If I’d turn back time right now and flock myself to relive all my most impactful breakups, the first thing I’d do after each would surprise many.
I wouldn’t bother meditating, journaling, or practicing gratitude. I wouldn’t fuss about letting go or my self-care routine. I wouldn’t even try to understand why my breakups happened and how I fucked up.
What I’d work on first is finding hope amid despair, on finding those few subtle, colorful patterns in the infinite sea of static. And only after seizing a handful of them would I proceed to everything else one has to do to heal a broken heart.
You need hope to heal from your breakup. You need hope to even try and heal from your breakup. Hope is the catalyst and facilitator of strong mental and emotional and spiritual health. Without hope, our whole apparatus shuts down.
If you don’t believe there’s a future after your breakup, that your life will improve in some way, that you’ll get better, then you’ll die spiritually.
After all, if there’s no hope of things ever getting better, why do anything? Why try to make something of yourself? Why even live?
There are two major ways one can apprehend hope: a) as an emotion that makes us participate in our own rescue and b) as a coping mechanism that gets us through loss.
At its core, hope is when you still give a fuck about something despite adversity. But, as soon as you find yourself indifferent to it, you’re brushing at the contours of hopelessness.
Hopelessness is a belief that nothing matters anymore, that your future is meaningless, and that no matter what you do, you won’t get better — the world won’t get better.
Put differently, hopelessness is nihilism. The rejection of meaning. The belief that all is meaningless. The belief that everything is fucked.
And this is where many breakup survivors get stuck.
They think that to recover they need to overcome their anxiety, their depression, their misery, their ex-addiction, their obsessions about reconciliation, and so forth. In reality, what they should focus on first, is finding hope because hopelessness is the source of all those things.
And don’t take my word for it. Here’s Mark Manson telling you exactly like it is:
[Hoplessness] is the source of all misery and the cause of all addiction. This is not an overstatement. Chronic anxiety is a crisis of hope. It is the fear of a failed future. Depression is a crisis of hope. It is the belief in a meaningless future. Delusion, addiction, obsession—these are all the mind’s desperate and compulsive attempts at generating hope one neurotic tic or obsessive craving at a time. (1)
Considering Manson’s quote, it’s our job to seek hope after heartbreak —at least some amount of it. Only then can we effectively follow up with healing activities, no-contact, and self-improvement, stick with it, and recover.
But, but, but, Maaaax. The whole looking-for-hope thing feels cringe…
I get it. You may feel silly looking for hope amid the shitstorm life hauled at you. It’s tough. It really is. You may even think that looking for hope is awkward, unnatural, or even inauthentic.
Well, it’s not. Your mind may very well play tricks on you. What feels bad at the moment may not actually be bad. The same as whatever feels good in the moment may not actually be good.
Therefore, if looking for hope makes you feel weird and silly, it doesn’t mean it’s actually weird and silly.
I mean, you’re well aware of the consequences of hopelessness by now. Taking them into account, looking for hope like a starved dog, thrown out to rot, doesn’t seem so farfetched anymore. Hopefully, it’s beginning to sound like something of utmost importance.
So how does one find hope amid despair? How can you find those patterns in the static? Below are five ways I would go about it.
1. Find hope in preparing for the worst
One of the most life-altering chapters of Ryan Holidays’ brilliant book, The Obstacle Is The Way, is titled Anticipation. In it, Ryan talks about a well-known Stoic exercised coined The Premediations Of Evil (premeditatio malorum). For simplicity’s sake, we’ll call it premortem.
The idea behind the ancient wisdom is simple: envision everything that could go wrong in a certain situation. This will help you anticipate the worst and mentally and strategically prepare for it. The thinking went that if you could be comfortable with the worst, then everything else would be a pleasant surprise.
Here’s how premortem would look like in your case:
. . . What if my ex reaches out tomorrow and I fall back into depression . . . Well, I can block them and avoid the whole predicament. And when I feel better, I can always unblock them.
. . . What if my breakup pain is too much to bear and I get suicidal . . . Well, I can hire a therapist to help me out, so things don’t get that heated.
. . . What if I get so obsessed with my ex that I show up unannounced at their doorstep at 3 am. . . Well, I can always give my apartment key to a loyal friend for safekeeping and make a deal with them to only let me out at certain hours of the day.
