• Carrie Potter, MA, LMHCA

Why You Have ALL THE FEELINGS After a Breakup

A breakup is something that sometimes people react to as, "I should get over this" or "it's not that big a deal" or "the relationship wasn't that long". But it can be really significant for a lot of different reasons.

For one thing, a breakup can bring up a lot of feelings of disappointment, maybe unmet expectations, this feeling of "what might have been" maybe activated, and those can be really difficult things to deal with.

Another thing that can happen is that you could feel feelings of sadness, of anger, of regret, of fear of the future, of loneliness, and even shame...that feeling of that kind of mindset of "there's something wrong with me", "there's something inherently unloveable or unworthy about me."

These feelings, too, can actually activate memories of other experiences from our past when we felt the same way. So whether those are feelings of abandonment, loneliness, sadness, you might find that even though a memory is many years in the past it might come up afresh when you start feeling those same memories as you had in the past, during those past memories.

Sometimes one of the things that can be most difficult about a breakup is when we go to people who are going to give us comfort and help as we talk about our feelings, sometimes their responses can unwittingly reinforce those feelings of abandonment and being alone. And that can happen when we go to someone expecting a compassionate, empathetic response and instead we get a "he didn't deserve you", "you're better off without her", "you'll find somebody better", or "at least..." fill in the blank. At least you weren't married, at least the relationship didn't go on longer, those kinds of things.

So although your friends and family are trying to help, what that does is communicate to you that they don't understand your feelings and they kind of just want you to move on from them. And so, when you're sharing a feeling of loneliness and their response makes you feel even more lonely, that's a pretty difficult situation to be in.

It's important to acknowledge these feelings, all of them, after a breakup, if you want to move forward in a healthy way. And acknowledging them might look like you know finding a therapist to talk to about them, finding a safe person to talk to, or even just allowing yourself to feel them, even for a little while. I know sometimes it can be so scary to actually feel your feelings because when the floodgates open you don't know when they're going to stop, and the feelings feel so powerful that you can't trust that you're ever going to not feel this way, but, I think you will. I think that feelings tend to come and go, and they will pass. I know that sometimes you may feel like you're drowning, but you won't feel like that forever.

Another thing to think about is: what are some ways that you can care for yourself in this time after a breakup? And I always recommend that you think of ways that engage your senses. So oftentimes we go to just comfort food, which is great, but you do have some other senses. So think about your sense of sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. So thinking about the sense of sight, I can remember I had a college professor when I was in college right after 9/11, and I went to a lecture about a week after 9/11, and he just showed us slides of beautiful paintings. And that's what we did the entire class session. So I always think of that, what's something beautiful you can bring, whether that's being out in nature, seeing something beautiful, is there something in your living space, something you can bring in to make it more beautiful.

So let's move on to smell. My go-to there are scented candles. Is there one that I have not been burning, or saving for some reason that I can pull out and smell or light, actually burn the candle? Is there an essential oil that you really love?

Taste, I think we've got that covered, right? A comfort food that you know is going to be nourishing, make you feel great, and also taste good.

Hearing, think about a playlist, think about what you're listening to. Are you a person that when you're sad you want to hear happy music or are you a person that when you're sad you want to hear sad music? That's me. I'm a when I'm sad I want to hear sad music person. And that actually helps me acknowledge and feel my feelings.

And then touch. You know, wearing soft fabrics, thinking about blankets you're using to cuddle up on the couch, or, when's the last time you washed your sheets? Those are all touch things to think about.

I wonder, are there ways to communicate with the people you love that what you need from them is listening, understanding and maybe presence? What you don't need is them badmouthing your ex. That can be a hard conversation to have, but it can be so helpful to say, "Listen, what I need from you is to just hear me and help me feel less alone." It's kind of that emotional equivalent of someone sitting next to you with their arm around you. Maybe that's actually what you need, is another person sitting next to you, not trying to solve the problem, not trying to make you feel better and move on quicker, but just being with you in the midst of that grief.

And I think it's good to remember that when you're feeling grief from the end of a relationship, it's coming from a good place. As humans, we need other people and we are sad when the people we love or need or want are no longer there. We're meant to have connections and when those are gone, we're sad! That's actually a beautiful thing, and it shows you that you're human, it shows you that you have needs. You might think about, how can you find those connections, if connection is what you really need or want, how can you find that maybe with a friend or another loved one, so that you can go through those feelings, go through that grief process from a breakup.

If you could use some help talking to someone and you're in Washington state, I would love to be a resource for you.