How to grieve a breakup: 4 helpful tools
Updated: Mar 27
Have you ever wondered what the reason is why we struggle so much with a breakup? Even when we know that our ex-partner is not compatible with us? Even when we know we deserve better?
There is a biological component to breakups that keep us attached. Research has shown that we experience a rush of both oxytocin and vasopressin when we bond with our partners. According to Harvard Health, Oxytocin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and released into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland. These two hormones lead to intense attachment and possessiveness with our significant other.
When that relationship is thriving, we also become exposed to high levels of dopamine, a neurochemical that is linked to motivation and can be highly addictive. When the relationship is over, we experience a downward spiral of all these chemicals and are left in a withdrawal state.
This is part of why we return to partners that are not ideal for us. Not to mention that relationships are social regulators; we become dependent on them to keep us in a homeostatic state.
According to a journal article on bereavement and its correlation to romantic breakups, they share similar symptoms. These include intrusive thoughts, insomnia, and morbidity factors, including broken heart syndrome and immune dysfunction.
This begs the question; how can we feel better again if we are grieving?
How can we establish coping skills in order to assist us in moving forward when there are chemical components involved that leave us addicted to our ex-partner?
Similar to interventions that have worked with substance misuse, we utilize substitutions to produce these neurochemicals organically in our bodies, such as finding out activities that bring us joy and avoiding maladaptive skills that we have picked up to provide relief in the short term.
Understand your current coping skills: Think back to a time in your life when you faced adverse effects. It could have been in your childhood or when your grades were failing. It could be a moment when you were going through a financial struggle. Think back to what you did to move forward; oftentimes, we have latent coping skills that we have obtained through time, and we are not aware of their utility. Do you self-isolate during difficult times in order to process better? If so, how can you build upon that coping skill so that you can adapt to your new reality?
Practice reflection: Some individuals have found that documenting their feelings with journaling was a way for them to digest their emotions and express intense feelings that they continue to harbor toward their loved ones. This allows a verbal dump without becoming reactive to the people around you. Remember that the body is attempting to adjust to the loss of a close attachment which serves to contribute to their routine and lifestyle.
Create boundaries: Some individuals have found that distance from their ex-partner can allow them to process their own emotions and not remain ambivalent about the future. It helps to avoid surveying your ex-partner on social media or having their location on your phone. Ways to remain consistent with these practices is by finding alternative activities, such as movement of some type when the urges present themselves. Finding an accountability partner can help when these behaviors present themselves. Understanding that, like the addiction model, we tend to return to the stimulant that produces dopamine.
Finding social support: Finding comfort in your community and using social support to avoid isolation is a great way to introduce more oxytocin in your life. This can mean creating a weekly ritual with your friends or loved ones where you have dinners or a group chat as a means of connection.
Most importantly, you must have grace and patience with your healing journey.
Watson, S. (2021, July 20). Oxytocin: The love hormone. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/oxytocin-the-love-hormone
Field, T. (2011). Romantic Breakups, Heartbreak, and Bereavement. Scientific Research. https://doi.org/May 20, 2011