Breaking up is never easy for anyone. But we all know that one person who, whether they were the dumper or the dumpee, can rally after a week of heartbreak and get back onto the dating scene without skipping a beat. How do they do it? Some of us only wish we had the power to handle a breakup as gracefully. Instead, we fall apart for weeks on end, wondering what went wrong. Why does it seem like some of us are more equipped to handle heartbreak than others?
The answer is simpler than you might think. Social psychologists Lauren Howe and Carol Dweck have found that our handling of a breakup has nearly everything to do with our sense of selves, and our view of the relationship before the breakup.
Owning Up vs. Feeling Worthless
Howe and Dweck conducted a study in which participants reflected on their recent breakups. Some participants made it clear that the breakup had made them discover their own undesirable traits. One person wrote in their reflection: “I learned that I am too sensitive and that I push people away… [this is] negative and makes people crazy and drives them away.”
This participant, and many like them, had portrayed their personalities as toxic and detrimental to the relationship as a whole. They saw themselves as the main reason for the relationship falling apart.
While it can be a good thing to look into one’s self in order to improve for their next relationship (it takes two to tango, after all), this introspection can become very destructive very quickly. People who overthink about their flaws after a breakup often tend to feel hurt and rejected, and question their own worth. This is what Howe and Dweck call “The Self-Deprecation Trap”.
Losing a Part of You
Researcher Arthur Aron has determined that when we enter close relationships, they begin to think of our partners as ourselves. According to Aron, we confuse our traits with theirs, as well as our memories with their memories. This identity overlap is generally a very positive aspect of relationships. This overlap means that we have become interested in our partner and their interests, and we’ve also broadened our thinking to include theirs.
When a relationship ends, this identity overlap disconnects. To an extent, losing that person means losing a piece of ourselves. The more time you’ve had to grow together with your partner, the larger the chunk of you that leaves if they do.
The fear of rejection plays a huge role in a person’s post-breakup recovery. The rejection of a breakup stings the most when people link it with their own sense of selves. People who take rejection personally are more likely to have drastically changed outlooks on future romantic relationships, and pessimistic thoughts about the future.
Those with less of a connection between their sense of selves and rejection are able to leave a breakup with less battle damage. A participant in Howe and Dweck’s study had this to say about their breakup: “…Two people can both be quality individuals, but that doesn’t mean they belong together… Everyone gets rejected.” This person chose to see rejection as a common experience, rather than a personal attack.
As I said before, breakups are hard. They’ll always be hard. But just as there are ways we can make ourselves feel worse, there are ways we can use the experience to make us feel better.
Instead of feeling awful because you felt responsible in some way for the breakup – maybe you weren’t a good communicator, or maybe your expectations weren’t fair – take note of your mistakes and know that they are things that you can work on for the future. That, my friends, is how you handle a split like a champ.
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Edited by Viveca Shearin