Devastation After a Breakup
by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
Author, Attorney, Podcaster, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, and Creator of the World's Most Successful Breakup Program.
- Getting Past Your Breakup: How To Turn A Devastating Loss Into The Best Thing That Ever Happened To You (Hachette Book Group 2009)
- Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love After the Big Breakup (Hachette Book Group 2015)
- Getting Past Your Past Workbook: The Definitive Workbook to Emotional Healing, Health and Happiness (La Bella Vita Publishing 2012)
- GPYP Power! Affirmations (La Bella Vita Publishing 2019)
Emotional Devastation After a Breakup
Suicide can be a real threat when you don’t believe you can get over it.
Every few months I read an article about someone who committed suicide after a breakup or a person who went on a shooting rampage or did some other thing after being “despondent” after a breakup.
I urge people to spread the word that a breakup is a temporary thing and that you can get over it. Let people know that a breakup is NOT the end of the world. The only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world. We’ve all gone through breakups. Some of us before we’ve reached adolescence. Many of us many times. The pain may seem enormous, but it can and does heal.
I created the GPYB program (if you don’t know what that is, see the links after the article) after getting through my own difficult divorce. In the weeks immediately following the breakup, I was clinically depressed and suicidal. I went to a depression day treatment group (7 hours a day, 5 days a week for 6 weeks) and every single person sans 1 was in the group due to suicidal ideation and clinical depression following a breakup.
Our group was comprised of many seemingly “different” people. It was comprised of a 16 year old girl whose “high school football star” boyfriend of a few months broke up with her out the blue, as well as a woman who had been married 25 years to a doctor who just tossed her aside for a younger woman. We had a few men, some in their early 20, some in their 30s and one in his 50s. We had people of different ethnicities and races. We had those coming out of same sex relationships and people who had been in opposite sex relationships.
That group experience impressed upon me that breakup grief was real and would hit hard no matter who you were or what the makeup of the relationship was. We were all such different people but all were speaking the language of a broken heart. It was universal. When I got around to creating GPYB, I never forgot the cross-section of those in our group and how we all suffered in much the same way.
While in that group, I was in intense emotional pain – dealing with the pain of a completely unhappy life marred by abandonment and abuse – there was a lot more than just losing my husband. I didn’t really know that then, but I know it now. While I was devastated by my ex just toddling off with a new girlfriend, I could not see that my devastation was a gift that would lead me to the resources I needed to heal old wounds and survive present ones. And to create and share how I did that with the world.
The best revenge truly is doing well.
And that is why Getting Past Your Breakup became a best seller. Because of the HOW….HOW to turn a devastating loss into the best thing that ever happened to you. I tell everyone how. EVERYONE. GPYB is gender neutral, sexual orientation neutral, length of relationship neutral….it works for everyone. Looking back at my post-apocolyptic depression group – I insisted upon that when working with my publisher (who wanted to slap a pink cover on it after I went through the painstakingly difficult process of writing the book without using he/she or they.
“I’m not getting over it….”
I’ve been doing grief counseling and breakup counselling a long time and several times a year, I receive a call or an email from someone saying, “I’m not getting over it. I will never get over this.”
I understand the pain that the belief inflicts on people and, not wanting to continue to feel this badly, people can and do kill themselves. I had a family member (in law) whose brother killed himself when his girlfriend left.
As an Emergency Services Psychiatric Clinician, many of our “unsafe” calls were nonsense. I diagnosed many who were feigning suicide to get attention from an ex or from their family. Some clinicians say that people who commit suicide don’t threaten it, they just do it. But I have seen people do it after threatening and others who showed absolutely no clues; they just did it.
I counseled a family when their loved one hung himself on Christmas Eve after his girlfriend broke up with him that morning. She thought that spending Christmas together would be a farce, so she wanted them to each spend it with their families. The boyfriend was stunned. While she was out doing last minute shopping, he went to her house and hung himself. The girlfriend was distraught but the family would spend every Christmas thereafter with the wound (and horrifying vision) of that Christmas Eve.
