As a therapist, and a survivor of several breakups myself, I know therapy can be particularly essential when a relationship ends. It can be difficult to be rational or objective when your heart is aching and you may feel hopeless, anxious, or depressed. A therapist’s office offers you a safe place to process the grief, loss, confusion, and disappointment you are experiencing so that you can feel grounded and like yourself again.
Despite the fact that many people see, saw, or will see a therapist at some point in their lives, seeking help from a mental health professional remains a surprisingly stigmatized topic. Let’s face it, people would rather talk about seeing their gynecologist, rabbi, or even their ex before admitting to seeing a shrink. Many of my clients walk through my door feeling heavy with shame and report that seeking my assistance makes them feel embarrassed, indulgent, or weak. It’s as if needing therapy is a sign of their failure as humans, a scarlet letter on their hearts. But really, we all struggle with breakups and you should not feel ashamed if you need some extra support during this difficult time of transition.
The following are my top 6 reasons why therapy is not just helpful, but essential after a breakup.
1. Don’t Carry the Baggage of Your Last Relationship into Your Next One
People often run from one failed relationship to another in a desperate attempt to forget the pain in the arms of a new love. But if we don’t seize the chance to really process the grief from a breakup, we are likely to bring it with us into the next relationship. We may project feelings and memories onto our new partner that have nothing to do with them. For example, your ex may have severely broken your trust and as result you are constantly suspicious or accuse your new partner of deceiving you even though they are not. This is likely to result in you walking away from someone wonderful, or pushing that person away. Therapy can help you clear the marks of your last love and give you a clean emotional canvas to work with.
2. Own What Is Yours and Let Go of the Rest
I see many patients who incorrectly blame themselves for the relationship not working out. They are so busy feeling bad about themselves that they fail to take responsibility for the way they actually did contribute to problems with their ex. It is important that you are able to examine what happened with someone who can help you see it objectively. It is essential that you stop blaming yourself for things that are not your fault, because sitting with blame and shame weighs us down and keeps us stuck. It is also important that you uncover the problematic behaviors or patterns that you did engage in that were not helpful. A lot of the problems that came up in your last relationship probably existed long before you ever met your ex. That is because we have internal dynamics in place for understanding ourselves and relating to others that have been in place since childhood. It is essential to untangle this web before you step into the next relationship so that you don’t repeat the same patterns again.
3. Your Friends and Family Aren’t As Helpful As You Think
You may have friends that rival Carrie Bradshaw’s crew of supportive gal pals, but even they got sick of hearing about Mr. Big and eventually sent Carrie off to see a therapist. Leaning on friends and family is a great tool to have in your arsenal, but it’s not quite enough. Your friends may have some good advice, but they are not trained experts in mental health, communication, or relationships. The advice and support of loved ones is biased by their relationship with you, and their own motivations and needs. Sometimes talking to friends can be like walking through a house of mirrors. The objective lens of the therapist allows us to see ourselves and our situations more accurately. Additionally, we can alienate people we love by relying on them too heavily to handle emotional matters that are outside the scope of their capacity. When we have a therapist to talk with about our emotional struggles we have the capacity to maintain a more balanced relationship with the other important people in our lives.
4. Re-Discover Your Identity As a Single Person and Learn to Love Yourself
A large part of coping with the loss of a relationship is learning how to be single again. This involves learning how to be alone and really getting to know and love an independent you. Skipping this step can lead to dating people who are not right for you as a way of filling an empty hole in your heart. We often lose parts of our identity in our relationships, and therapy can help you connect with your truest self and put the pieces back together. In order to really love someone else, we must learn to love ourselves. Therapy can help us uncover and remove the barriers that prevent us from tapping into this essential self-love.
5. Communication Is Hard. Really, Really Hard.
I would consider myself an expert in effective communication strategies and I still mess it up. Effective communication is hard. It is both an art and a science. Communication problems are often the number one culprit in a failed relationship. A large part of what I do as a therapist is help my clients shift their communication styles from problematic—passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, or altogether non-existent—to effective. I teach people how to express themselves in a way that honors their voice and desires, but does not alienate or harm others. I often find that there is nothing wrong with what people are trying to say, it’s how they are saying it (or what they are afraid to say) that is getting them into trouble. Therapy can help you shift problematic communication patterns so when that next special someone walks into your life you are less likely to make the same mistakes again.
6. Cause You’ve Tried Other Strategies and You’re Still Struggling
You’ve read half the books in Amazon.com’s breakup section. You’ve attended “meetups” for “single and fabulous” locals. You gave up gluten and started practicing yoga. Yet despite all of this, you still feel like you are running in place with the same emotional demons from your relationship. If you feel like you have given everything else a shot and nothing has worked, it might be time to try something else. Albert Einstein is often quoted as saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If we want different results, we need to shift our cognitive approach. By providing specific tools and interventions for coping with loss, therapy helps people remove obstacles that have prevented them from truly healing in the past.
Hopefully, you’ve begun to see that therapy is an important piece of your healing process. The next step is finding a good therapist. Unfortunately not all therapists are created equal. On Monday I’ll share my insider tips on how to find a good therapist. Until you find that person who can help you on the next step of your journey, take good care of yourself, take lots of deep breaths, have faith in your potential to heal and move on, find gratitude for the good things in your life, and remember that no matter what YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS!
If you’ve missed previous articles in this Demystifying Therapy series, be sure to get caught up below.
Part 1: How It Can Help
Part 2: Beginning Your Therapist Search
Part 3: How To Find The Right Fit