No two breakups are created equal. On a scale of one to teaming up with a bestie to launch each other’s reven-genda against your exes (Netflix’s Do Revenge, anyone?), mourning, processing, and learning how to get over someone can be messy, disorienting, and draining.
Repeat after me: Your feelings are valid, even if the way you’re navigating them may not look like you think it should. Detaching from someone who you made plans with, built a life with, and expected to love for a long time is going to take some time to grieve, and it’s important to allow yourself to feel all your feels so you can come out of this a more resilient, authentic version of yourself, says psychotherapist Jasmine Celeste Cepeda. There’s no need to rush healing.
“Moving on from a relationship also means letting go of the life, lifestyle, and identity you built when this person was in your life,” says Cepeda. “Things that you used to love doing with this person may be too triggering to do while you are grieving the relationship, which is why allowing space for this discomfort is crucial. The goal is to come back to yourself a more stable, hopeful, open, and accepting person.”
Remember: You can and will get through this. And if you’re feeling especially stumped on how to get over someone, we pulled in a few experts to help walk you through how to navigate the moving on process in the healthiest, true-to-you way possible. Here’s what they had to say.
If you’re prone to emotional sabotage, you’re not alone. It’s so easy to get stuck rehashing the details of your relationship and subsequent breakup, thinking about what more you could’ve done or what you could’ve done differently to change the outcome.
Licensed psychotherapist Brooke Schwartz says this is a form of rumination or perseveration, in which someone gets stuck thinking about something unproductively and without flexibility. When this happens, she suggests practicing grounding—redirecting your thoughts from your inner world to your external happenings. Sometimes this looks like taking a hot girl walk, opening all your windows at home so you can feel the sun, literally going outside and smelling the roses, and playing music that brings you joy, among other sensory things.
“Another option is to stay with the thoughts but change their content,” Schwartz adds. “To do this, factually describe the relationship for what it truly was. List out thoughts like, This person refused to spend time with my friends when I asked them to join, instead of harping on thoughts like, Maybe if I asked differently they would have been more open. When you find yourself in a what-if spiral, come back to what actually was.”
Check in with yourself on what impulses you may be having, like checking your ex’s social media every couple of hours, going through your old pictures, listening to old voice memos, or replaying every detail about when things were last good between you. These urges are part of the natural withdrawal process after heartbreak, says Kristen Carpenter, PhD, clinical health psychologist and associate professor at The Ohio State University. If you find yourself spending extended time in this headspace, it may be time to call in a coach or therapist for added emotional support.
“When whatever your process of grieving starts to actively interfere with other important things in your life, whether that’s work, school, parenting, friendships, or other relationships, that's when it's time to think about getting help from others,” says Carpenter.
Did you know that just seeing the face of someone you love activates unique areas of your brain? This kind of activation is stronger than even just thinking about them. So when you’re trying to move on after a breakup, if there are still pictures of your ex in your apartment or your room is full of small gifts and random items from them, they still maintain an active presence in your life.
It might be hard, but consider putting away those photos you’ve got hanging in your room, and mute your ex-partner on socials if you can. Nixing those visual reminders is painful, yes, but it can help you more than it can hurt you, trust.
In movies and shows, we often see breakups unfold in similar tropes: Boy breaks up with girl when she thinks he’s going to propose, throws candy at the TV, and uses that anger to show him up and get into Harvard (ahem, Legally Blonde). Woman leaves husband, travels the world, and falls in love with a hot man in Bali (hello, Eat Pray Love). The list goes on.
But however you choose to navigate your breakup, it’s key that you move at a pace that works for you, and that you do things because you want to, not because you feel you should or because you’re feeling pressure from the people around you. You don’t have to harness your sad girl energy to get into law school or go on some international journey to self discovery.
“It really bothers me when people say things like, Your ex doesn’t deserve this much of your energy, or Crying about your ex just gives them more power,” Schwartz says. “The underlying message of these statements is: Stop whatever you’re feeling or thinking, which is both impossible and counterintuitive to the healing process.”
Carpenter adds that a lot of her patients come in unfairly judging themselves for their emotional reactions. “One of the things that I work with people on is trying to give them permission to feel all those difficult feelings—especially because the longer the relationship was, the more complicated the reaction is likely to be—and then to think about how to use those emotional experiences productively,” she says.
One of the best things we can do for ourselves, at any stage of our lives, is to have a rich and full life outside of your person or partner, says Carpenter.
The grieving process is messy—*cue Olivia Rodrigo’s Brutal*—but investing into relationships with ourselves and nurturing our individual hobbies, interests and social lives is helpful in rebuilding after a breakup. You’re filling in the space that was once for your partner with more time for you.
“These resources are the kinds of things that you need most when you're grieving,” Carpenter says. “And so, my best advice to people is to continue to cultivate other things in your life that are important to you. Because they keep you balanced, they keep you whole and they create the foundation for support when you need it.”
Natalia Pérez-Gonzalez Natalia Pérez-Gonzalez (she/her) is a freelance journalist primarily covering wellness, relationships, and Afro Latinidad stories.