The breakup was that morning so the suicide was very impulsive. He hung himself in her house so she would see him as soon as she walked in. That was an act of anger at her.
It’s not that she wasn’t traumatized by it, but she would get over it. His mother wasn’t getting over it; his siblings weren’t getting over it. The nieces and nephews that wouldn’t get to know him might not get over it. The hurt that his family will carry is enormous and they did nothing to deserve it. As an attorney I’ve worked with post-suicide families. The toll suicide takes on survivors is enormous.
That’s the thing about post-breakup suicides. It usually doesn’t hurt the person who hurt the person who committed suicide. It usually takes out a lot of people who did nothing to deserve it. Post-breakup suicide is REAL and it happens. And it doesn’t have to. What is left in the wake of a suicide is usually horrible, and it doesn’t have to be that way if people only “get” that the pain may feel bigger than you can handle, but it’s not. Follow the GPYB program and you will get there.
Breakups hurt and some people doubt they will get over it, but they do. They may even think of suicide. Thinking about it when you’re in excruciating pain is normal. You can consider it, but you can let it go…just as quickly as it came. Think about the things you have to be grateful for, including the fact that you don’t have a bad relationship anymore with someone who didn’t treat you right or who doesn’t want to be with you anymore.
Some Things ARE Impossible to Get Over
The things that are tough to get over completely are NOT romantic relationships; they are other, bigger losses. Breakups are usually some of the easier things to get over in the general scheme of things. What is TOUGH to get over is the loss of the hopes and the dreams, the family and the white picket fence, but you STILL can get over that AND have that with someone who truly loves you. Many times it’s not the person you miss, but the hope of the person or what he or she represented to you.
What feels like “I can’t get over this.” today is just the difficulty you are feeling…it doesn’t mean you can’t….it means you’re still in the thick of things. Even if you think you “should” be over it by now. That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.
I can’t change that I won’t grow old with my late husband. We had incredibly wonderful plans for retirement and if anyone deserved a rich and happy retirement, that hard-working man did. I stay away from how unfair it is that he’s not here. I also stay away from wondering if I’ll ever get over it. I take it a day at a time and that’s all I can do. Some feeling of existential aloneness and loneliness is part of my being that I don’t care for, but it is what it is. I’ve had SO MANY PEOPLE tell me that what has happened to me in my life just isn’t fair, but I can’t go there. There are many people who have lost much more than I have. I have things to be grateful for, and I keep those in mind every single day. Focusing on unfairness would just do me right in.
There are Many Things Worse Than a Breakup
As a grief therapist, I’ve counseled people who have lost a child, people who have had their lives wiped out by fire or flood or lost multiple relatives in accidents or had someone they love disappear and never be found. Those are tough, tough losses and the grief is immense and intense. It takes a long time to climb up those hills and yet, they do the work and eventually manage to turn the page.
They still live good lives and manage to find happiness despite the holes in their hearts. They learn to live and to love around the holes, and they become heroes to others who experience similar losses and are able to reach out to them. Because they are still there and still standing. And you can be that power of example to someone one day as well. A healthy person shares their healing with others. One day you can be that person.
When you have losses that can’t completely heal, the goal is to get over it as well as you’re going to….to do the work and feel the sadness and anger and all of the feelings…to get as far in the healing process as you can get and then LIVE YOUR LIFE to the BEST of your ability and show others that it is possible.
Acceptance is the end of the grief process. It’s not happiness, it’s acceptance. There is a big difference. Acceptance acknowledges the loss and acknowledges that you have changed. You have been hurt but you decide to go on anyway. Acceptance means you’re not lying down, you’re not becoming a martyr…but it hurts and it’s hard…
Acceptance is the end of a long search for peace
Acceptance is the place where you come to when you’ve done the work and know that you have changed. You might always be sad on some level…there might always be a hole, something missing, on some level…but you’re going to go on and be as happy as you can be even with that hole in your soul.
