Healing a broken heart can be one of the hardest challenges we face in life. Whether we’re grieving the death of a loved one, the fracturing of a close bond, or even the loss of a dream, finding our way forward after significant loss involves a complex process. That’s because heartbreak touches every sphere of our life. The physical, mental, social, and even spiritual. It creates a tangled knot of painful emotions that must be unraveled over time with self-care.
We’ve all heard the saying, only time can heal a broken heart. But grieving any significant loss takes much more than time. It requires us to navigate a spectrum of complicated emotions that can range from denial to anger to sadness, and eventually, acceptance. It’s painful and typically messy, and with so much to cope with, it can be easy to neglect our needs. We can forget, or even avoid, doing the very things that can help us feel better.
This guide focuses on the self-care aspect of healing a broken heart. Not only do we need self-care when we’re grieving, the acts of self-love we give to ourselves can actually facilitate our healing process. If you’ve recently suffered a broken heart, or you’re still trying to recover from a past loss, this guide for healing a broken heart can help you get through it.
Types of Broken Hearts
Our hearts can break over many different types of experiences. The obvious and perhaps most crushing ones are the death of a loved one or the break-up of a significant relationship. But other losses can devastate us as well. These can include losing a job, letting go of a dream or important goal, losing a pet, losing an ability, or experiencing a major illness. Infidelity and other forms of betrayal can be heartbreaking whether or not we choose to leave the relationship. And, even illnesses, injuries, or other losses that befall the people we love can hurt our hearts.
It’s important we acknowledge when our hearts have been broken, even when the pain stems from one of these less obvious or socially-affirmed sources. If we don’t acknowledge the fact of our grief, we can’t even begin the process of healing it.
I’d also like to note that sometimes we can be the cause of our own heartbreak. Even harder to swallow, we might have broken the heart of someone we love in the process. This can make it extra hard to acknowledge our own suffering. The added layer of guilt gets in the way. But, it’s no less important in these cases to take care of our heart’s healing. The journey to healing just has to include an additional focus. We have to learn to forgive ourselves along the way too.
Self-Compassion is a MUST When Healing a Broken Heart
A broken heart hurts. There’s no question about that. For many of us, that pain can even be felt physically in our heart center or other parts of the body. And yet, depending on our personality tendencies and/or the circumstances of our loss, it can be difficult to sit with the truth of our suffering.
Maybe we try to play the strong person, hiding our feelings deep inside. Or, we focus on how we’ve been cheated, projecting anger onto others or even the Universe itself. Alternatively, we might shut down in a pit of despair, refusing to face our reality and rejecting offers of support from the people around us. Or, we tremble in fear at the thought of trying to build a new version of our life. In these last two cases especially, hopelessness can set in, making any path forward seem impossible.
For those nurturing older wounds, letting go of the pain of your loss can sometimes feel frightening. You might tie it up with the belief that healing somehow means you’ve simply stopped caring for the love you’ve lost. That can feel intolerable.
This is where compassion becomes important.
Compassion means having sympathy or loving concern for someone’s pain and suffering. Self-compassion turns that sympathy and concern inward, as we offer it to ourselves. This gift can be a powerful force for healing a broken heart. It brings us face-to-face with the fact of our suffering, but in a loving, kind, and gentle way. When we acknowledge our pain, and the nature of our pain (meaning how we’re experiencing it), it feels more manageable. It’s neither stuffed inside where it can fester over time, nor swirling around us like a chaotic storm.
How Self-Compassion Can Help Heal a Broken Heart
Self-compassion works in several ways. First, it helps you get in touch with exactly what it is you’re feeling. Because a broken heart impacts so many aspects of our psyche and our lives, it can feel like a confusing and unmanageable mix of emotions. Identifying the specific ways in which you’re suffering calms all that down with clarity.
Second, it engages your self-care mindset. You feel a warmth in your heart directed toward yourself as you accept the fact of your suffering. You’re actively taking care of yourself as you extend healing intentions to yourself. This encourages you to tend to your needs, just like you would tend to the needs of someone you love in their moments of hurting.
Lastly, it honors and opens space for your healing process. Grief is a process. There’s no way to recover from a significant loss rapidly or all at once. It’s a layered undertaking that must unfold over time. Self-compassion gives you permission to go through that process with patience and kindness toward yourself.
How to Practice Self-Compassion
The practice of self-compassion involves three steps.
- Holding yourself in awareness. This means sitting quietly and connecting to yourself. Feeling what’s happening internally for you. Maybe even visualizing yourself seated there, just as you are.
- Acknowledging your suffering. This means accepting that you’re feeling whatever it is that you’re feeling. Sadness, anger, fear, hopelessness, loss of trust, guilt, etc. You can label it inwardly to yourself as you identify it.
