Written by Writer’s Corps member Felicia Lin
Breaking up with someone is hard enough, but when it’s because of unhealthy patterns or relationship abuse, it gets even more complicated. There will come a time when you’re at peace with your decision to end the relationship and feel ready to start another one. Until then, you might be surprised at some of the thoughts that arise.
Just because you’re thinking about your ex doesn’t mean you are meant to get back together. When it happens (and it will), try not to judge yourself for having those thoughts. Instead, take time to understand what’s triggering your lingering thoughts about your ex and then figure out what you can do about them. Giving yourself space to explore all of your thoughts about the previous relationship can help to empower you to pull through these residual feelings, in spite of it all. Read on to learn how to handle some of the conflicting thoughts that you might have after a traumatic breakup.
1. It Feels Like My Ex Is Still Around
Even though the relationship is over, your ex can still be “present” in your life. Do you ever find yourself replaying things in your mind and thinking about what you could have said or done differently? Are you reminded of things your ex would say or do, good or bad? With all of the shared experiences you’ve had, there will be lots of memories. While reminiscing over the past is normal, don’t let memories of you and your ex together dominate your thoughts.
As you go through these thoughts, just remember, your ex no longer has a hold on you. When you look back on things, try to see what you did to accommodate your significant other in the relationship. Were the adjustments you made healthy or not? Did they change or restrict you? Recognizing that your ex’s behavior was abusive will curb any desire to romanticize your experience or any lingering feeling you may have.
You can’t change the past, but you can live in the present and focus on the future. Instead of constantly focusing on these memories and keeping the past alive, think about what you learned and can do differently the next time around. Think about the things that you will not tolerate again in your next relationship – perhaps even make a list or commit them to paper.
2. I Miss My Ex
You probably miss the companionship and good parts of the relationship. There were real feelings and memories there. And you probably wanted the relationship to be better, not over. You might have to admit that you are still having a hard time letting go. And that’s ok.
Abusive relationships are complicated and the emotional fallout of leaving one can be a lot for anyone to handle. When you initially break up, it’s normal for your thoughts to swing between missing the moments you shared with your ex and not knowing why you stayed in the relationship for so long. Again, this is completely fine.
When romanticizing the past we tend to forget about the disappointing things or unhealthy behaviors that happened during the relationship which can prevent us from moving on. Try creating a pros and cons list for the relationship. On the list, be honest about the times they’ve hurt you. Doing so will help diminish our natural inclination to fantasize about the past and romanticize about what it could have been.
3. Why Am I Still Doing Some Of The Same Activities That My Ex and I Used To Do Together?
You may have picked up certain habits or routines while with your ex. Or maybe you and your ex would do certain activities together. The question to ask yourself here is whether or not the activities and routines are healthy or useful TO YOU. Let’s say that you and your ex used to regularly bike together, and you enjoyed biking so much that you’ve continued to bike by yourself. That’s not such a bad thing, as long as it is not holding you back, keeping you stuck in the past, or stopping you from moving on.
You can make biking your own interest by exploring some new bike paths, asking a friend to join you for a bike ride, joining a cycling group, planning a bike riding trip, or participating in a bike-a-thon or a bike race. There are many ways to make biking your own experience. If on the other hand, you realize that you’d rather swim than bike because you enjoy swimming more than biking. Then, you should get rid of your bike and start swimming instead. You can always change your habits and routines, especially if they are not working for you. Try replacing an old routine with something new that you enjoy. There’s no time like the present to do that.
4. No One Understands
Do you have friends who know what you’ve been through, but have not acknowledged what happened or asked how you are doing? Have you had someone say something insensitive to you like, “You’ll get over it. You are young. You’ll have lots more opportunities?”
Perhaps your friends simply don’t know how to bring up the topic with you, don’t know how to be supportive, or they may not realize the depths of the unhealthy relationship behaviors you experienced. When you’re ready, break the ice and talk to them about what you’ve been through. Invite them to ask you questions about it and tell them what you need from them.
It might also be a good idea to find a support group of people who have been through what you’ve been through. You’ll be able to meet and talk to others who have had a similar experience. And you’ll be amongst people who can empathize and understand. You can learn from the experiences of others in the group, and the reverse may also happen with others learning from your story.
5. Am I Safe?
If you feel a sense of dread and danger, you may be suffering from a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. You may need to get professional help if these thoughts are making it hard for you to go about your daily life.
Focus on your resolve to never let your ex harm you anymore. If you haven’t already done so, you should take measures toward completely cutting off any communications with your ex. Or in the most extreme cases, filing a restraining order may be necessary to protect yourself.
Think about what makes you feel safe. Re-establish old routines that make you feel safe. Talk to trusted friends and family about your feelings. Think about which of your friends are reliable and trustworthy and ask them for support – perhaps even check in with someone on a daily basis. If you need to, consider working with your friends and/or family to create a safety plan.
6. Being Alone Is Harder Than I Thought
Going through a breakup is hard. There is a sense of loss and you may not be used to being on your own. You may feel lonely at times. But certainly there were also hard things about being in a relationship that was unhealthy or involved abuse.
However, now that you are out of a relationship, it’s time for a new beginning. You can start new routines and reframe your personal boundaries. Reconnect with your family and friends, or get out there and socialize with new people.
Get comfortable with doing things by yourself or for yourself. Focus on self-care: Pamper yourself, get a massage, or treat yourself to a spa day. Try something new whether it’s learning a different language, taking a class or picking up a new hobby. Take advantage of all the time you now have to yourself.
If you have any of these six thoughts, acknowledge them but don’t condemn yourself for having any of them. Healing is a process and it’s often not a linear one. Put yourself in the driver’s seat by making sure that you take care of yourself and put yourself first. Take time to feel comfortable on your own, and to find yourself again. Build a support network for yourself by reaching out to trusted friends and family or to a support group.
Don’t be afraid to seek professional help and don’t rush into a new relationship right away. You might be simply substituting your old relationship for a new one. It’s important to understand what didn’t work in your past relationship and to know what you will and won’t put up with in your next relationship.
Many people who have gone through a breakup might not want to admit having had some of these thoughts. You’ll be ahead of the game if you prepare yourself by anticipating some of the thoughts that might come up for you as you go through your breakup.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)