, higher levels of well-being, and having fewer feelings for their ex," according to Dr. Erica B. Slotter, of the Department of Psychology at Villanova University, who spoke with iO9 about the breakup phenomenon.
A study published in the journal NeuroReport "found that swearing may serve an important function in relieving pain." Go ahead and curse your ex's name from the tallest building and highest mountain. Scream it into a pillow, whisper it in your sleep, write it in your breakup journal. Say it with me: F$#% them.
Once you've gathered a little more strength, it's time to reclaim your home. That bedding your ex slept on? Swap it out. That couch they used to lounge on? Move it to a new spot in your apartment. "Change the paint, the walls, bedding," Susan Bartell, PsyD, tells Refinery29. "Hang up new pictures. Do something to change your living space up so that it's not such a reminder of the other person." The more you rediscover what you like personally, the less haunted you'll be by your ex.
Moving on from a breakup isn't easy, but it's also not impossible. In fact, it is inevitable. You will get over that person who hurt you. The awful feelings will go away. And soon, you'll be able to find your magnificent self again. She is in there. Just keep reaching for her.