Far too many breakup survivors succumb to their emotions and hurt themselves — physically or psychologically — for preventable reasons. It’s also mindboggling that so many of them refuse to make a backup plan if things go sideways because they don’t believe things could ever go sideways!
Your plan and the way things pan out rarely resemble each other. What you think you deserve is also rarely what you’ll get. Stop denying this fact. Stop setting yourself up for failure.
But, what can one do when nothing can be done? Well, the Stoics — those fucking titans — even had that base covered. They cultivated the mindset of “It will suck, but we’ll be okay.” I implore you to take on the same thinking.
“Life’s shit, the world’s shit, everything shit….but I’ll be better for it.”
Another offshoot of this same way of thinking would be “outward pessimist, inward optimist:”
“It’s best to be pessimistic about the actions of the world around you, but optimistic in your own ability to surmount those obstacles—outward pessimist, inward optimist.” (2)
2. Find hope in centeredness
When life launches us into heartbreak and calls upon us a riptide of grief, we often lose our footing and think, “This is it, man! This is where my story ends. I’m fucked.”
Relax. Sometimes it may seem like everything is fucked, when it’s really not. At those times, say to yourself a silent reminder to center you.
“Life’s not as bad as I think it is, but it’s also not as good as I think it is either.”
This phrase — call it an affirmation if you must — is what helps you stay centered when everything around you tries to decenter you. It’s how you can keep yourself in order amid chaos. It’s how you can stop yourself from overestimating your negative or positive emotions.
Because here’s the thing: Once you succumb to the chaos and begin overestimating your emotions, you become uncentered.
From that state forward, you’re much more inclined to make idiotic decisions, like spamming your ex-partners’ phone, sending them a sappy love letter, or doing cocaine in your local mall’s bathroom.
Let’s unpack this concept further.
No, not the cocaine-bathroom thing! The whole emotional overestimation thing…
There are three types of breakup survivors: those who overestimate their positive emotions, those who overestimate their negative emotions, and those who don’t do any of the two.
The ones who believe things are way better than they are delusionally positive. Probably the type of people who tell themselves how amazing they are 50 times in the mirror every morning, love the smell of their own farts, and put #inspirational quotes in their joints. Their overly optimistic attitude makes them horrible decision-makers, inclined to grandeur and narcissism, and ultimately, sets them up for failure.
The ones who believe things are way worse than they are downers. They’re the perpetual self-proclaimed victims and the cynical bunch, incessantly moaning how life’s not fair. They’re also trapped in a cycle of self-depreciation, incapable of genuine gratitude, and often grapple with depression and crippling anxiety.
The point? Stay in the middle. Be the person who doesn’t overestimate any emotions, the positive nor the negative.
Whenever you fall on each extreme, you risk severely damaging your mental and emotional health. Also, it’s a quick way to lose all of your friends.
Remember: “Life’s not as bad as you think it is, but it’s also not as good as you think it is either.”
3. Find hope in purpose
Let me ask you a few questions.
- What needs to be said or done that you can say or do?
- What are you willing to suffer for?
- What makes you forget to eat?
- How can you leave your footprint in this world?
- What are you willing to sacrifice greatly for?
- What do you care about more than yourself?
- What do you want to do with the time you have left on this ocean ball?
If you haven’t got the answers to those questions, find them. They all relate to the same thing: your purpose. The biggest hope-sandwich you can eat.
However, I’m not referring to the spiritual BS version with all the lofty expectations tied around it here. No. What I’m referring to is the simple, down-to-earth purpose of “What should I be doing in my life that I like, that I’m somewhat good at, that I can make a living around, and that’s important.”
Finding this out — especially now that we’ve stripped it of all the lofty woo-woo cosmic significance bullshit — is far simpler than you think. Usually, your purpose will be right in front of you.
When I started my Internet business in 2016, I’ve been dabbling with all kinds of platforms, looking for one I was born to base my career around.
I wrote blog posts, I filmed Youtube videos, I recorded Podcasts, I designed pins for Pinterest, hell, I even ran Facebook, Google, and Reddit ads, all at the same time. Basically, I’ve been all over the digital entrepreneur landscape. And in retrospect, the only thing that stuck with me was blogging.
But despite writing three books and hundreds of posts, It still didn’t occur to me. I still kept searching for that one thing I was meant to do, even though It was clear as day I should double down on blogging.
