Navigating the Aftermath of Traumatic Breakups
When describing traumatic events I like to start with defining trauma.
Trauma is any event that has a negative impact on the way you see yourself, others, or the world around you.
When it comes to breakups, most of us have experienced a breakup before and maybe even more than one. But I bet if I were to ask you about your worst one there would be no question about which one you’d pick. These are the breakups that can haunt us unless we can properly heal from them. If you are suffering and grieving from a traumatic breakup, allow me to provide some insights and relief.
Understanding Traumatic Breakups
Several factors contribute to a breakup being traumatic.
Sudden and Unexpected Ending: If the breakup occurs without warning it can leave one partner feeling shocked and unprepared. This is especially difficult if financial stability and security depend on the relationship.
Betrayal: Infidelity, deceit, or other forms of betrayal that lead to the breakup can intensify the trauma. These can lead to negative thoughts about self-esteem, trust, and intimacy.
High Levels of Conflict/ Abuse: If the relationship and breakup are marked by intense arguments, or hostility, leaving lasting emotional scars. If the relationship involved physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological abuse, it would make the breakup not only a loss but also a complex trauma.
Emotional Dependency: One or both partners may have been emotionally dependent on the relationship for their sense of self-worth, making the breakup particularly devastating. In this case, the loss of the partner feels like losing a piece of their identity.
Investment: The relationship may have involved a significant investment of time, energy, dreams, and plans. This can make the breakup feel like a major life derailment. Then the partner may be forced to grieve the future they believed they were going to have.
While all of these factors are negatively impactful, the biggest indicator of a traumatic breakup is the cognition or belief associated with how the relationship ended. These could include thoughts of (Boelen, 2009):
1. Self-Blame: Thoughts that one is at fault for the breakup or for things not working out.
2. Hopelessness: Beliefs about the impossibility of finding love or happiness again.
3 Rejection Sensitivity: Persistent worries about being unwanted or unlovable.
4. Rumination: Repeatedly thinking about the breakup, what went wrong, and what could have been done differently.
5. Catastrophizing: Magnifying the negative consequences of the breakup and its impact on the future.
6. Worthlessness: Feelings of not being good enough or deserving of love.
These thoughts can lead to feelings of grief, anxiety, and depression, and in prolonged cases, the person could end up meeting criteria for a PTSD diagnosis.
The Healing Process
The aftermath of a traumatic breakup can be devastating. There are steps that you can take immediately to start the healing process.
1. Allow Yourself Time to Grieve
It is normal to feel sad, angry, confused, or even relieved after a traumatic breakup. Grieving is a personal process. Give yourself time to heal. Remember your timeline is personal and you can take as much time as you like.
2. Seek Support
Reach out to friends, family, trusted clergy, or a support group who can offer understanding and comfort. Strengthening your relationships with others can help to reduce the feelings of isolation that can follow a breakup. Sharing your feelings can lessen the burden of breakup pain.
3. Establish No Contact
Consider cutting off contact with your ex as much as possible to allow yourself time to heal. This includes avoiding checking their social media profiles, which can prolong the healing process. Blocking their numbers and access to your social media can also be appropriate in certain situations.
4. Prioritize Self-Care
I am giving you permission to wallow, eat junk food, watch sad movies, and stay in your PJs for 3 days maximum. After that, it is important to focus on activities that nourish your body and mind. This can include exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and engaging in hobbies or activities that bring you joy.
5. Seek Professional Help
If you find yourself struggling to cope, consider speaking to a therapist. I’ve worked with many clients who have experienced traumatic breakups and processing their thoughts in therapy has
Helped them to reduce distress, heal, and move forward radically.
Watch this video for more steps to take toward healing.
Resources and Support
“Heartbreak: A Personal and Scientific Journey” by Florence Williams: This book blends personal narrative with scientific exploration to understand why heartbreak has such a physical impact on us. Williams’ inquiry is sparked by her own experience of physical malaise following her 25-year marriage’s end
“After the Breakup: A Self-Love Workbook” by Tamara Thompson, LMFT: Aimed at helping readers navigate the painful emotions post-breakup, this workbook provides guided exercises, real-life stories, and prompts to foster self-completion and confidence
“Letting Go of Your Ex: CBT Skills to Heal the Pain of a Breakup and Overcome Love Addiction” by Cortney Soderlind Warren, Ph.D.: This book introduces cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for managing intense emotions, moving on from the past, and avoiding repetitive patterns in future relationships
You do not have to go through this alone. If you live in Illinois or Florida and would like a Licensed Therapist to help guide you to healing from a traumatic breakup Click Here to book with me online.
Navigating the aftermath of a traumatic breakup can be one of the most challenging periods in anyone’s life. Understanding the nature of trauma and recognizing the profound impact a breakup can have on one’s self-perception, relationships, and worldview is the first step toward healing.
However, the path to recovery, though arduous, allowing yourself the time to grieve, and seeking support from loved ones and professionals, can help you on your journey of rediscovery and healing and eventually lead to a stronger, more resilient self. Remember, healing is not only about moving past the pain but also about rediscovering your strength and capacity for love and happiness.
Boelen, P. A., & Reijntjes, A. (2009). Negative cognitions in emotional problems following romantic relationship break‐ups. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 25(1), 11-19.