If you’re currently coping with a breakup or have struggled to rebuild confidence after a relationship in the past, this one’s for you.
Whether it’s been two days, two months, or two years since you last talked to your significant other, being single can take some getting used to. If you’re lucky, maybe the relationship ended on good terms and perhaps you can even remain good friends. But in other far less fortunate scenarios, breakups can be messy, hostile, and cause sheer devastation to your mental health.
The specific situation you’re in will determine how much your self-esteem is affected, of course, but speaking from my own personal experience: I remember feeling incredibly ashamed and rejected after my SO dumped me. I sympathize with anyone who has ever grieved and felt guilty in the wake of it all. This experience doesn’t discriminate on who initiated the split, either; no matter where you stand after a breakup, it can be an emotionally damaging process for any and all parties involved.
Several months following my breakup, I realized that I had been sabotaging myself ever since I became single. Somehow, the factors and intense emotions accompanying the experience led me to believe that I was undeserving of love. It was the kind of mindset where I wondered: if I couldn’t make things work with my last ex for various reasons — some of which were my own fault — how could I ever redeem myself for a future partner?
Yet, there’s a difference between lacking motivation to get yourself back out there after a breakup and feeling inadequate in your abilities to love and be loved romantically. If you’re reading this, realizing that you might be manifesting similar energy and feeling broken beyond repair, I’m here to first tell you that you are worthy of love, and to resist the voice in your head that might be telling you differently. As cliché as it sounds, it’s okay not to always be okay.
I found that recognizing this distinction was important, as I could then make intentional decisions afterwards to work on myself. Recovering from a distressing experience isn’t always easy and likely won’t happen overnight, but you may find the following actions as helpful in shifting your outlook and overcoming the negativity in time.
- Speak with a therapist
Even though you certainly don’t need a single reason or specific life event to occur in order to start therapy, processing a difficult breakup totally warrants the decision to seek out professional help.
It can be an uncomfortable and emotional, yet freeing, experience to engage in conversations about personal matters with an outsider. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have people in my immediate circle that I can confide in about relationship issues or self-esteem concerns, nor does it imply that these friends and family don’t give sound advice.
When it comes to psychologists, I’m at peace with the fact that they’ve received training and have made a career out of helping others work through their problems. I tried for several months after my ex and I broke up to resolve feelings of inadequacy on my own, but became discouraged after feeling that I hadn’t been making much progress. I don’t refer to progress in the sense of moving on and trying to look for new love, but rather trying to fall back in love with myself.
You might be surprised by how much you can learn about yourself or by how much past experiences can manifest in our current lives. As the weeks progressed, my therapist identified patterns within the stories I shared and got an overall sense of who I was by the way I presented myself during sessions. I think that people commonly believe that we know ourselves the best, and while I agree with that for the most part, going to therapy has made me realize that what we think about ourselves isn’t necessarily the truth.
So even if you’re repeatedly telling yourself that you’re screwed when it comes to love, should stray away from serious relationships, don’t deserve a loyal partner, etc., it doesn’t mean that these thoughts reflect reality. Therapy can serve as a tool to help you apply that distinction to your own life, which brings you one step further in shaking that feeling of worthlessness.
- Begin to journal
Though therapy is a fantastic resource, I recognize that unfortunately it can be difficult to find someone you feel comfortable with and it can be an expense that not everyone can afford. Or, maybe you’ve been wanting to embark on a self-reflection journey and just happen to enjoy writing. Either way, there are many benefits that effective journaling can have on anxiety, stress, and depression.
I’ve always been a writer, so consistently writing down my thoughts, feelings, and experiences became a routine that was easy for me to establish. Even if you’ve never been fond of writing or don’t know where to begin with keeping a journal, the most important thing to keep in mind is that this activity is all about you!
What about your last relationship makes you feel guilty? Where might some of your insecurities stem from? How can you work toward improving these areas? Journaling provides you the privacy and freedom to think as deeply as possible about tough self-reflecting questions.
While it might be heartbreaking to later reread journal entries, it can be empowering to see how much you’ll grow over time.
- Surround yourself with close friends and family
While platonic love shared between friends and the unconditional love of family members doesn’t quite compare to the romantic love you’re likely craving with the loss of your SO, these bonds can still provide comfort and security.
Full disclosure: spending a few minutes on the phone with your mom or grabbing lunch with a friend probably won’t mend your broken heart or serve as an immediate fix to your problems. However, if you’re questioning whether or not you’re worthy of receiving romantic love, odds are — at the very least — it’ll feel a little better to surround yourself with others who aren’t shy when it comes to showing how much they care about you.
- Pursue passions and hobbies that excite you
Staying indoors and abiding by safety protocols meant it was nearly impossible to meet prospective partners or dip my toes into building a romantic connection with someone new over the past year or so. During my peak lows, I’d wonder if I’d ever find love again, and worry that I’d remain the only single one out of my friends forever.
I’d then further spiral into convincing myself that I wasn’t ready for commitment anyway, given how negative of a mindset I was in. It was a vicious cycle that was only exacerbated by the loneliness I already felt due to the pandemic.
Distraction might not be the cure-all when you’re feeling emotionally damaged, but in time I discovered that it was invigorating to start a passion project or hone in on a favorite hobby. For me, this meant that harnessing the energy I had been spending on my insecurities and redirecting it, instead, into a productive activity. Last spring, I spent much of my time in quarantine creating my own blog site, where I’ve continued to publish personal anecdotes and stories that I wish to share with others.
This gave me a sense of accomplishment and confidence that I hadn’t initially anticipated to gain. Whether it’s exercising, reading, cooking, or simply listening to music, don’t underestimate the ability that your stress outlets may give you to reclaim your identity and boost your self-esteem.
No matter what inspires your self-love journey, it’s important to be gentle with yourself in the meantime. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, and then take a deep breath as a reminder that the pain is bound to ease in time. It may not be an easy or a short process, but rest a little bit easier knowing that the future holds a wealth of opportunities — for improvement; for personal growth; for love.