On the one hand, what held me back was my lack of self-awareness, but on the other, it was my fear of failure.
But hey, that’s how purpose works! You notice it only by observing the mundane and obvious. And chances are, you already know it but are just too afraid or insecure to pursue it.
It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about these things.
If you have no idea what to do with your life, try as many things as you can, and you’ll get a better sense of what’s enjoyable and important for you and what’s not. And if you somewhat know purpose already but fear to pursue it, seek help, read books, work on yourself. It’s really that simple. Hell, sometimes you don’t need to do anything other than grow up.
4. Find hope in human connection
Do yourself a favor, and don’t suffer alone. Create a strong network of relationships to help you get through heartbreak. We’re wired for social connection, after all. Without it, our system begins to deteriorate. (4)
But don’t seek out just any relationship. Find the kinds where you feel safe to open up, that are full of empathic and caring people willing to listen to you, and where you’ll be encouraged to reflect on your situation, learn important life lessons, and ultimately, find some sort of meaning.
And don’t give me the introvert argument. I’m an introvert, and I still adore having someone by my side to have fun with, to vent to, to fuck around with.
Also, don’t give me the “I’m a badass” argument. Even the world’s biggest badasses, the world’s grandest and most respected Titans, have friends and never made it alone.
So call up your family members, your tightest friends, maybe even solidify the relationship with the few who are not so close to you. They will help you stay in check and fend off loneliness. These people are your hope-bearers.
5. Find hope in suffering
According to Victor Frankl, there are three ways one can discover meaning, hence, hope.
- By creating a work or doing a deed.
- By experiencing something or encountering someone.
- By the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.
Let’s zoom in on the third point.
Suffering is unavoidable when you’re going through heartbreak. You can respond to it in two ways:
You can try to eliminate or minimize it — a very postmodern, often toxic way of dealing with it. Or, you can accept it, take responsibility for it, and use it to grow into a better person despite it.
The latter is the option I’d go for.
Even better, let your struggles define you. Find joy in them. Learn how to love the pain because it will make you a more resilient and humble human being.
To lead with yet another example from my life.
Currently, I’m working about 12 hours a day on this site. Half a year ago, I spent even more time on it. I also have a girlfriend who I have to date and a body that I want to put through rigorous exercise at least three times a week and fuel with quality food. And to top it all off, I must also make time for myself.
Obviously, doing all the above is not always possible. In fact, it’s usually a struggle. Sacrifices have to be made. Every decision has a price. Everything has its own set of consequences — good and bad.
However, despite my struggle, I love the grind. I’m somehow addicted to it. Sure, I get tired, lazy, and take days off, but there’s some weird desire for pointless suffering at the very core of my being.
Same goes for my breakups. Once I got a hold of this concept, I began to find a sick pleasure in my suffering, for I knew that even though it hurts now, I will be better for it. As will you.
And the same goes for just about any successful person. They all identify with their pain. They’re all proud of their persistence, perseverance, and drive despite all odds.
They all made friends with their inner masochists — they all kept consciously or unconsciously repeating the same thing I kept repeating to myself when in pain; the same thing you should keep repeating to yourself, too:
“Yeah, choke me, bitch! Fucking choke me!”
Find your inner masochist. Find a way to get a sick pleasure off your pain. Then leverage it to recover and heal your heart.
Pursue hope despite knowing it’s a ghost
Your hope is nothing but an elusion. The universe doesn’t care whether you find solace or put a bullet in your head. It doesn’t care about your happiness, your recovery, your mental health. It couldn’t care less.
So you desperately delude yourself that there’s some grand importance, a grand meaning behind accomplishing your post-breakup goals, behind your endurance, behind your suffering.
However, there’s nothing there: no grand meaning, no grand purpose. Even your self-importance is made up. And your actions mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. You are nothing. We are nothing. And any sort of rebuttal to those things is your hope talking.
But that’s okay. That’s healthy. It’s what you want, so embrace it. It’s a healthy form of delusion — one that keeps hopelessness, and with it, nihilism at bay.
So be brave. Go and find your hope. But not just any hope; a sustainable, realistic, robust, and powerful one. A hope that cuts through the infinite static and pierces your heart with glee. A hope that can carry you to the end of days.
Cover photo is by Grandfailure via 123RF.
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