When does normal sadness after a breakup turn into clinical depression? It would be easy if there were a set number of weeks after which it was “abnormal” to feel depressed after a breakup. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. How long we feel depressed after a breakup often depends on the length of the relationship. It depends on other factors like the circumstances under which things ended and the meaning we attribute to a relationship.
For example, a two month relationship that we think of as a “fun fling” will be easier to deal with after it ends than a two-month long relationship that we pinned all our hopes on. This illustrates an important principle in human psychology: How we think about an event influences how we feel about it. We can use this principle to our advantage – after a breakup, we can practice thinking in ways that will helpful.
We might have a lot of thoughts like “I’ll never meet anyone else!” How can we deal with these thoughts? It’s not helpful to tell ourselves something encouraging that we just don’t believe, like, “I’ll meet someone even better next weekend!” Instead, try telling yourself something that you know to be true and helpful, even if you don’t feel that way right now. For example, try something like this: “Lots of people enjoy my company, so I’ll probably date someone else at some point.”
Sometimes depression lingers for a long time after a breakup. After a time, our friends start to worry about us, and express concern. We just can’t seem to get over it. In cases like this, it is good to consult with a therapist. Depression is a problem to be taken seriously. If you feel depressed most of the time and it meaningfully interferes with your life, seek professional help.
Rejection: The most dreaded post-breakup emotion
Perhaps the hardest part of romantic relationships happens when we encounter one of the most unpleasant emotions there is: rejection. It’s universal: no one likes being rejected. However, some people react better to rejection than others.
Feeling rejected during a breakup can trigger feelings of despair or worthlessness. Sometimes these feelings lead to anger or depression. What can you do if you’re feeling rejected and suffering from some of these emotional consequences? If these emotions are leading you to feel suicidal or to engage in dangerous behaviors, it’s time to seek professional help. If not, but you’re just miserable, remember that these feelings are understandable and temporary. Often, letting these emotions run their course is the healthiest thing we can do. But if they start to feel persistent, or interfere with our ability to do our jobs, go to classes, or live our lives, it’s smart to consult with a therapist.
Rejection stings. Sometimes it shakes us to our core. When it happens in the context of our love lives, it can lead us to think that no one will ever want to be with us, that there is something profoundly wrong or lacking in us, or even that it’s useless to even try to seek out the relationship we want. There are few experiences in life more dispiriting. I wish there was a magic cure I could offer that would make this feeling go away, but there isn’t one… but there are a few strategies that are often helpful.
Remember everything is temporary – including emotions.
Emotions are an important part of what is to be human – they help shape our interior lives. They are also temporary! Feelings of rejection are no exception. So remember that given enough time, even feelings of rejection will pass.
Mindfulness practice is the best way that I know to get better at not getting sucked in to emotions like despair, anger, or sadness that sometimes come up around the end of a romantic relationship. Mindfulness practice, done properly, is no small undertaking. It requires real commitment to working with our minds in a certain way, on a daily basis. However, if you’re up for the challenge, mindfulness practice can change your life.
Don’t turn to substances if you’re experiencing depression after a breakup
Marijuana, alcohol, clonazepam, alprazolam and similar drugs can feel very tempting when we are experiencing feelings of rejection, despair or loneliness. Indeed they are likely to provide some short-term relief. However the medium-and long-term consequences of using these substances can be bad, and deprive us of the opportunity to experience the natural dissipation of these difficult feelings.
Are you avoiding the feelings by getting angry?
Often, there are a lot of reasons to be angry after a breakup. We may believe the other person mistreated us. Maybe he or she didn’t give us a fair shot, or didn’t bother to get to know the real us. It’s certainly understandable to feel angry about these things. However, sometimes anger is something we go to in order to escape sadness, or to avoid doubts we have about our appeal as a romantic partner.
The problem is, if anger leads us to start an argument with the other person, then we’ll likely end up with more to be angry about (Can you believe they said THIS to defend themselves? Unbelievable!), so anger ends up being self-perpetuating. And in a temporary way it’s effective in distracting us from the underlying emotions and doubts.
A healthier strategy is often to face those doubts and emotions directly, even if they hurt. There is value in letting yourself feel hurt or sad, and experiencing how temporary that can be. If we can learn to address our doubts and tolerate these emotions, often anger will lose its appeal.
Breakups can lead to a whole lot of different feelings. When a breakup leads to symptoms of depression, remember the strategies described here and maybe you can make things a little easier on yourself.
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