Reader Question: My girlfriend of 3 years broke up with me a few months ago. I didn’t see it coming and she didn’t give me much of a reason. Just said she needed to move on. I guess it’s time for me to get up and start over, but I don’t much feel like it and don’t know where to begin. I’m not even sure that has anything to do with dating. I don’t have any trouble meeting nice women, but I can’t get over the feeling of being a failure. ~ Mark
Getting broken up with is one of the greatest blows to your heart and self-esteem, and knowing that it happens to everyone at one time or another doesn’t make it suck any less when it happens to you.
That sense of failure you are feeling is directly related to the loss you are experiencing. Yes, you’ve lost your girlfriend, but you’ve also lost a piece of yourself because of that blow to your heart and self-esteem. And you are grieving that multi-faceted loss.
The steps for getting over a breakup or any other disappointment in life are the same as the steps for any kind of grieving. Grief isn’t just about bereavement. It happens any time there is a loss of any kind – a breakup or divorce, your bicycle getting stolen when you were a child, the loss of health, wealth, trust, or safety. Loss is loss, and any of them can knock us off our feet for a while.
That means, feeling completely bummed at first is normal and natural. You just don’t want to get trapped there. The fact that you are asking signals that you are ready to recover and move on.
No matter what is triggering the need or desire to start over, the process and steps are the same:
9 Steps for Starting Over
Allow yourself to feel the grief.
Don’t try to deny it or sweep it under the rug. Don’t wait until you feel completely ready or pretend you never felt the pain. But don’t wallow in it either. Wallowing, denying, or ignoring pretty much guarantee you will get yourself stuck. Go ahead: acknowledge it, feel it, and begin taking steps as soon as you can, even if they are tiny baby steps.
Complete the communication.
Frequently, there is a sense of unfinished communication and no way to close that gap. An old-school technique can help. Write a letter as if it’s addressed to the person or thing you’ve lost. Pour out your heart, saying everything that feels like it was left unsaid. It’s perfectly fine to hear the other person’s voice in your head and debate them in your imagination. Don’t worry about pretty writing or even spelling or grammar. Just let it rip. If you hate writing, use a recorder instead. The goal is to say everything that is still on your mind. Keep writing or talking until it feels like it’s all out. Hopefully, I don’t need to tell you this is for your eyes or ears only. Don’t even be tempted to send it. This is for you.
Apologize and forgive, often privately
When it feels like you’ve said everything you can think of in your letter or recording, switch gears. Within all this angst, there are four critical elements to add to the letter or recording:
- I apologize - apologize for whatever you did or didn’t do or messed up.
- I accept - in your imagination accept the apology from them even though it may never be offered.
- I forgive - forgive them and yourself. For tips on forgiveness, check out How to Forgive with FREE Forgiveness Guide, How to Forgive When You Feel Like You Can't, and Radical Ultimate Forgiveness.
- Despite everything, I want you to know_________________ - list the good things and the potential good outcomes. Express gratitude for the good parts. For example, this person may be the other parent to the children you love. It's OK to be grateful for the role they played in creating these children even if you currently think they are a terrible parent. Think about how you have grown as a person. Maybe you learned something new from this person or experience. Find some gratitude moments and remind yourself of them. (Adapted from The Grief Recovery Method)
Again, this is for you and not meant to be sent.
Accept where you are.
In most cases, you can’t change what has happened, so resistance and ruminating and fighting to change the unchangeable only prevent your own healing and keep you from moving forward. Accepting doesn’t mean you like what happened. It just means you are going to begin moving away from it instead of dwelling on it. Find something else to occupy your thoughts and time rather having this situation replay endlessly in your head, fantasizing how it might have been different. It isn’t different. It is what it is right now and when you begin accepting that, you begin moving on.
When we start something new of our own accord, we’re usually excited and motivated. Our confidence is intact. But if you are starting something new because of a difficult situation, you probably feel more exhausted than enthusiastic. Good news – you don’t have to feel positive to start taking positive steps. The best way to let go of regret, resentment, guilt, and blame is to focus elsewhere. Focus on what you want more of in your life right now and take action steps, even tiny ones. Catalog the good moments and focus on the gratitude you feel for them. It will eventually crowd out the bad without making you yearn for the past. Remind yourself that you did the best you could and the other person did, too, even if you hate what they did. Chances are they didn’t set out to hurt you. Neutralizing the bad feelings by acknowledging what was good and moving toward what you want now will give you that fresh start you crave.
Know that this isn’t the end and you are not alone.
Though it’s normal and natural to feel isolated and even embarrassed, to feel like you are suffering unique hardships or being singled out for punishment, the reality is everyone has experienced this or something similar. If they tell you they haven’t, they are deluding themselves and you if you’ll let them. Life is full of challenges and no one is immune. Some people may mask it better than others, but don’t be fooled. If you look around your circle of family and friends, you’ll quickly see others that have overcome adversity of some kind. Spend more time with them. Ask them what they did and listen to what they have to say. Look around you in the world at examples of successful people who’ve had their hearts broken or suffered other losses, then risen to something better. You are made of exactly the same stuff.
Take steps, even small ones, every day. Think of yourself as being free and on the cusp of creating whatever you want next. Instill new habits that match what you want to create. If it’s a lasting love, practice giving love in ways that are meaningful to the recipients. Not just to potential lovers, but also to family, friends, colleagues, and even enemies. Begin living a loving lifestyle in general in all areas of your life. Do something every day to become the embodiment of the soulmate you desire to attract. Fuel your desire even with baby steps, as long as they are consistently taken, and soon your reset will take on a life of its own.
Teach your inner critic a new language.
New beginnings can be scary. Change can be scary. But you already know you can’t stay where you are, and your worst enemy in beginning your fresh start is probably your own inner voice. Your inner critic loves to tell you why you shouldn’t take the leap. It loves to give you all the reasons this leap, whatever it is, is too daunting, why you are likely to fail, and worst of all, why you are not worthy. After all, you’ve just failed, right? That’s just all your fears ganging up on you, shouting at you. If you were teaching a child to ride a bike and that child started wailing that it was too hard and they would never learn, you would comfort them, tell them you understand, remind them how much fun they will have once they learn. You would encourage them, show them what to do next, and help them see each little step as a victory on the way to riding that bike. In the same way, teach your own inner critic a new way of speaking that reassures rather than crushes. Treat yourself kindly and gently and encouragingly.
Make a plan.
Make it, and prepare for it to change. The plan is mainly to help you start taking steps towards whatever you want. Even if you have no idea how to get where you want to go, make a plan and start taking action. Each step will open up new vistas and new options. Things may actually unfold in ways you can’t even imagine, but creating a plan, being willing for it to flex, and taking consistent action are guaranteed to set the magic in motion. In your case, you say you have no trouble meeting nice women. Invite one of them to coffee with no agenda in your own head for it to go any further. Perhaps you’ve had an interesting conversation and would like to continue it. Let it be easy-going, and be OK with whatever happens. View it as just one step, not the next solution.
Things happen. Relationships end and new ones begin. Jobs end and new ones begin. We fall down and get back up. That’s life. For all of us. You’re not a failure at all. The only people who fail are those who let fear and insecurity rob them of that first step. And the one after that. So give yourself a little credit. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. (Hey, isn’t that a song??) Just by facing the fact that it’s time to start over and asking the question, you are demonstrating courage. And that is not a character trait of a failure at all.
And above all else, remember:
Endings are just beginnings in disguise.