My friend Jessica caught her boyfriend in bed with some girl he picked up at a bar. Cliché, I know, but she was devastated all the same. She dumped him immediately, got on OkCupid and started dating like mad. That was 2006, when OKCupid was relatively new. Now, nearly ten years later, she’s still single, still seething and still thinks every guy will do the same thing. “They all cheat eventually,” she declared at a wedding of one of our good pals last week.
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I thought of Jessica immediately when I read a study in the Journal of Association for Psychological Science that found evidence: “Time does not heal all wounds.” The researchers said people are not naturally resilient but they can find resilience if they are given the right tools. As a psychologist and a woman who has had many a broken heart, here are nine reasons why you haven’t healed yet.
1. You’re assuming you’ll feel better as the days pass
You’ve been hearing, “time heals all wounds” your entire life. It’s been said to you by people you love and trust, like your parents and actors in movies. The problem is, it’s simply untrue. It’s not time, per se, but what you do with that time. If you do nothing but sublimate your despair with dating, you’ll find that won’t help. Don’t escape the pain. Deal with it, feel it, be angry about it, just don’t pretend it isn’t there. You can’t white-knuckle a breakup. Healing doesn’t just happen; you have to make it happen.
2. You haven’t changed your thinking
My favorite studies from my grad school days are the ones about rumination. I love those because they make the most sense. The more you think about things, the more you continue to think about those same things and never get out of that cycle. So, when you find yourself thinking about your ex and what he did, what you did, what you should have done — you need to stop yourself. Tell yourself you can’t change the past and then take one lesson from each thought. But then go do anything else.
3. You’re confusing sex with healing
Jessica thought that if she had sex again, she’d connect physically with another human being and then the emotional part would just work itself out. That’s never the case. In those instances, sex is like any other drug. Just replace “sex” with “glass of merlot” and you’ll see what I mean. Sure, you’ll feel good tonight, but ultimately you’re just pushing your healing further and further away. I’m not saying don’t have sex, I’m just saying, be aware if you’re using it to sublimate your feelings rather than for what it is — sex.
4. You’re blaming your partner but you were there, too
You have to have that come-to-Jesus moment with yourself where you ask what you did wrong. There’s a very good chance you had a role in pushing your significant other away. Could you have been more loving? Could you have compromised more? Once you see what role you played, you’ll start to feel less like a victim who got broken up with and more like a woman who had a hand in her own destiny. That’s a much more powerful place to come from.
5. You’re talking to friends who don’t know any more than you do
When I was 13, I used to ask the advice of my other 13-year-old friends. It was a classic case of the blind leading the blind, but sometimes we adult women do the same thing. Your friends love you and want to help, but they are not equipped to do so. I always think therapy is a great idea, but if you are not ready to do that, then find someone who doesn’t care as much about you as your friends do. That’s the only way you’ll get a real, unbiased and objective evaluation.
6. You’re using the wrong role models
As a psychologist, I speak to a shocking number of grown women who use either celebrity couples or fairytale romantic icons as their relationship examples. Those are fictional stories designed to get us to buy things — and none of them are real. You have no idea what really goes on in people’s lives. You thought Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner had a perfect life at one point. You even believed the Prince Charming myth as a kid. People are real. They are flawed and your partner was not perfect, despite how they seem in retrospect. There’s a great imperfect mess of a human out there waiting for you — go find them.
7. You didn’t focus on gratitude
You’ve been reading so much lately about gratitude, right? That’s because the most recent batch of studies find that feeling grateful has a direct link to feeling happy. Gratitude is not about focusing on the positive; you can acknowledge the bad stuff, as long as you remember you’re also thankful. If you’re feeling sad, be grateful that you’re reading this article. It’s a small step to helping yourself. You can also send an email to someone you love telling them why you love them, or just be grateful chocolate exists. Tiny steps.
8. You’re trying to change things that are out of your control
You’ll never control someone else’s feelings or their behavior. You can only control your reaction to it. Sure, you’re free to wallow, but how’s that going for you? Find things that are in your control and stick to those. Can you work harder at your job? Can you volunteer? Can you go for a run? The more aspects of your life you can control, the more in control you will start to feel.
9. You’re not being realistic
That voice inside your head that tells you that you’re worthless and you’ll never find anyone is a liar. Of course you’ll find someone, and of course you are an amazing woman. This is the line in the sand. It’s time to commit to becoming stronger mentally and then emotionally. Everyone has those thoughts, but mentally strong people choose not to allow them in. You may not feel strong right now, but go through the motions and you’ll get there. Stop letting negative thoughts rule you. Set one personal goal-today-and focus on that goal.
Keep practicing each one of these ideas and you’ll be well on your way to mending that broken heart. Just don’t set a timeline. People heal when they heal. Give yourself a break and take the time you need, so long as you are actively participating in your process.