Guides on how to love yourself after a breakup often put a sour taste in the mouths of many. The average folk simply has too many inaccurate preconceived notions about the topic.
Some believe self-love is a hippie idea with no scientific grounding. Some believe it’s a one-way ticket to self-absorption and narcissism. And others believe it consists of nothing but vacuous phrases riddled with other placebo nonsense that makes one feel better only superficially.
In reality, self-love is none of that.
Self-love has a solid base of empirical research behind it, excluding it from being hippie nonsense. It also doesn’t lead to self-absorption and narcissism; it leads *away* from self-absorption and narcissism. And, it’s far from an accumulation of empty fluff phrases. It’s a whole branch of psychology, a whole science. (1)
Another common fallacy people have about self-love is that it’s something you’re either born with or not. This, like every other fallacy I covered till now, is totally wrong.
The rate and intensity by which you love yourself after a breakup — a.k.a., the amount of self-love you possess — is not a predefined trait you’re born with. It’s a skill and attitude you learn, like anything else. Sure, it’s hard, but, as you’ll soon realize, it’s worth it.
In this article, I’ll go over the theory of self-love and list five no-bullshit approaches to cultivating it to feel better about yourself after a breakup.
An Intro To Loving Yourself After A Breakup
Most people fail to love themselves after a breakup adequately. In fact, most become their own worst enemies.
This is unsurprising considering how many of them have been conditioned to be “tough” on themselves to get through a certain hardship. As a result of this mindset, they tend to develop the following dysfunctional habits:
- They criticize themselves for not being the best boyfriend/girlfriend they could’ve been and for making mistakes in their love life.
- They belittle themselves for thinking they are of lesser worth than their ex (and other romantic prospects).
- They judge themselves for being too shy, forgiving, emotional, or needy when interacting with their ex (and other romantic prospects).
- They ruminate on past mistakes, engage in “what if” type scenarios, and get stuck with the infamous could/would/should pattern on repeat.
There are many ways we define self-love, but, at its core, it boils down to one idea: treating yourself like your own best friend.
Loving yourself after your breakup is one of the central vehicles that keeps you from indulging in endless self-critique, self-judgment, self-belittlement, and rumination.
But It doesn’t stop there. Loving yourself helps you improve in virtually every area of your life.
It helps you cultivate better relationships, increases your self-esteem and sense of self-awareness, makes you more psychologically resilient, and aids you in recognizing our shared human condition, flawed and fragile as it is. And above it, it helps you stop wondering, “Am I as good as them? Am I good enough?”
5 Simple Exercises To Practice Loving Yourself After A Breakup
Most of the exercises below are based on the work of Neff Kristin and Brene Brown. If you’d like to go deeper into them, I urge you to pick up two books: Self-Compassion by Neff Kristin and The Gifts Of Imperfection by Brene Brown.
Also, the ways of loving yourself after a breakup outlined below are in no specific order, and the list is far from exhaustive. These are only the things that worked for my clients and me.
1. Treat Yourself Like Your Own Best Friend
This exercise contains writing. So grab some writing utensils and settle down somewhere you won’t be disturbed. But, if you’re not into writing, don’t sweat it! You can also do the exercise by talking to yourself.
Either way, the most important thing is to keep doing the exercise throughout the following weeks. Eventually, it will form a blueprint for how you relate to yourself long-term — and that’s when you’ll get massive results with it in terms of a better mood and a more positive predisposition.
Step 1: Notice Your Inner Critic
Notice when you’re barraging yourself with criticisms. Try to be as aware as you can of when your inner critic comes to life. When you catch him at work, think about what he’s telling you. Try to be as accurate as possible, noting the inner speech verbatim.
What words does he use? What’s the tonality like — cold, harsh, pissed off? What are the key phrases that keep droning from his mouth? Where are his critiques targeted — your neediness, low self-worth, weird quirks?
Ultimately, get a clear sense of how you talk to yourself. Note down everything. You want to understand your inner critic fully.
Step 2: Soften The Inner Critic’s Voice
Once you’ve noticed your inner critic doing his due diligence (being a bitchy dipshit), soften his voice. However — and this is important — soften it with self-love rather than self-judgment.
For example, instead of telling your inner critic, “you’re such a bitch, leave me alone.” or “Go away, I’m trying to love myself here!” say something like, “I know you’re trying to keep me safe and to point out ways that I need to improve, but your criticism and judgment is not helping at all. Stop acting that way. It’s causing me unnecessary pain.”
Step 3: Reframe The Inner Critic’s Observations
If you’re having trouble thinking of what words to use, imagine what a loving and compassionate friend would say to you in your situation.
You can say something like, “This adversity has nothing to do with your worth as a person. It doesn’t lower it, diminish it, or bury it; it doesn’t affect it at all. You’re okay. Maybe you just made a few mistakes as everyone else does.”
As sappy as that sounds, you can also use physical gestures of warmth (i.e., hugging yourself, stroking your arm, or holding your face tenderly in your hands) to call up the emotion of kindness within you.
Because of our mammalian caregiving system, we’ll always respond positively to being held or rocked or hugged or embraced, even if we’re the ones doing the cuddling ourselves. For some reason, our brain doesn’t know the difference.
2. Change Your Negative Self-Talk To A More Realistic Variant
This exercise is an offshoot of the above one. The thinking goes that amid heartbreak, we usually get trapped in the habit of talking down to ourselves. We may say things like:
- I’m a piece of shit for screwing up my relationship.
