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Breakups are hard for everyone but if you give yourself the time and space to heal and do the work, you can grow from the experience. We speak to a couple of professionals to find out how we stand to gain from pain

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About a year ago, my four-year relationship came to an end somewhat suddenly and traumatically. At that point, it felt out of the blue to me. Looking back, the signs were there all along. I simply chose, as many do in love, to ignore it.

When it first happened, I was numb. I had a good understanding of why things happened the way they did and simply wanted to push ahead. Of course, that’s never how things work.

Today, after shedding lots of tears, multiple sessions with my therapist and conversations with close friends and family, I am still, well, healing. However, I have also grown immensely, learned how to love myself and other people and also had very revealing private moments with myself where I had to acknowledge my own shortcomings. 

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With Covid-19, the increased stressors of life, the blurred lines between work and personal lives, travel restrictions and more, relationships are truly under more stress than they have ever been under. 

In fact, the number of people seeing help for difficult breakups or for failing relationships is extremely high at the moment. 

“Before, we could see couples going to therapy in the quest of better communicating, or getting more connection on an intimate level. But now, couples are seeking more help on the verge of relational breakdowns and even divorces,” Rebecca Versolato, a psychoanalyst and family therapist from White Canvas Therapy said. She added that she estimated that 75 per cent of her clients were there for help coping after losing a meaningful relationship.

If you are going through a hard time (and it doesn't help that Valentine’s Day just came and went) or if you are still healing from a traumatic breakup, here’s what I learned from my own breakup that might help you turn the experience into one that is truly life-changing. 

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Forgiving yourself is an important step

One of the first things I needed to do after the breakup was to get past the anger stage. However, that really only happened when I began forgiving myself. 

It’s important to forgive yourself for staying longer than you should have, for what you did in the relationship, for how you are dealing with the breakup and more. It’s also important to understand that as a result of Covid-19, life is very different and we cannot expect our relationships to function the same way it has always been. 

“I see among the younger population a higher fear and even avoidance of breaking up as it is harder to meet new people when we are in and out of restricted activities. So there is a toxic dependency going on, extending situations that should not be there anymore,” explained Versolato.

You should also keep in mind that there is no time frame for healing and that you do not have to push yourself to feel okay before you actually are. 

“Being scared to run into the person on the street, checking your surroundings while outdoors, feeling upset when you get a phone message thinking it’s them, disturbed sleep, low mood, fantasising getting back together, or re-living the past are all common lasting issues we see with clients when it comes to breakups,” said Claudia Doig, a clinical psychologist from Psychology Blossom. She continued by saying that it can take anywhere from three months to well over a year to heal from a breakup.

Once you understand that we are living in extraordinary times and that how you feel is normal, it gets easier to begin forgiving yourself which will eventually begin your healing. This is relevant no matter if you are dealing with a breakup or any other traumatic event and you should remember to be compassionate to yourself.

The empty spaces in your life will be filled

When my relationship ended, I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I no longer had someone to go out with three times a week or to text with all day. And I’ll be the first to admit that it was a little awful.

However, it also gave me space to re-evaluate the people in my life and how I dedicated my time for new things. 

“After a long relationship, we tend to forget who we were before the fusional idea of who this couple was,” Versolato explained.

True enough, it was through me trying to figure out who I was on my own that some of the greatest things in my life came to be post-breakup.

I bonded with a new friend who today, is one of the closest people in my life. I also developed a new workout habit born out of a need to manage my anxiety during the initial months and most importantly: I gained more peace and space to do what I really wanted in life. 

I realised at that point that I was moving on auto-pilot for the last four years and that I had never given myself time in my pivotal early 20s to really learn who I was and what I wanted. I simply let my relationship dictate who I was and I didn’t want that anymore. 

“Resetting the routine is something that has to be done. Find new activities to engage in. Connect or re-connect with friends and family. Explore new hobbies. You also should understand that being alone is not the same as loneliness,” advised Padma Jairam, a counselling psychologist at Padma Jairam Counselling.

Understanding that life is so much more than just one person (especially one who hurt you) will allow you to anticipate beautiful things and this truly shifted my perspective. 

You don't have to be healed to deserve love but you should still do the work

People reveal their true colours with time. It’s simply up to you to pay attention to the red (and green) flags and identify the issues you can and cannot work with. 

One of the first things I learned through therapy after the breakup was that it’s important to have an understanding of who you are as a person before you invite other people into your life. This will also help you see people for who they are earlier on in the relationship and can save you a lot of pain down the line. 

For example, co-dependency, which is when an individual relies on relationships to complete them, is a pretty common trait of toxic relationships and developing it has a lot to do with your attachment style and upbringing. 

“Codependency usually happens because of an insecure attachment style and/or low self-esteem. You might have felt that you “need your partner” and your partner might have enabled that need because they “need to be needed”. If it sounds romantic, therein lies the problem. Movies and songs sometimes celebrate this sense of “need” in a relationship or needing to be ‘completed by each other’,” explained Padma. 

“What this essentially leads to is a loss of personal boundaries and sometimes a loss of the sense of self,” she continued. 

If you know that this is something you are prone to or that the person you are with is prone to, it’s important to begin the work towards healing and overcoming that so you have less of a chance of finding yourself in a toxic relationship later down the line. 

“In healing from a codependent relationship, seek professional help to build personal boundaries and to understand that love is something where both people should be able to stand together, side by side, and maintain their individual stability so that the relationship can be mutually fulfilling,” Padma suggested.

Once you begin doing the work, you will find that you are able to spot toxic traits a mile away not just in other people, but in yourself. The work is crucial.

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Your body will remember, so be patient with it

One of the hardest parts of my healing journey after the breakup, surprisingly, was getting into a new and healthy relationship. 

I found that many things triggered me simply because I was not used to them and could not recognise these things as positive and healthy aspects of a relationship.

Remember that this is natural and that your body and mind will need to take their own time to heal. Most importantly, know that being triggered does not necessarily mean you are not ready for a new relationship. As long as you are happy, aware and respond in a healthy way, you should keep going. 

“I would suggest that the triggered partner to be open, to share their triggers, and to express their needs as they go through this challenging time. For example, if a partner cheated on you before, and now you find that you are jealous of your current partner without reason, share this insecurity with them and let them know what you need at that moment. Whether that may be a hug, reassurance, or to join them if they are going out to meet a friend, figure out a compromise that works,” said Doig.

Another option is to have honest conversations about your triggers and to have time outs. 

“Communicate to your new partner that you may sometimes need “timeouts” when and if you get triggered so that you don’t end up hurting your partner and the new healthy relationship. Take the timeout and then come back when you feel calmer and talk about it with your new partner so that the person can understand what is going on for you and how best to support you and the relationship,” she said.

At the end of the day, remember that you are deserving of love even if you had a few bad experiences in the past. While breakups aren't fun, they can often be a catalyst for some incredible changes that can lead to better things and as long as you believe that, you are going to be just fine. 

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