Healing After a Breakup + Journal Prompts for Clarity and Direction
A breakup is one of the most painful experiences we encounter on life’s journey. The heartbreak, the anger, the guilt, the longing, the tears, trouble sleeping, the mental preoccupation, the anxiety and depression, and the loss. Breakups take a toll on more than our hearts and minds. Studies have shown the brain processes emotional pain the same as physical pain. When given a pain reliever, neural responses were reduced in both regions of the brain that process social pain (loss and rejection) and physical pain (DeWall, 2010). The physical pain of a breakup is real. The aching in your heart, the heaviness in your chest, and the sense of discomfort in your own skin. We feel the grief and loss of a break up in our bodies, and when we’re trying to move on that can be challenging to overcome. Yet, just as our body can heal, so can our hearts with time and intentional care.
If you’re reading this while fresh out of a romantic relationship, my heart feels for and with you. Let’s take a deep breath together, right here as you read this. Place one hand over your heart and one hand over your solar plexus, or just go ahead and wrap your arms around yourself. It might be hard to access in this moment, but see if you can feel any amount of warmth or care for your own beautiful heart and spirit. If you can’t right now, that’s okay, think of someone who cares about you, or any source of love and strength. It could be a person, pet, or universal energy. Notice this being’s acceptance and compassion for you. Let that in to your body. Whether separating was your choice or not, you deserve some grace.
We can get caught in the fantasy that closure comes from the other person. We believe that until we can have a conversation with the other we are stuck and can’t move on. More on this in a follow up post, but what I want to say here is that the most powerful closure comes from within. Until we can understand and forgive ourselves for our part in the ending, and the other person for theirs (if it serves your healing to forgive them, maybe it serves your healing not to), talking to them about it may end up setting you back.
Time does heal, but time doesn’t heal everything. If we haven’t fully processed the situation, emotions will remain unresolved like scar tissue that continues to elicit pain. We are more likely to repeat the same unhealthy patterns in the future. Below is a journaling process with prompts to support you by finding clarity about what contributed to this ending so you can move forward having grown from it. Let yourself free write to each prompt, and be gentle with what comes up. You may not want to answer some of these just yet, and that’s okay. Revisit these as you need.
1. Name what you are currently feeling. Begin my putting words to your emotions and physical sensations. Try not to interpret them or make meaning of them. My heart hurts. I feel nauseous. I feel sad. I’m tearful. I feel angry. I feel numb. I feel shocked, and confused.
2. Give a voice to the strongest emotion or feeling. Feelings are information. They carry messages about ourselves, our needs, and desires. They need expression. We don’t need to dwell on them, but we can acknowledge their message. Here is where we give them that space to be expressed. Start with “if this pain had a voice it would say…” or “if the tightness in my throat could speak…” or “if the anger had a message it would be…”
3. What didn’t work for me in the relationship was… Here is your opportunity to reflect and name what wasn’t working for you. What didn’t feel good to you? What needs were going unmet?
4. My part in that was… In order to learn and grow from this breakup, you must be willing to take responsibility for your part in the dynamic. It doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Be gentle with yourself here. We all play a part in relationships ending even if it wasn’t our choice. It means you acknowledge where the opportunity for your growth is and what you are learning from it. What part of you was in control in what was going on?
5. I tried to make it work by… Acknowledge how you didtry to make it work, whether it was effective or not. Maybe you tried to make it work by starting conversations even if they didn’t go well. Maybe you tried by apologizing. Maybe you tried by going to therapy. Maybe you tried by suppressing your emotions or needs.
- That helped when…
- But it didn’t help when…
- What that tells me is…
6. What I needed… What has all of this revealed to you about your needs in the relationship? How about what you need in relationships going forward?
7. What I want that matters most to me in a relationship is… Name what you want in a relationship that you are now clear on.
8. Do I believe that I deserve that? This is important. If you don’t believe you deserve what you want, how might that be keeping you stuck? Be gentle.
- If so, do I believe this person is willing and able to be the person who can meet me in the space of what I want and deserve?
9. Do I believe this relationship is workable? Is the problem due to a fundamental misalignment in your values, or is there room for compromise? Are they willing to work on themselves and are you willing to work on yourself in order to co-create a relationship that honors both of your needs and values?
10. I am grateful for this relationship because… Be mindful with this one. You don’t have to be grateful. Let’s not spiritually bypass. If you’re not authentically grateful, then don’t be. Skip this one for now. Allow this question to be more about what the relationship did provide you. This could be something like “I got to cuddle with someone when I was lonely” or “it showed me that I am capable of attracting a mate in my life.”
You do not have to go through this alone. Navigating a breakup with the support of a therapist can help ease suffering, reduce feelings of isolation, calm anxiety and depression, and instill hope and resilience. Talking about it with a trusted person can be like medicine that helps ensure that you heal and grow from what happened instead of staying stuck or repeating unhealthy patterns. You can walk through this as a stronger, better person.
Whenever you’re ready, book a free consultation, and we can get through this together.
DeWall, C.N., MaCDonald G, Webster G.D., et al. (June, 14, 2010). Acetaminophen Reduces Social Pain: Behavioral and Neural Evidence. Psychological Science. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.comdoabs10.1177/0956797610374741