By Deborah Kotz and Angela Haupt
Getting over a broken heart is never easy, especially in the social networking age, when photos of you and your ex in happier times remain plastered on your friends' Facebook pages. Worse, recent research suggests that romantic rejection can cause physical pain in a way that no other negative emotion-not even anger or fear-can.
But it's actually good to go through the insane despair and bouts of endless tears that result from being dumped, contends bestselling author and relationship expert Susan Piver. We should embrace these feelings rather than run from them, she argues in her book, The Wisdom of a Broken Heart. "As unlikely as it may sound, this sorrow is the gateway to lasting happiness," she writes, speaking of her own two-year experience recovering from heartbreak. Piver and other experts described ways to ride through those uninvited waves of grief.Broken heart on a warning road signal.
1. Make friends with your heartbreak. You may be tempted to try and forge past it, numbing the pain with rebound sex or a date with a gallon of ice cream. Or you may harden your heart and swear off all future relationships. But that's the cowardly approach, and one that won't serve you well in the long run. "It takes a lot of courage to be sad," says Piver, "but a fantastic life is not one that is placidly happy." With grieving comes increased awareness: of what's truly important to you; whom you love; who loves you. "Of course, no one wants to feel that way, myself included," Piver adds, "but if you allow [the sadness] to teach you, it actually will resolve faster than any effort to fight it."
2. Deal appropriately with negative thoughts. Meditation is a great way to quiet the mind and help deal with the tendency to beat yourself up for things going wrong, says Piver, a practicing Buddhist. Another approach when negative thoughts are running endlessly through your mind is to get up and do something else. "Take a walk or call someone who's having difficulty and try to think of them instead of yourself," says Piver. You can also try examining your thoughts from a distance. "Let them just rush in, like a stream rushing by," Piver recommends. "Feel your feelings without telling yourself a story about them." When Piver was at the lowest point of her heartbreak, she took her sadness to mean that she'd never feel happy again, had no chance of meeting anyone, and even if she did meet someone, she'd probably wind up being a total jerk and woman-hater. These thoughts just plunged her deeper into prolonged sadness. Simply acknowledging to yourself what you're feeling (hopelessness, despair, fear) without drawing any conclusions from those feelings, she says, will allow your mind to process the grief more quickly and return to a more balanced state.
3. Turn up the radio. Science suggests that music has a therapeutic effect. (No, not that breakup album with the sad, lovesick songs.) Blare some of your favorite, feel-good tunes: Listening to them can trigger the release of endorphins, lifting your spirits and combating stress.
4. Know the difference between grief and depression. There is often a fine line between the two, and normal heartbreak can sometimes transform into full-blown depression. How to tell the difference? In depression, nothing seems to matter, Piver writes, whereas with sadness, everything does. A telltale sign that depression is setting in is that you ruminate nonstop about the breakup, and " you cannot stop your mind from tormenting you with very painful thoughts," Piver says.
5. Feel some kindness toward your ex. "The most potent step you can take in your own healing," Piver writes, "is to extend loving kindness to your ex." Although that seems counterintuitive and next to impossible, the process of extending your heart to someone whom you have no intention of loving ever again, she says, can actually bring feelings of stability and peace to your inner mind. You don't need to forgive or forget your ex's past transgressions or stay in touch. (In fact, Piver says it's a good idea to de-friend him on Facebook to keep from obsessing about his every move.) Your focus should be on letting go of anger. Piver recommends sitting in a quiet, comfortable place and spending a few minutes wishing yourself well-may I be happy, healthy, peaceful, accepting of myself-before wishing your ex the same. Remember that no matter how badly he treated you, he has the same longing as you: to find love and be happy.
6. Write the story of your relationship. Do it from the third-person point of view in three different writing sessions. First, tell about how this woman met this man and how they fell in love. Then write about the love story and how it started going south. Finally, tell the story of the breakup: She said this; he did that. "Just taking that step back and looking at your circumstance as if you were describing someone else may sound silly, but it helps you bring a very valuable perspective," says Piver. "And it also helps you look at your story from the stance of someone who's OK instead of someone who's embroiled in agony." You might also gain some valuable revelations: what you miss about the relationship and what you don't.
7. Steer clear of the self-help section. Bookstore shelves are crammed with books that say, "This is your fault. You created this situation by the way you thought, or by carrying forward childhood wounds," Piver says. But that's not true. "Don't try to come up with reasons on why it happened and how to prevent it from happening again. Allow yourself to feel heartbreak-that's what actually gets us over it."
8. Give love. Perhaps at no other time than post-breakup do we want love so much, Piver says. But instead of desperately searching, give love, to anyone, in any situation. "There's always a chance of loving," Piver says. "That is how you balance the sorrow and rage from the heartbreak you're dealing with-by giving love to whatever situation or person you are interacting with. That is the secret."
Updated on 3/21/2012: This story was originally published on Jan. 14, 2010.