Acceptance is an inner peace that comes from doing your work and knowing that the work has made you stronger in some ways…you’re different and you still exist and you need to do more than survive…you need to thrive. Your heart needs to go on. That is what the “building your life” part of the program comes from.
It doesn’t mean not ever being sad again, it means recognizing there will be moments of sadness but that’s okay, for the most part you’re moving on.
It means making the DECISION to live your life to the best of your ability. You can’t sit around waiting for the feeling to take hold…waiting to be inspired to move on…you need to CHOOSE to move on and DECIDE to move on.
It’s important to know that if you grieve this loss, you will heal and you will get over it. Don’t give up…you can do this.
You CAN get over it...Work the GPYB program (to see how check out the links below this article). . Build your life. Put one foot in front of the other and be the best person you can be and live life to the best of your ability. Many people channel their sense of loss into worthy and noble causes, rising up to meet the challenge of life and loss. It’s important to reach out and tell others that you healed and they can too. Suicide is a permanent solution to a very temporary problem.
In the general scheme of things, in the flow of life, a breakup is one of the lesser losses you can have and one that almost all of us share. There are so many other losses that are unique and when faced with them, people feel alone. Many of us never lost a child or had a pregnancy terminate or faced infertility or had our house burn down or get swept away by flood or tornado. There are people who have lost EVERYTHING and still managed to keep going.
Many of us never ever will experience these horrific losses. But every one of us will go through a breakup of a relationship…and there is support, help and hope. Your life can be so much better than before. A breakup is a universal experience and everyone knows what a broken heart feels like and you can get over it. Truly. You can.
Please take the time to spread the message and carry the hope to others who might be hurting. Even if you’re still hurting, if you’ve got hope and are determined to see it through, please please please let others know. It’s up to all of us to get the word out.
One caveat to this article that I MUST mention is when someone is ALWAYS threatening self-harm or “false alarms by an ex to get your attention” that I hear about so frequently and did when I was an Emergency Services Clinician. There are people who use the threat of suicide to manipulate others. Sometimes it’s their ex, sometimes their family. When my youngest son was in GRADE SCHOOL, he had a girl who had a crush on him who threatened to kill herself if he didn’t talk to her on the phone and, being a nice person, he did. I found out about this and told him, at the tender age of 12, that he was NOT responsible for her and that if he really thought she was going to hurt herself, he should tell the guidance counselor. The next time she said that to him, he told her he was going to the guidance counselor. She never said it again. I’m so glad he learned this valuable lesson early.
It’s important to know that empty threats of self-harm are WRONG (as are faint-hearted attempts for attention). And if your family member or your ex is telling you that unless something happens, they are going to hurt themselves, call the police or the local Emergency Room or a professional or a suicide hotline. Hand them over to professionals who can assess the situation. When I was that professional, I told families that if you’re codependent enough, a manipulator will put you through hell with empty threats and then YOU will feel like harming yourself. If they’re truly in danger, you shouldn’t be the one to try to help. If you fail, you will never forgive yourself.
We had one client in ES whose much younger wife seemed to age before our eyes as she accompanied him to the Emergency Room almost every weekend. They would argue, he would say horrible things to her and she would want to leave. He would threaten to hurt himself if she did, and even refuse to calm down until she came back around. It was manipulative and nonsensical behavior.
Whether it’s a spouse, a family member or an ex (especially an ex!), it is NOT your place to save him or her. It is his or her responsibility to get help. If you feel as if you need to do something, call the family or the police or the local Emergency Room, but do not – under any circumstances – get personally involved. If they’re sincere about self-harm, they need help you can’t give and if they’re not, they are manipulating you and you should not allow that.
But this article is mainly for those who truly are in despair and feeling hopeless. A breakup is not anything to harm yourself over. You can get over it.
Don’t give up the day before the miracle happens!!!!
YOU CAN DO THIS!!! Share this if you know anyone who knows anyone who might be hurting and hopeless or might be suffering in silence.
Copyright Ⓒ Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author and a link back to the original content