07/17/2015 08:12 EDT | Updated 07/17/2016 05:59 EDT

How to Survive a Bad Breakup


Breaking up is bad enough at the best of times. What if the breakup came as a huge shock? What if you were madly in love with your girlfriend and counted on her for all your emotional support?

What if you were happily married for years and your husband suddenly told you that he was leaving, and that he'd found someone else?

A bad breakup can feel like a stun gun has been applied directly to the center of your chest. You can feel paralyzed, overwhelmed with pain and grief, confused and utterly lost.

How does a person cope with such an assault to their emotional world? How can someone ride the waves of anguish, confusion and despair to arrive safely at the peaceful shores and not drown in the crashing waves of their pain?

There are a few helpful tools we can use which can help us to survive the most horrendous breakup with our heart in one piece and our dignity intact.

Tool #1: Make a clean break. Sometimes, for their own selfish reasons (or ambivalence), the other person wants to stay in touch. If there's no reason to do so (children, pets in common, disposal of property, etc.) it's best to avoid any contact so you have the time and space to get over the other person.

Staying in touch keeps the feelings alive in you and makes it harder to grieve your loss and let go.

If you must have contact with your ex, keep it strictly focused on the business at hand and resist the temptation to talk about what happened between you.

Tool #2: Put things in perspective. Look at the choices you made in the relationship and learn from your mistakes. Also, see the other person clearly, for who they are. Take them off the pedestal you've put them on so you can understand how they were capable of behaving the way they did.

Sometimes, we can over-idealize our partner and when they walk away, we can feel like we've lost everything. That's why it's essential to take a step back and see our ex as just a person; someone who we once loved but who is not irreplaceable.

It's also possible to go in the opposite direction, seeing our ex as an evil demon who tricked us and took advantage of us before discarding us when they were done.

We risk becoming cynical and mistrustful of other potential partners. That would be a bad choice. We can't see this one person as the representative of all future partners in our life.

Tool #3: No self-abuse. When you examine your own behaviour in the relationship, do so with ruthless compassion; that is, be honest with yourself but also understanding, kind and forgiving.

Blaming yourself for the breakup is taking on too much responsibility: there were two people in this relationship, and both of you had a part to play in how things unfolded.

Beating yourself up for the bad choices is rubbing salt in your wounds and won't help you to learn the valuable lessons available from this experience.

Tool #4: Take care of yourself. When you're feeling hurt and lost, it might be tempting to regress into self-destructive behaviour, but that would only make things worse.

Instead, focus on things that will help you to heal and move past your loss. Lean on your friends and family; eat healthy and get plenty of exercise and sleep; avoid the temptation to self-soothe with drugs or alcohol, over-eating or over-spending; use creativity to vent your emotions and take time to meditate or do yoga.

These four tools can help you survive a bad breakup and come away having learned something important about yourself, your ex and life in general. Instead of being broken by this terrible experience, these tools can help you to become more resilient, and possibly, a bit more wise.

Sign up here for my free monthly wellness newsletter. August is all about resilience and coping with life's challenges.

Click here to participate in our short, on-line survey. We want to learn your views on habits, happiness and relationships.