How to Survive a Broken Heart — Dr Debra Campbell

Real strategies from a psychologist for surviving the heartache of losing a relationship

This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something.

Elizabeth Gilbert

Heartbreak is an inevitable part of being human

That’s a half-smile quote I guess, from Elizabeth Gilbert. I mean, what can anyone really say when we’re dealing with heartache at the loss of a relationship?

It’s been a long time (thankfully) since I’ve experienced such heartache and I hope it will be a whole lot longer. But I haven’t forgotten how it feels, that devastation that goes right through you. Everything feels desolate for a while, and you wonder if you will ever love again. It’s the loneliest feeling.

Usually, a big, new phase of life is right around the corner waiting for you, but at the time, it’s hard to see further than your nose. It’s even harder to care about anything, other than your intense sense of loss.

The best we can usually give ourselves, or someone else who is suffering a relationship loss, is a caring ear to listen to the grief playing over and over, and to work in some gentle distractions.

Saying goodbye to a partner you’ve opened yourself up to can feel traumatic. Heartbreak doesn’t go away quickly because it involves layers of emotion and stages of disconnection.

Sometimes the first thing we feel is shock if the break up is unexpected or we find our relationship wasn’t what we thought it was, from the other’s perspective. This can quickly morph into anger, hurt, frustration. Feelings of shame can arise about realizing too late that you weren’t on the same page in the relationship.

We can feel vulnerable and exposed, betrayed, even kicked in the guts if we were giving the relationship a go, but our partner was not.

Sadness and loneliness are typically quick to follow. You don’t just miss the person, you miss the plans you had together. You miss the shared life and all the hopes you were immersed in, as you find yourself feeling like a fish out of relationship water. However, there are things you can do that will help you get through this in one piece.

Finish it well (if you have the option)

To finish well, ask all the questions you have, before you part. Get the info on what happened from the other’s perspective. The more you hear, the less you will be wondering or second-guessing.

Don’t leave it all unsaid and in the air, or you’ll just be spending more time and energy on the post mortem, making guesses and possibly feeding false fears and false hopes. Knowing the facts is cleaner.

Stay in your Higher Self

Say what you need to say so you’re not wishing you’d said this or that and wanting to send one more final text! Don’t get petty. End it the way you want to be thought of— keeping your strength, values and dignity intact. Finishing calmly will help you to recover faster than if you send yourself into a meltdown.

Know this will pass

However horrible, there will be good feelings amongst the bad ones again, and slowly, happiness will find its way through again.

Reach out to supports because even though you may feel utterly alone, pretty much every adult human has felt a similar way at some point and lived through it to empathize.

Be prepared for hard moments

Meanwhile, in the hard days, get some strategies together for dealing with waves of distress, panic, anger or other feelings. Then, instead of taking impulsive actions, like sending messages you’ll regret, you can be ready to employ some self-soothing strategies. I have some good reminders of the kinds of strategies you can use to care for yourself and get through tough days here. (You can print them out and stick them on your bathroom mirror).

Contact people you can turn to who know what you’re going through and are supportive. If you don’t want to talk about the breakup, tell them you’d rather not discuss it as it makes you sad, but you’d still like to hang out.

Don’t avoid other people, it’s not usually the fastest way to heal from loss. Distract yourself with healthy stuff like exercise. Avoid romantic anythings and don’t listen to too much sad music (yet)!

Don’t be afraid of down moments

Have quiet times, let yourself be sad, but be balanced about it. Limit the duration of the grieving moments so you don’t get overly lost in them.

Engage with your life

Find flow in your world — discover or rediscover your personal passions or start something new — an interest or skill that requires focus and feels great to do. Engagement with what you love and what you’re good at is one of the best natural healers.

In time, but not too soon because you won’t see clear, let yourself learn from the hurt and sadness.

Look for patterns, wonder about your part in your relationships if you haven’t before. E.g., Did you ignore your intuition at any point?

Is there anything you have learned from the relationship that will potentially help you in the future? Can you see any patterns you are repeating?

Heartbreak is terrible, but everyone feels it sometime, and we do tend to survive, one way or another. Sometimes life strengthens us, whether we like how it happens or not, other times it leaves us feeling vulnerable.

Someone wise once said, Love never dies, it just changes form.

Ultimately everyone goes through heartache at some point.

Compassion for yourself and others is key — we’re all in this together.

Going Deeper

If you’d like to read more from me on love, self-care, healing and creating the relationship you desire, check out my book Lovelands. It’s currently free on Audible with a new membership.

Originally published at on November 12, 2019.

Dr Debra Campbell is a psychologist and author of Lovelands, a self-help memoir about becoming your own hero. You can find out more at

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