“You know what makes me feel AWESOME about myself? Messy heartbreak!” – No-one, ever.
When you’ve deeply loved someone and that love dissolves or meets a sudden end, it can jolt you out of reality into a cloudy, confused state where you feel low, lost and alone. And, if you’ve ever suffered from self-esteem issues before, a breakup can make you particularly vulnerable to feeling unworthy of love from anyone (let alone yourself).
But, however tempting it may be to cut yourself off from society, spend your days crying at yourself in the mirror and relentlessly running through everything your ex said to you in a vain attempt to find a ‘solution’ that you think will make you worthy of love again…. That’s not the answer.
Here are 6 steps to finding self-love after heartbreak:
1. Stop replaying negative relationship dialogue.
If you had a messy breakup or a toxic relationship, your ex might have said some things to you that really stuck with you – perhaps they berated your personality, or maybe they told you that your body was unloveable. These painful phrases tend to stick when part of us believes them to be true, and having someone that we love recite our insecurities to us so perfectly gives us the evidence that our negative thoughts tell us that we need to finally prove that our fears are valid and based in reality.
And even if your relationship was perfectly lovely and died a peaceful death, it can be a jolt to our self-love to feel like someone that once thought the world of us now doesn’t agree with that anymore.
What did we do wrong? How can we fix ourselves so that it doesn’t happen again? What if others think the same of us, too?
No amount of obsessing over awful comments that your ex made will help you. Instead of internalising that dialogue, take a step back and try and view yourself as a whole, separate person from whatever transpired in your relationship. Understand that the visualisation that you have of yourself that arises from painful words and actions is not accurate – it’s simply the way that your mind is framing your sense of self right now. And luckily, your sense of self can adapt and change.
Neuroplasticity gives us the power to literally change our minds through undertaking positive change – so, by adopting positive self-care habits, practicing compassion and making a habit of routinely taking a step back out of your head and assessing why you’re currently feeling the way that you do about yourself, you’re able to move your self-worth to a more positive place.
2. Cultivate self-kindness.
Now, it’s time to look at the other messages that you’re telling yourself about your relationship and breakup. Are they angry, or resentful, or sad?
Far too many of us try and ‘force’ ourselves out of a post-breakup echo chamber of sadness as quickly as possible by putting on our sexiest outfit, or trying to distract ourselves. And while those tactics can certainly be part of the later stages of the healing process, it’s crucial to ensure that we’re not refusing to acknowledge our own feelings as we try to move on.
It’s okay to be angry or sad or resentful. It’s not nice to feel those things – but after a breakup, they’re perfectly natural. There’s a huge difference between acknowledging your feelings and hanging onto them (and ironically if you don’t acknowledge them, you will end up holding onto them).
By refusing to give yourself permission to feel deeply, you’re also not allowing yourself to heal deeply.
Practice self-kindness by asking yourself what you feel, allowing yourself to have those feelings. It’s up to you the timeframe that you take to heal from this, and you don’t have to follow any ‘rules’ – feel what you need to feel, when you need to feel and how you need to feel it. There’s no right/wrong way to experience your own emotions.
3. Forgive yourself and your ex for whatever has happened.
Maybe you screwed up. Maybe they did. Maybe no one screwed up, but you came to resent each other from unspoken toxic undercurrents that flowed throughout the relationship… whatever the reason that triggered the demise of your relationship, accepting it and forgiving yourself (and your ex) is critical to you rebuilding yourself as an individual.
Because you’re human, and so are they. You’re allowed to make mistakes and learn and grow from them. Beating yourself up isn’t the solution here, and will only reinforce negative feelings that you deserve isolation and low self-esteem as some sort of punishment (you don’t). And even if your relationship was entirely wrong from you, you can still choose what to take from it.
Choose to take the lessons – what you want out of future relationships (and what you don’t want), the sort of people you want to attract and the themes that you want to run dominantly in your life. Without this forgiveness, it will be extraordinarily difficult to pick up the pieces of your self-esteem and move forward with love.
4. Create a space for body positivity and self-love, and define this for YOURSELF.
Defining self-love for yourself is important.
Why? Because although friends are great, and it can be wonderful to surround yourself with the people that you love after a breakup, most friend groups will provide you with very surface level pseudo-advice to help you ‘heal’. Don’t get me wrong, this advice is well-intentioned, and usually, your friends will mean no harm, but the usual friendship tropes of “Let’s go get revenge bodies!” or “You should get SUPER hot then show up at his/her work and make him SOOOOO jealous!” can unfortunately reinforce some themes of negative body image if you’re already prone to feelings of insecurity about one or more parts of your body (and even more so if your ex reinforced those ideas, too).
Now is a perfect time to look holistically at your self-love and body positive strategies and whether they’re working for you (and if you aren’t already doing anything, now is a great time to start).
This is a beautiful time to be exactly who you are – unapologetically and freely! Affirmations and mantras are a great way to kick start this process, and visualisation can greatly help, too. It’s important to note though, that these tactics won’t work if you’re still holding tightly onto fear or not being totally honest with yourself about the pain and insecurity that you’re experiencing.
Rather than trying to self-medicate your emotions with food, drinking, partying or endless distractions, dig deep and listen to what your mind and body are craving from you at this time, and act accordingly.
5. Set healthy boundaries.
You get to decide who and what occupies space in your lives.
Old toxic friends, reminders of the baggage of your past relationship, mementos that keep you trapped in the past and thoughts that keep you feeling small are all examples of things that you can let go of.
This doesn’t have to mean actively repressing memories or texting people and telling them never to contact you again, but simply creating a space within your life where you feel comfortable and confident in setting your own boundaries – saying “no” when required, not using painful possessions as a security blanket and finding ways to see your own worth as part of the present moment, rather than as part of the past.
6. Seek the beauty in others around you.
Pay compliments to others often, notice their positive attributes and admire qualities that you find wonderful.Putting yourself in the headspace to be able to appreciate positive qualities in others can be a wonderful springboard to seeing these attributes in yourself, as well.
It’s simple, but it works.
Remember, no matter how long you’ve been with a partner, no matter how much love you shared and no matter how seamlessly your lives intertwined into one, you are a unique person.
You always have been, and always will be.
The solution to post-breakup low self-esteem is not to try and win back your ex, nor is it to try and prove to anyone else (hot, sexy singles at the club, for instance) that you’re attractive and loveable and worthy.
External validation will not fill the void, and you must dig deep within to reconnect with your own individual identity.
You must be your own validation.