- Recovery is pointless. I’ll never be the same again.
- I’ll probably fuck up my future relationships, too.
These bad remarks are just faulty generalizations. Now, the worst thing you can do is try to twist them into their positive counterparts:
- I’m extraordinary beyond measure!
- I’ll reinvent myself. It’s going to be easy and quick.
- I’ll never fuck up my relationships again.
Contrary to popular self-help, overly positive self-talk is just as toxic as its negative variant. Both have the potential to hinder your attempts at loving yourself after a breakup and can even turn you into a narcissist.
So, since positive self-talk is off the table, and staying in the negative is obviously equally destructive, the only thing left to do is be realistic about the whole damn thing. Here’s how:
Negative: Loving myself is pointless. I’ll never be the same again.
Realistic: Loving yourself is not pointless. It’s paramount to love yourself after your breakup to sustain a healthy dose of self-esteem and self-respect.
Negative: I’ll probably fuck up my future relationships, too.
Realistic: Considering the number of people on Earth, I’ll probably find one who’s a good fit. And yeah, maybe I will fuck up the relationship with them, too. But, I shouldn’t let one failed relationship determine my mindset about future ones.
For best results, don’t only think about but actually, write down your negative thoughts and their realistic counterparts.
3. See How Ordinary And Boring Your Breakup Really Is
Thinking that your breakup experience is abnormal only alienates you from everyone else and makes you feel special. Truth is, virtually everyone has gone through a breakup, and most people have it way worse than you.
This is a tough pill to swallow for some, but your breakup really is nothing special. Once you realize this, you’ll find that loving yourself becomes far easier.
So to achieve this state of realization, your best bet is to talk with other breakup survivors. For example, if you have a friend who’s also heartbroken, have a chat with them.
That said, if none of your friends are currently heartbroken, don’t worry. Thanks to the Internet, there are many online breakup recovery groups where people from all walks of life discuss their heartbreak and help each other out. Find and join them.
Another thing you can do is volunteer. That should get your struggles into perspective. Perhaps join the help crew at a homeless shelter or spend time in a childhood cancer ward.
There, you’ll find suffering much worse than yours that will make you realize you’re actually doing pretty good. Hence, the prospect of loving yourself after a breakup will become much easier.
4. Acknowledge And Validate Your Pain
We’re all wired to avoid pain at all costs. And while that’s a normal instinct, we often forget that it can turn destructive, especially in cases where our pain can’t really hurt us.
For example, your breakup pain can’t physically hurt you. But if you constantly run away from it or try to suppress it, you train your brain to believe that it can. As a result, you feel more fear, anxiety, anger, and shame instead of less. And because of this flaming dogshit of negative emotions, loving yourself becomes that much harder.
So how do you avoid these things and make the process of loving yourself easier? By acknowledging and validating your pain.
Let’s say that months after a breakup, something reminds you of your ex, and you start feeling overwhelmingly sad and in pain. Rather than immediately trying to distract yourself, acknowledgment would look like saying to yourself, “Gee, I feel like shit right now.”
This may sound simplistic on the surface, but it works. And even if the acknowledgment of your pain doesn’t give you immediate relief, it still does something way more powerful: it trains your brain not to fear painful emotions — it builds emotional confidence.
The way you would validate your pain is simple. Right after you acknowledge that it’s within you, remind yourself that it’s okay to feel it.
For example, let’s say you’re browsing Facebook while suddenly you come across a post from your ex. They’re at a party, making out with someone you don’t know. As expected, the sight immediately puts you in a shitty mood.
But instead of succumbing to even worse moods, you tell yourself: “This really sucks. But just because I feel this way doesn’t make me a failure, a bad boyfriend/girlfriend. I loved my ex, and therefore my reaction to their Facebook post is normal, even justified. And I’ll be okay. I’ll grow into a better person eventually, and things like this won’t hurt me as much.”
Ultimately, think of validation as a pressure-release valve on emotional distress. By validating it, it grows less powerful and intense. Sometimes it even fades entirely, at which point loving yourself becomes much easier.
5. Get Some Space
Then go on a trip for the next few weeks — a minimum of two. On this trip, you’re going to be doing some self-work. Specifically, you’ll be focusing on three things: reconnection, clarity, and enjoyment.
- Reconnection: reconnect with who you are, what you care about, and what you stand for — your identity.
- Clarity: work on getting stillness and peace of mind despite the crushing emotional riptides circulating around your heart.
- Enjoyment: relax and indulge in what you love to do or think you’ll love to do.
In practicality, this would mean taking time off from your everyday life and traveling to a place you like — perhaps even a place you haven’t visited yet — and unwinding.
There, you’ll work on and enjoy yourself — be that through mindfulness, reflection, meditation, journaling, whatever. It’s essentially your time to be selfish. It’s the classic technique of “taking yourself on a date” amped up to its limit.
Having some space away from the conventional worries of life will help you find yourself again, and you’ll have a much better chance at starting to love yourself after your breakup after that happens. And don’t get me started on how energized you’ll feel afterward.
Always Mind Intentions When trying to love yourself after a breakup
Regardless of how you’re approaching self-love, there’s one thing you should always keep in mind: doing it for the right reasons.
If you’re doing any of the activities mentioned in this article (or any related ones) because of outside influences — like a friend, family member, or even me telling you to do them — then that’s not true self-love. At least not an effective form of it.
However, if you’re doing activities that encourage self-love because you want to do them — because you believe in them and that they will help you — then you’re doing self-love the right way.
Love yourself the right way.
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