- Offering yourself the wish, prayer, or intention that your suffering be eased. This can take the form of saying to yourself, inwardly or out loud, something like this: May I be held in the heart of compassion. May my pain and suffering be eased. May I be at peace. May I be loved. May I be healed. You can use whatever words you choose. The important thing is that you give yourself the intention for healing.
Giving Voice to Your Suffering Helps Heal a Broken Heart
There’s something about speaking or writing your emotions that brings about healing. That’s why counseling works so well. When you’ve got a bunch of emotions stirring inside you with no outlet, the pressure builds. Like a pot of boiling water with a lid on it. The steam has nowhere to go, so the lid begins to rattle and shake. Eventually, if not given a release, the water boils over.
The same goes for our emotions. They need an outlet. And when you give yourself a forum to vent, to just spill out what you’re feeling, everything calms down again. I’ve found that giving voice to my emotions not only functions like a purge that leaves me feeling calmer, but it also usually leads me to discovering some insight or piece of inner wisdom that can guide my way forward. That jewel never lies at the surface, though. It’s always tucked beneath my emotions, emerging only once my emotions have had their say.
Ways to Give Voice to Your Broken Heart
Professional counseling offers a safe container for voicing your emotions. As an added benefit, your counselor can give you wise guidance from an objective point of view. But you don’t have to work with a counselor. Talking with a close friend or family member can also help. Just keep in mind that sometimes people don’t know how to support someone who’s grieving. They’re not sure what to say or how to help. You can ease this uncertainty by letting them know you don’t expect them to say anything or offer solutions. You just need someone to listen.
Another option is journaling. Using a journal has helped me navigate several heart breaks. Free-writing whatever comes to mind, without judgment, can be incredibly therapeutic. It has often led me to discovering some nugget of wisdom. But, it doesn’t have to. Just getting my thoughts out in front of me, on paper, helps in and of itself.
Acts of Self-Love Fill the Gap in Your Broken Heart
When healing a broken heart, offering love to yourself can fill the gaps left in your heart and in your life by whomever or whatever you have lost. This of course doesn’t mean you can replace your loss. But what it means is you can give yourself love, so the loss of love isn’t all you’re feeling.
Show yourself tenderness by taking a warm bath. Get a massage, or give yourself a massage. Make yourself a delicious meal. Buy yourself something you’ve been wanting or something you know will bring you comfort. Whatever thing you might do to express your love for someone else, do it for yourself. It’s not the thing itself that matters as much as the gesture of love for yourself that will help you heal your broken heart.
As humans, we’re wired to want love. When we experience love, the neurotransmitter oxytocin is released in our brain. This chemical reaction makes us feel good, really good. It calms us down and helps us feel safe. When we’ve had a significant source for that feeling ripped from our lives, we function at a deficit. We can give it to ourselves, though, through intentional acts of self-love. Doing something loving for yourself every day, however small, is good self-care when you’re healing.
Seek Social Support When You’re Healing a Broken Heart
This builds on the oxytocin connection mentioned above. Seeking support from family and friends is important when you’re healing a broken heart. It can be tempting to isolate. Either because you don’t want to bring other people down with your sadness or other emotions, or you simply don’t feel up to socializing. You might feel pressured to put on a fake smile or worry you’ll break down in tears in front of other people. But the truth is the people in your life are probably concerned for you and want to be a shoulder you can lean on. It’s an exchange of love – your willingness to accept support and their willingness to give it. Both parties benefit.
If being with friends or family feels like too much, or you don’t have anyone who’s close enough to reach out to, a counselor or support group can give you that social connection. Even online communities can offer this contact. Many Facebook groups and other online groups are dedicated to supporting members through the process of healing from grief. The anonymity that an online group provides might feel preferable to talking face-to-face with other people. It can be a good stepping stone toward re-engaging socially.
Interacting with other people doesn’t take the pain of your loss away, but it does help to know you’re not alone. That there’s love and support around you. Over time, this can help you envision and embrace a new version of your life.
Rebound Relationships Won’t Heal a Broken Heart
A couple of years ago, I was talking to a young woman who’d just experienced an ugly break-up in a long-term relationship. I could tell she was hurting, but she wrapped up the conversation by saying she was going to find a booty call for the night to get over her ex. Initially, I thought she was joking, but as she continued, I realized she was quite serious. I lightly encouraged her to think twice about that, as I could see she was trying to cover-up her pain. But she persisted with her intentions, so I said nothing more.
Every one, of course, has their own way of dealing with loss. And there’s no right or wrong way to cope, as far as I’m concerned, so long as you’re not hurting anyone. What I think is important, though, is being honest with ourselves about our pain and, as best we can, being realistic and intentional about how we choose to cope with it.
