Woman support female patient sitting on sofa. Broken heart and depression symbol.
Relationships

Break-ups: is it normal to feel totally devastated when a short relationship ends?

You know that feeling when you can’t eat, sleep or go about your day without the pain of a break-up weighing you down? That’s when you know things are bad. But how do you get yourself out from under the cloud of devastation?

Break-ups are generally pretty rough things to go through and for many of us can, quite literally, feel like the world is caving in on itself.

While break-ups are an understood part of life, nothing can fully prepare you for the feelings of loss and heartbreak. Yes, ice cream and rewatching our favourite movies can force us out of a negative headspace but what about when those things just don’t work?

When the devastation of a break-up gets too much, many women are forced to confront their emotions and think about whether their reactions are deemed ‘appropriate’ or not.

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Annette, 26, from London, explains how she felt “embarrassed to admit it to my friends and family, but the pain of the break-up felt so physical”. After being together for five years, Annette admits that she didn’t see it coming and was left “hurting so much that I couldn’t concentrate on anything”.

“I was quite surprised with how much of a lasting impact it had. I couldn’t sleep and spent hours getting more anxious instead. I’d keep myself awake thinking I needed closure, but realistically, I didn’t.”

“I took time off work because I just couldn’t sleep and didn’t want it to affect the quality of my work. I also just didn’t want to go into the office and have to mask my sadness.”

Getting past the break-up proved more difficult than she initially thought, Annette says. “I would try to see people to keep myself distracted, but it was awful. I was there but I wasn’t present.”

“I realised after a year of masking the pain that I wasn’t healing. I confided in a close friend who said I should try therapy and it really helped. I didn’t think going to therapy over an ex was ‘worthy’ but the break-up unearthed a lot.”

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Sara Davison, The Divorce Coach, explains that feeling devastated after a break-up is perfectly normal, especially when one of the parties didn’t see it coming or there’s an element of betrayal. “It’s very common. There’s nothing wrong with you if you are devastated and I think a lot of women think that shows they’re not able to cope or they’re falling apart – that’s not true. That’s normal behaviour.”

“People often come to me and say that their doctor has said they’re depressed. The problem with that is they adopt that as a label that sticks with them. But actually, when you look at the loss cycle, it’s a perfectly normal, natural part of the grieving process.”

Carmen, 28, from Manchester, went through a break-up last year, and while it was amicable, she was left surprised at her reaction to it. “It was expected and didn’t end sourly, but it’s still the loss of someone you loved. At first, I downplayed my feelings and then after a couple of weeks of no contact, it hit me that this significant person was no longer in my life.”

She describes a “sick feeling” every time she came across something that reminded her of her ex, but after a few weeks of feeling the same way, she thought she was “being too deep in my feelings about it all.”

Really though, Carmen realised she needed to properly accept the loss of this relationship. “I was constantly thinking about my ex and how he was dealing with it. I knew he was fine and it sounds bad but knowing that put me back in a place of sadness.”

“When I think about how men typically deal with break-ups, there is an imbalance, I think. I felt like it upended my life temporarily and I know for a fact that didn’t happen for my ex.”

Detoxing your home of any reminders is a key tool for healing, Davison explains. “Replace those things with other items that make you feel happy and remind you of the people that do care about you. Slowly, if you’re detoxing these things out and replacing them with more positivity, you’re going to feel better.”

Dealing with the aftermath of a break-up is about “getting back in the driving seat of your life,” Davison states.

“It will be painful, there will be tough parts. There’s no magic wand to take away all the pain, but there are things you can do to cope better and dial down those negative emotions that you’re experiencing.”

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Davison recommends not using an ex’s name as names hold a lot of emotion. “A name is so powerful, so every time you say your ex’s name, it could trigger negative emotions within you. That’s why I always suggest using the initial of their first name. So for Robert or Rachel, it would just be ‘R’ and not a capital either, just a tiny ‘r’ if you have to keep them in your contact list.”

Talking about the break-up to everyone, Davison explains, is another way we keep ourselves from moving on emotionally.

“A lot of people like to tell their story, and while it can be therapeutic to talk about, it keeps you stuck. Every time you’re connecting with people – whether it’s your hairdresser, butcher or whoever asks how you’re doing – you’re connecting on this negative story and reliving it. Every time you’re telling it, your body doesn’t know the difference between it happening right now and it happening back then.”

It’s about creating more positivity that you’re likely to share with those around you too, Davison says. A “break-up bucket list” is a great way of “identifying things that light you up”. It could be something small like going for Thai food because your ex never liked it, or something bigger like travelling.

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Therapy was an essential tool for Lejla, 32, from Surrey, who left an emotionally, physically and mentally abusive relationship of eight and a half years.

“I go to therapy every week, which is trauma-centred, to manage my complex PTSD. Therapy has been life-changing for me and I recommend that everyone tries it.”

“I was a victim of domestic abuse so healing after an abusive relationship is ongoing. It has taken two years to deprogram myself out of gaslighting, trauma bonding and emotional abuse.”

Upon leaving the relationship, Lejla says that “the stress of being a single mum – managing work and family life alone – caused my anxiety to go through the roof, so my sleep and eating suffered massively.”

“I had no choice but to carry on every day for the sake of my child. After I left, I was desperate to understand what I had experienced for so long: domestic abuse. I started educating myself and realised how much the rest of the world had to learn about it too. So I took to Instagram to raise awareness in hopes of helping other victims who were or had been through the same thing.”

Through sharing her experience publicly online, Lejla admits that it’s also been a “major contributor in my healing journey”. Having support from the women in the community she’s created affirms that she is “no longer alone” in her journey.

Getting out of the rut of devastation is difficult but Davison affirms that it’s a reminder to “take control of your life”. She continues: “We’ve all been through tough times in the past, but you’re still here and you survived – remember that and it will make you stronger.”

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Images: Getty/Anastasia Usenko