The English poet George Herbert popularized the saying “Living well is the best revenge.” If you’ve been jilted, betrayed or absolutely flattened by disappointment, you know that the emotional pain that comes with heartbreak can feel devastating, and the road to living well - to feeling well - can be anything but straight and smooth.
Heartbreak can knock over even the sturdiest of egos. Heartbreak can leave us feeling depressed, angry, defeated and deprived. It can make us believe that we are unworthy, unlovable and undesirable. When we lose someone we love, a future we were looking forward to, or a treasured relationship, the world can seem very dark. We run the gamut of difficult feelings, perhaps not wanting to feel what we feel, but not knowing how to move on. And it can feel like things will never change.
So how do we cope? How do we get through the pain to a place where we can truly find peace, acceptance and relief?
There is no direct path out of the pain. The hurt may sneak up at odd times, or be a constant ache. The passing of time helps; perspectives can change when we have some distance from the shock of the actual loss. Along the way, though, there are a few things that can help:
- Take time to grieve. Sit with the feelings and notice them. Even create a designated time to be with the hurt. Resist the urge to fight the feelings or talk yourself out of having them.
- Allow for some distraction time. Read, listen to music, attend a class or join an absorbing activity that gives your mind a chance to rest. If you can’t concentrate, do things in small increments until you can.
- Talk to God. Even if you are not used to prayer, try it out. In your own words ask God for help in getting through your difficulties and for the strength to keep going.
- Write. Write a journal. Write a list of all your positive traits. Write a list of your gratitudes, of what you “yes” have in your life. Write a list of your victories, your good qualities, your favorite things, the things that give you pleasure. Write a letter to the person who hurt you. Tell them everything you feel like telling them, but don’t send it. Put it in a box and tuck it away. Write a letter from that person to yourself. Say what you wish they would say. Explain things from their side. Add it to your box. Don’t send it.
- Talk. Find someone, or a few someones who are willing to listen to you without giving advice (unless you want it). Talk to someone who likes you, supports you and will try to understand you. If you feel you are overtaxing that person, seek out a therapist and talk there.
- Take a look at your role in things. This may be painful, but ultimately, looking at how you may have contributed to the breakup will help you. Think about what it will take to forgive yourself. Remind yourself that mistakes are human and part of relationships.
- Exercise. Walk. Run. Get fit. It feels good and generates good biochemicals that will help your mood.
- Create. Learn to draw, to write creatively, learn music, take up a hobby. You don’t have to dive in, but open a new door inside of yourself. You never know where it will lead. Find something that will engross you and require enough concentration that your mind will have to focus, even if it’s just for a short time.
- Find things to look forward to. Simple things count, like meeting a friend or going for a walk in a beautiful place.
- Take good care of your body. Eat well; take vitamins; drink plenty of water. Get a massage. Buy something soothing and comfortable, like soft socks or a new sweater.
- Give service. Volunteer. Cook someone a meal. Take someone flowers. Call someone up and ask about their day and listen to their stuff.
- Learn one new mitzvah or pick one that you have never focused on and learn how to best fulfill it.
- Pick a prayer or a part of a prayer from a prayer book and learn it by heart.
- Dedicate some of your suffering to the healing of someone who is sick or to someone who is in captivity.
- Avoid triggers whenever possible. You may need to minimize going to places that bring on bad feelings or being with people who remind you of your pain. As time goes on, you will know when you are able to return to those places without getting set back.
- Respect the hurt. Honor it. If the relationship meant enough to you that you are in such grief or feel such anger, don’t downplay it. Instead allow all your feelings and set out to live well anyway.
While some heartbreaks may never heal or go away entirely, we can learn to carry them tenderly with us while moving on to better times, ending up with a richer, deeper life, with new joys and the ability to pass on our resiliency to others who will need it.