Many of us will experience a broken heart in a lifetime.
Maybe you are suffering right now? That relationship that once seemed perfect, but just didn’t work out.
What can you do to make yourself feel better?
Get under the covers for a good cry? Head straight for the gin and tonic? Start swiping left and right on Tinder?
These are all ways to deal with the immediate emotional fallout. Sometimes we need the immediate relief of treating the pain and not the cause.
I am not here to tell you to do otherwise. These choices are very much symptomatic of what can be seen as the process of heartbreak.
It is in this process of heartbreak that your mind will take your heart on a journey. As your mind can only ever be in one of three places, this is where that journey will take you.
1. Back to the past
You will cry and turn to the gin because your mind will take your broken heart to the past.
It will trawl up every aspect of the relationship and it won’t be that impartial in the process.
If you were cheated on, it will focus on all those times you had your doubts. Your broken heart will take you back to weekends when you weren’t with your partner. It will go back to the work trips when they came back and you felt there was something different.
That heart of yours will demonise whoever managed to capture the attention of your ex. It will examine in the minutest detail what you could have done differently.
Maybe you were blissfully unaware that your ex was cheating?
Maybe your ex wasn’t cheating at all and just turned around one day and said they didn’t love you anymore?
In any of these scenarios, you may well enter what I call the “could have, should have, would have” state of mind. And if you don’t go there of your own accord, you can count on your friends to help take you there.
With your rose-coloured glasses on, you will dredge up all the happy moments and concur that, “it could have been so beautiful.”
(English Northerner alert with regards the next paragraph: we are known for our straight-talking!)
You can use as many past modal verbs as you like. You can think about all the things you would have done, that they should have done, and what could have been different. The thing is you didn’t, they didn’t, and it isn’t.
This is a bit tough to hear, right? And in fact, your mind won’t like bouncing around in the past as, particularly in the early stages of separation, it will only find more evidence to reinforce the present unhappiness.
At this point your mind will say, “Come on broken heart, I will take you to a better place.”
2. To a brighter future
Your mind has told your broken heart that the the past didn’t work so it instead it projects onto a brighter future. It is time to make new memories that will allow you to erase the old.
This is where you decide you are going to wash that man or woman right out of your hair. You are going to get back out there.
You have ditched the days crying under the duvet by now, but may have kept the gin for other reasons. Tinder has become your new friend.
You have some fun. At least, you tell yourself you are having fun.
You hear yourself talking about your ex to your new date. They, generously, also share their extensive heartbreak story with you. You both agree that your exes were dreadful, dreadful people.
Seduction never used to look like this, but at least you have both decided on everything that needs to be different this time around.
Once you get past the depressing conversation, there is some fun to be had but there is something not that easy about these new dates. You realise that you are constantly on the lookout for where it might go wrong.
Your mind can’t risk your heart getting hurt again. It promised it better days, after all.
3. Just right here in the present moment
Other than your mind taking your broken heart to the pain of the past or the fear of repeated heartbreak in the future, there is only one place left to go. That is, unless you want to keep repeating the same cycles.
We can’t change the past and we can’t predict a pain-free future. Our minds are like pendulums swinging between thoughts of the past and plans of the future. It is actually quite difficult sometimes to bring your mind to the present moment.
What does it actually mean to be in the present moment?
It means allowing yourself time just to sit with yourself and accept what has happened in the past — without looking to change it, but also without casting any judgement on the whys and wherefores.
It is also about not projecting onto a future where someone else will make you happy again, but choosing to project on a now, where you will make yourself happy.
So, can a broken heart find its way home?
It definitely can.
It just may take some time, and don’t be hard on yourself if it does.
I described heartbreak as a process and it’s not a linear one. Don’t think I am oversimplifying things. Your mind does not take your heart by the hand and go from A to B to C or from past to future to present.
Your mind, by nature of being a human mind, will continue to flip between the past and the future. What you can do in the process is start to train your mind to be progressively more in the present moment.
The crying, the gin, the rebound sex: these things are like taking a paracetamol for a headache. They provide some immediate relief, but that headache may come back if you don’t treat the underlying cause.
This is what training your mind to be in the present moment will allow you to do over time: treat the cause.
So, how can I start being more in the present moment?
There are two ways to do this.
Firstly, you can practice present moment awareness meditation.
This is a form of meditation — also known as mindfulness — which basically asks you to close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath for example. Every time your mind wanders, you simply notice your mind has wandered and you bring your attention back to your breath.
Over time and with regular practice, you encourage your mind to be more in the present moment. This in turn also teaches you to be less judgemental and more objective with regard to what has happened in the past, and when your mind does wander back to the past it will feel less and less the pinch of disappointment.
Similarly, mindfulness teaches us to hang less expectation on future outcomes, so we can enter into new situations without the old blueprint of things not working out.
You can read more about mindfulness meditation and how to get started with it in this article.
Secondly, you can start living in the present moment by way of your life choices.
What follows may seem like conflicting advice, but bear with me a moment.
You are feeling lonely and your ex-partner has left a bit of a void? It is time to schedule some downtime alone with yourself!
If you are missing your ex-partner, you may well be filling your days with various friends, family and new dates so as to not feel the loneliness. For the most part, these people will be well-meaning, but they will probably all also have an opinion on your situation, why it happened and what to do now.
It is time to clear some headspace for yourself — and don’t be afraid of it. Maybe just one evening a week in the first instance. Just spend that time on your own and think — without interference — about what you want for your life.
To be clear, the question is not what you are looking for in a new partner or how that person would make you happy.
The question you are asking yourself is how can you make yourself happy?
Ask yourself these two questions and write down as many things as you can:
- What are the things you have always wanted to do?
- What things did you use to enjoy doing, but don’t find time for them anymore?
And then, within the realms of what is physically and financially possible, start doing them. It’s that simple.
It may be incremental at first. Over time these activities will gradually take more and more space in your life. Off the back of heartbreak and other forms of loss, I have known people train for marathons, set up businesses, travel to the other side of the world, write books, start baking, renovate houses …
It is in doing what we enjoy doing that we enter a flow state of consciousness and we bring ourselves to the present moment.
We also define ourselves as individuals.
Every cloud has a silver lining. And if you work on being in the present moment, you will look back over time and realise that the relationship did end for a reason.
And maybe the whole process of heartbreak has its own valuable lesson too. As the old American proverb advises us, “Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe.”
Photo by Jiroe on Unsplash