I remember taking a lot of long walks down very quiet streets. I remember my eyes being blurred by so many tears that I couldn’t see where I was going. And it didn’t matter where I was going, because no matter where I was, I couldn’t escape my anguish.
Breakups are kind of like colds: so common an occurrence that rarely does anyone go past a sympathetic “aww, that’s too bad.” when they hear of someone having one. But just like colds, breakups are more miserable than they sound. The pain of heartbreak doesn’t feel common. In fact, I’m convinced that the most horrible feeling in the world is to love someone and not have them love you in return. (And I think God agrees with me.)
I’ve had my heart crushed a few times, and each time I went through the same cycles: grief, depression, and anger, followed by an intense struggle against bitterness and resentment. When I spoke to a pastor of my distress, he assured me that my cycle of emotions was normal. “Normal” was not the word I wanted to hear. I didn’t want to hear that everyone went through my same emotional cycles I was going through, because I thought my pain was so much more unique than anyone else’s.
Looking back, I realize that it wasn’t. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t beyond healing like I had originally thought. And after some observation, I found out that my emotional cycles were, in fact, quite common. Everyone seems to – at one point or another – go through certain waves of emotion that come with heartbreak.
Part 1: Grief and Depression
Anyone suffering from heartbreak understands that grief follows you, regardless of your location. Everything reminds you of that person, even the really obscure things like salads or bicycle tires. It seems that everywhere you turn there’s a memory weighing you down and reminding you of how happy you used to be.
This stage of heartbreak is probably the most paralyzing. It comes with a lot of “if I had” and “only if” statements that can keep a person awake at night. It also comes with a period of over-analysis; analysis of you, them, your relationship, and sometimes even third parties. This period involves a lot of thinking, daydreaming, and crying (or however you find yourself grieving.)
I have found that some people try to skip this step. Some try to distract their grief with activities, projects, or work. I had a friend once tell me the day after he broke up with his girlfriend, “As long as I don’t think about it, I’ll be okay.” But the truth is, people need to grieve. It does no good to reject or suppress pain. It will resurface. Time can only heal wounds if those wounds are treated to heal in time. Otherwise, those wounds only becomes a deeper issue to be resolved later. Wounds that go unhealthy can turn into something incredibly unhealthy such as verbal or physical abuse or maybe even addiction. And with grief comes something that can be equally unhealthy: anger.
Part 2: Anger
I remember during my anger phases that my statements of “if I had” turned into “if he was only.” Suddenly I became the greatest critic to character, thinking myself much less to blame than anyone else. If he had been a decent person, if he was mature and respectful, if he had known what a fantastic person I was, I wouldn’t have gotten my heart broken.
Anger is tricky. When I was faced with this cycle, I wanted to either to slander the guy or punch him in the face. I wanted him to feel as humiliated and rejected as I did. I didn’t want him to be the one to have the power my emotions, and anger gave me a false sense of power.
I remember slipping out a few slandering statements during this time. I never felt the power I thought I would feel. I just felt more empty, and I came to realize that it never made that person look bad, it just made me look bitter.
My habits of taking long walks, screaming into my pillow, and writing horrible letters that I never sent took the edge off. After months of confronting anger on a daily basis, I realized that anger didn’t give me power, it was something that held power over me. If I really wanted control, I’d have to let go of my anger, because the pieces of anger I didn’t deal with would quickly turn into bitterness.
Part 3: Bitterness and Resentment
Bitterness and resentment sometimes camouflages itself within me when I try to find some way to protect myself emotionally. It’s interesting how resentment can take many shapes: it can either be dwelling on a certain event, it can be directed towards a single person, or it can spread into groups of people. My thoughts went from, “That guy had some commitment issues” to “Men have no intentions of commitment.”
My bitterness never truly did what I wanted it to. I wanted to use it as a way to protect my heart from further damage. But bitterness didn’t protect me, it only repelled people. It numbed every pleasurable emotion and enhanced every unpleasant emotion. It didn’t protect my heart – it slowly poisoned it.
The roots of bitterness and resentment can be found with digging. No one likes the digging, but it’s necessary to pull out the root so that the bitterness doesn’t grow back. A lot of bitterness can be the cause of unforgiveness, anger, or grief. It’s best to deal with it quickly. Bitterness and resentment is more like shackles than a cement wall: it confines you more than it protects you.
The Path to Healing
Different days may need different treatments, but a few strategies will help aching hearts caught in these typical cycles.
Keeping a journal is sometimes pushed aside because it is seen as something love-struck teenagers do, but in reality, it’s a really helpful tool in capturing your thoughts. Thoughts and feelings are easier to deal with once they are tangible. Your journal should involve everything you’re thinking, feeling, and remembering. In following your thoughts on paper, you can find the root issue that needs to be dealt with.
Get a Support Group
Try to insert yourself into a church group or recovery group, or somewhere else where you find yourself in a network of people who have gone through something. Avoid thinking of your buddies as a “support group.” Your peers can feed your anger, resentment, and bitterness instead of encouraging you to forgive and move forward. A counselor or pastor is also a good idea because they’re trained in the area of pain and heartache. In emergency emotional situations, you can talk to online coaches, at sites such as The Hopeline or Air1.
A lot of the time, people tend to spoil themselves after a breakup. Pedicures and new electronic devices may be fun for a moment, but they don’t cure the emptiness. Serving others is actually a better use of time. Volunteering or helping community organizations will give you a new perspective on your own life. It will also keep you busy enough to avoid those tempting moments of wallowing in self-pity.
I think God spoke to me the most in those times of grief and anger. My grief kept me quiet enough to sincerely listen. Sometimes my pain was answered in Scripture, in other times it was answered in a soft voice, and a few times it was answered in ironic life events. But the more I prayed, the more I realized God really was paying attention, and that was the hope that kept me going. Spend some time in prayer as often as possible when you are grieving or facing a painful cycle of heartbreak, then write down how God speaks to you in those moments. When you look back on your journal, you will see how God has His hand on each moment.
I dare say that heartbreak is inevitable. We all take precautions, but sooner or later we all fall victim to the cycles of grief, depression, anger, and bitterness. Despite the situation, the cycles are not beyond recovery and healing.