Click play to listen to this article.
Guides on how to love yourself after a breakup often make people squirm. Some believe self-love is generally 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 some hippie nonsense. It also doesn’t lead to self-absorption and narcissism; it leads away from those things! And, it’s far from an accumulation of empty fluff phrases. It’s a whole branch of psychology, a whole science. (1)
Another crooked belief people have about self-love is that it’s something you’re either born with or not. This is also complete bullshit. The rate and intensity by which you’re able to love yourself after a breakup — as well as the the amount of self-love you possess in general — is not a predefined trait you’re born with. It’s a skill you learn and get better at.
An Intro To Loving Yourself After A Breakup
Most people become their own worst enemies post-breakup. This is unsurprising considering how many of them have been conditioned to be “tough” on themselves to get through hardship. As a result of this mindset, they tend to develop the following dysfunctional habits:
- They criticize themselves for not being the best partner they could’ve been and for making mistakes in their love life.
- They belittle themselves for thinking they are less worthy than their ex (or other romantic prospects).
- They judge themselves for being too shy, forgiving, emotional, or needy when interacting with their ex (or other romantic prospects).
- They ruminate on past mistakes, engage in “what if” type scenarios, and get stuck with the infamous could’ve, would’ve, should’ve pattern on repeat.
While there are many ways to explain the concept, at its core, it really boils down to one simple idea: treating yourself like your own best friend. Once you’re able to pull this off, you can easily fend off all the dysfunctional habits I listed earlier.
But It doesn’t stop there. Learning how to love yourself after a breakup helps you improve in virtually every area of your life. It helps you cultivate better relationships, it improves your sleep, it encourages you to stick to healthy habits, it increases your self-esteem and awareness, and it makes you more psychologically resilient. (2) (3) (4)
6 Simple Ways To Practice Loving Yourself After A Breakup
Some of the activities and tips below are based on the work of Neff Kristin and Brene Brown. They’re also listed in no specific order. And the list is far from exhaustive — these are only ways of loving oneself that I’ve seen work best first-hand.
1. Treat Yourself Like Your Own Best Friend
Grab some writing utensils and settle down somewhere you won’t be disturbed. We’ll do some writing. That said, you can also perform the following by talking to yourself. Either way, the most important thing is to keep doing the exercise throughout the next few weeks. Because eventually, it will form a blueprint for how you relate to yourself long-term — and that’s when it’ll put you in a better mood.
Step 1: Notice Your Inner Critic
When you catch him at work, reflect on 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 he keeps using? Where are his critiques targeted — your neediness, low self-worth, weird quirks? Get a clear sense of how you talk to yourself. Note down everything. You want to fully understand your inner critic.
Step 2: Soften The Inner Critic’s Voice
Once you’ve noticed your inner critic doing his due diligence, soften his voice. However do so through 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 point out ways I can 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
Basically imagine what a loving and compassionate friend would say to you in your situation. You can tell yourself 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 it 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 one above. 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 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 advice, positive self-talk can be just as toxic as its negative variant. Both have the potential to hinder your attempts at loving yourself and can even turn you into one of those benevolent narcissists that totally means well but is insufferable to be around for more than 12 seconds.
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, write down your negative thoughts and their realistic counterparts — don’t just think about them.
3. See How Ordinary And Boring Your Breakup Really Is
Thinking that your breakup 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 people, but your breakup really is nothing special. Once you realize this, you’ll find that loving yourself becomes far easier.
To achieve this realization, talk with other breakup survivors. That said, if none of the people you know 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
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. And because of these negative emotions, loving yourself becomes harder. But by acknowledging and validating your pain, you can short-circuit this process and accelerate the expansion of self-love.
Let’s unpack this idea.
Acknowledgment translates to a) avoiding distractions while in pain, and b) addressing your pain by saying to yourself something like, “Not gonna lie, I feel like shit right now.”
This may sound simplistic on the surface, but it works. And even if the acknowledgment doesn’t give you immediate relief, it still does something way more powerful: it trains your brain not to fear painful emotions and it builds confidence.
Now after you acknowledge your pain, simply remind yourself that it’s okay to feel it — that’s what it means to validate it. You could say to yourself something like, “Okay, so I feel like shit at the moment, but that’s okay. Nothing wrong with feeling this way. I’ll grow more resilient eventually, and things like this won’t hurt me as much.”
Think of validation as a pressure-release valve on pain. By validating it, it grows less powerful and intense. Sometimes it even fades entirely, at which point, as you’d expect, loving yourself becomes much easier.
5. Get Some Space
For one, cut your ex out of your life and don’t contact them anymore for any reason. Or at least distance yourself from them if you still need to stay in touch for logistical reason like having kids or pets, or because you’re working or living together. This is technically called going no contact, which you can read more about here.
Then go on a trip for the next few weeks to unwind — a minimum of two. On this trip, focus on the following:
- 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.
This trip is essentially your time to be selfish. To really amp up self-love during it, experiment with the following modalities: mindfulness, reflection, meditation, journaling, gratitude practices, qi-gong, yoga.
Generally, getting some space away from the conventional worries 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.
6. Forgive Yourself
Forgiving yourself can be a challenging process, but it’s an essential step to loving yourself after a breakup, as well as improving your mental and emotional well-being. Here are some tips that will make the whole process much easier:
- Acknowledge and take responsibility for what you did wrong in your relationship. And don’t bullshit yourself.
- Consider how your actions affected your ex and yourself. Understanding the impact can help you see why it’s important to forgive yourself and move on.
- Practice self-compassion. A good way to start is by applying all the previous activities I listed until now.
- Use your mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow. Consider what you could’ve done differently in your relationship and how you can prevent another breakup from happening again in the future.
- Instead of dwelling in the past, focus on the present moment. Set new goals for yourself, create new healthy habits and routines while breaking the bad ones, and take steps towards building a better future in general.
Remember that forgiving yourself is a process, and it may take time. Be patient with yourself and seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional if needed.
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 from this article, or any related ones, because of outside influences — like a friend, family member, or me telling you to do them — then that’s not true self-love. At least not an effective form of it.
But if you’re doing these sorts of activities 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.
7 Ways To Feel Happy After A Breakup
Learn the science-based truth on what happiness is, what it isn't, and 7 ways on how to be happy after a breakup, even when it's difficult.
Don’t Fear The Rebound Relationship
A rebound relationship is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, it's a great thing — in the short and long term, no matter how it unravels.
6 Ways To Stop Feeling Lonely After A Breakup
Discover 6 proven principles on how to stop feeling lonely after a breakup and start enjoying your solitude so you can recover faster.
Don’t Take The Stages Of Anything Too Seriously
Learn five reasons why you should always treat breakup-related psychological stages as nothing more than a personality test or horoscope.
6 Healthy Relationship Quirks Most People Think Are Toxic
It could be our thinking about our relationship that’s flawed, and not necessarily the relationship itself.