Humans are wired to be able to move on after a break-up. The pain will go away with time. We will recover, and we will move on to develop a new romantic relationship.
But at the time when the pain is intense, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Many of us try not to think about our ex or the break-up. We distract ourselves “doing” things we think will make us forget the pain. Some of us even rush into new relationships to try to get over an ex or break-up.
But new research suggests a much simpler, more organic way to work through our emotions, heal and move on to creating a new relationship.
No, it’s not cutting off your ex, deleting their existence from your social media or taking a two-week trip to Bali.
It’s repeatedly reflecting on the break-up. It actually speeds emotional recovery.
How can that be? Everyone says you should not think about your ex or the break-up. Repeatedly reflecting on the break-up only intensifies emotional pain and extends the healing process.
Researcher at University of Arizona had the same concerns. They were concerned that repeatedly reminding participants that they had just broken up and asking them to describe the break-up over and over could delay recovery. They even discussed with participants the possible downsides to participating in the study, such as emotional distress, rather than benefits.
They were surprised to find the opposite effect.
Researchers particularly looked at “self-concept reorganization”, the process of seeing and defining yourself separate from your ex and from the relationship.
As published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, participants who completed the more intensive set of tasks and measures four times over 9 weeks had better overall recovery from their break-ups.
Asking the participants to reflect on their relationships helped the participants “build a stronger sense of who they were as single people,” says Grace Larson of Northwestern University. “The process of becoming psychologically intertwined with the partner is painful to have to undo. Our study provides additional evidence that self-concept repair actually causes improvements in well-being.”
Most people experiencing recent breakups will not have the option of participating in a scientific study but can still take advantage of this scientifically proved way of processing break-up emotions in a way that speeds up recovery. In my book It’s Just A Break-Up I recommend:
- taking note of which thoughts repeatedly come up when you think of your ex and/or the break-up
- journaling your most intense emotions and reactions to the break-up as if you were talking to your ex
- reflecting on the aspects of oneself that you may have neglected during the relationship and to find ways to nurture once again.
If you are working with a therapist who is more into directly dealing with your emotions as opposed to trying to suppress them or distract yourself from the pain, ask for a few minutes for you to just focus on “self-concept reorganization”. It speeds emotional recovery, especially from a recent breakup.