The Hole in Your Heart Can’t Be Filled By Just Anyone
It can be tempting to try to fill the gap of a lost love by jumping into a new relationship quickly or seeking brief relief through physical contact with someone else. However, the reality is that sort of comfort will in fact be temporary, not much different than taking a substance to alter your mind-state. The hole in your heart will still be there, waiting to be healed.
It’s a hole of a particular shape, the shape of the person who created it. It won’t be filled by another person, no matter how hard you try to force it. The hole can only heal over time as you tend to your process – offering yourself love, receiving love from the people you’ve come to trust, and allowing the loss to be fully felt.
If you choose to find comfort in a rebound relationship, just go into it knowing the important work of healing your broken heart must still be completed. Otherwise, you’ll be seeking something you can never really find in your new bond, and that might sabotage it.
Healing a Broken Heart Includes Self-Care for Your Body, Mind & Spirit
Healing from a broken heart requires attention to your entire system. What you do to take care of your body, mind, and spirit during this time greatly influences your healing process. Because emotions can feel so big in the aftermath of a serious loss, you can easily lose sight of what’s happening in these other aspects of your life. But tending to your physical, mental, and spiritual well-being can support your emotional health.
Physical self-care includes eating healthy foods, drinking lots of water, exercising, getting a good night’s sleep, showering, etc. Because grief can present the same symptoms as depression, these pieces of self-care can fall to the wayside when you’re brokenhearted. You may lack the motivation to do them, or you might even feel guilty for doing them. Regardless, it’s vital to your healing process that you take care of your body. As you do, you send a message of self-love to yourself. And, you give yourself the energy you need to keep moving forward day by day.
Take a daily walk. Do some yoga or another exercise you enjoy. Even if you don’t feel up to it. The movement will help stir up motivation for your other daily tasks.
Mental self-care means paying attention to your thoughts. When you’re suffering from a broken heart, you’re especially susceptible to cognitive distortions. You might think things like Life is never going to be good again. Or, I can’t possibly find happiness without him/her. You might get stuck in loops that focus on blame, anger, guilt, or the replaying of episodes that led up to the loss. While it’s probably impossible to stop these sorts of thoughts altogether, you can interject alternative perspectives into the mix. You can choose which thoughts you want to believe, based on how well they’re serving your health and well-being.
Feeding negative thought loops, or letting them have free reign, will only prolong your suffering. Mindfulness can be an excellent way to pay closer attention to your mind’s activity and to create some distance from thoughts that aren’t helpful to you.
Spiritual self-care involves any practice that brings you existential comfort. Meaning, anything that helps you connect to the deeper meaning of your life. I’m not talking about spiritual bypassing here. Spiritual bypassing is when you deny your pain, or try to skip over it, by turning it into a spiritual purpose. It often sounds something like, this happened for a reason. It’s preparing me for my higher purpose. Or, this was God’s plan for me. I must accept it in faith.
While these types of perspectives can help take the sting out of your loss and encourage you to look forward with courage and grace, they don’t actually remove the pain. To jump to these perspectives without allowing yourself to process your pain is essentially just stuffing it. And when we stuff emotions, they always find a way to come back to haunt us.
Spiritual self-care is indeed important when healing a broken heart, though. Whatever spiritual practices you have in place, keep doing them. Make it a priority to do them. Prayer, meditation, going to church, spending time in nature, whatever it looks like for you. Studies have shown that spirituality promotes all kinds of positive health benefits, including happiness, hope, optimism, and gratitude. They’ve also shown spirituality negatively correlates to depression and anxiety, among other mental health issues.
When we stay in contact with our spirit, our emotions feel more manageable. And, we hold onto hope, something a broken heart needs more than anything.
Do Things You Enjoy Doing to Heal Your Broken Heart
When your heart’s been broken, it can feel like the whole world has come to a brutal halt. But, it hasn’t. Life as you’ve known it has come to a stop, that’s true. However, a new life will emerge. You will be happy again. You will recover and enjoy life again. It just doesn’t feel that way now.
Doing things you enjoy doing reinforces this truth. It gives you little doses of good-feeling chemicals like dopamine, seratonin, and oxytocin. It opens your eyes to new possibilities and reminds you that you matter. Your happiness matters. And, you have the capacity to give yourself that happiness, despite your loss.
If the things you used to enjoy doing bring back painful memories, try something new. Start a new hobby. Take a class. Volunteer somewhere where you can make a difference in someone else’s life. It doesn’t matter what you choose, just that it’s something that brings you some measure of enjoyment.
Little by little, as you engage in meaningful and enjoyable activities, you’ll start to feel alive again. You’ll see that life does go on.
A broken heart is one of the most painful experiences we can have. It’s the flip side of the love coin. To love deeply means at some point we will also hurt deeply. In those moments of hurting, giving ourselves the love that’s in our hearts can be one of the best ways to heal our broken heart.
May you be filled and comforted with the love that lies in your heart. Today and every day.