The 2 Approaches to Recovery from Heartbreak — Which One Are You Using?

After a break-up, you often feel a sense of loss. You might know deep down that you need to move on, but it doesn’t always come easily to you. You’re overwhelmed by many different emotions and scared to face your new reality without your (now ex) partner.

I have definitely been there.

Throughout my early twenties to mid-twenties, I went through many intense break-ups. The younger and more immature I was, the messier the break-up. I relied on instincts to get me out of misery, but my instincts didn’t always serve me well, especially when I was consumed by anxiety and desperate for security.

But things changed when I hit rock bottom two years ago.

I realised that I needed more than instincts to save myself and turn my life around — I needed a clear strategy. I stopped finding quick fixes and emotional band-aids; I set goals and moved on in real terms. Within six months, I felt like a brand new person, and my life changed completely.

After reflecting on my past break-ups and healing processes, I concluded that there are two approaches to recovery from heartbreak. Each has its pros and cons — which one are you using?

Emotion-driven approach

People who experience strong emotions or have a high level of empathy tend to lean on this approach by default.

Your focus is on how you feel.

You want to iron out difficult emotions and find closure first, then you’ll be ready to make changes to your everyday life.

For example, after a break-up, you might try to talk things through with your ex-partner and open yourself up to friends or a therapist, hoping to get to the bottom of your every thought and feeling.

You might either put yourself out there immediately to fill the void left by your ex-partner or stay single for a really long time until you feel emotionally safe again.

You run your life on stand-by mode while you make yourself feel better.

The Pros:

  • By the time you make practical changes to get on with your life, you’re emotionally done with the past.

The Cons:

  • It takes a long time for you to get to the other side (e.g. often years.)

  • It can be overwhelming.

  • If you’re not self-aware and mature enough, you might create more problems for yourself (e.g. using a rebound relationship.)

How to use this approach to your advantage:

  • Work through your emotions and traumas in your own time, but don’t find the answers from your ex-partners.

  • Learn to sit with your difficult feelings and avoid the urge to dissect every single one of them.

  • Find healthy ways to tend to your traumas — don’t seek instant gratifications.

Goal-driven approach

Logical people or people who are not emotionally expressive usually prefer this approach.

Your focus is on what you do.

You make sure that your life is in order, then you will work through your past issues when you feel ready to.

For example, after a break-up, you immediately block your ex and make changes to your everyday life. You waste no time to remove any trace of your ex and set goals for yourself to become better than your past self who was involved with your ex. You zip your mouth about your past relationship and pay attention to other things.

You run your life on acceleration mode and you believe your emotions will follow suit.

The Pros:

  • It’s speedy and powerful.

The Cons:

  • Your life might have transformed from the outside, but you might still have unresolved feelings towards your ex-partner — you realise your emotions don’t always follow suit.

  • As you suppress your emotions and memories, they might resurface and hurt you later.

  • You’ll likely experience grief over your past self.

How to use this approach to your advantage:

  • Make changes to your daily life all you want, but don’t forget to tend to your mental health — at least in private. For example, go to therapy or share your unfiltered self with a trusted friend.

  • Be patient with yourself when you work through your past issues. You might question why you still feel the way you do while your reality is far removed from your dark past, but it’s okay. Let yourself be.

My preferred method

In the past, I always opted for the emotion-driven approach (I was a very typical Cancerian woman) but didn’t know how to do it effectively. I was all over the place and caused myself to suffer unnecessarily.

When it came to my last break-up two years ago, I finally chose the goal-driven approach because I was fed up with feeling helpless all the time.

It empowered me to take control of my life and make tons of lifestyle changes, many of which helped take care of my mental health. My reality shifted quickly, but it took me another year to heal emotionally.

In hindsight, I think the best way to recover from heartbreak is to combine both approaches — and be intentional about healing:

  • Accept the break-up and find closure from within you.

  • Set goals for both your external and internal lives.

  • Draw clear boundaries with your past (and ex-partner.)

  • Make changes to your daily life while tending to every difficult emotion as soon as it arises — privately.

  • Surround yourself with things and people that bring you love and joy.

Don’t be afraid to move forward, and don’t be afraid when whatever you left behind catches up with you — give it a hug and say a proper goodbye then. As long as your physical environment is safe and nurturing, you have plenty of time to work through past issues.

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