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We spoke with Natalie Dickinson, an Ottawa-based registered social worker and therapist, about how best to move past the pain of a failed relationship.
Dickinson confirms that while breakups are hardly ever easy, there are some simple strategies we can all use to banish relationship regret and move forward.
1. Don't overanalyze
"It is, in fact, very normal to reminisce and dissect past relationships and partners, especially in the early days following a breakup," says Dickinson. "Doing so can actually help us figure out what went wrong and what aspects of the relationship were -- or were not -- meeting our needs."
But there is a time limit, she warns. "When this focus on the past begins to interfere with your ability to move on and consider new possibilities, that's the time to start letting go," she says.
2. Go easy on yourself
Many people become self-critical following a breakup, but it's important to avoid getting too wrapped up in feeling at fault. "When a relationship ends it's common to think back on what went wrong and what we could have done differently. But it is very important to recognize when that self-evaluation becomes hurtful and unhelpful," says Dickinson.
"Recognizing behaviours that you would like to minimize -- such as, 'I was more jealous in that relationship than I would like to have been' -- can be healthy. But berating oneself is not only unhealthy, it is detrimental," she explains. Work on taking notice of when your self-reflection moves from helpful to hurtful, and put the brakes on those unhealthy criticisms.
Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how to boost your self-confidence after a tough breakup on page 2.
3. Focus on the positive
Despite the pain and frustration you may feel, there is always something to be learned from a relationship that did not work out. "Through healthy reflection, one can identify the aspects of a past relationship that were good and that would be qualities to look for in a future, more successful partnership," says Dickinson.
By the same token, aspects that were not great can be avoided or used as "red flags" in a next relationship, she explains. "Refocusing on yourself following a breakup is a healthy and often necessary step before seeking to begin a new relationship," she says.
4. Boost your self-confidence
The breakup of a relationship not only causes emotional stress, it can also deliver a temporary blow to your ego. Rest assured that feeling is completely normal.
"It is important to remember that, for most people, the search for love does not end with the first relationship," says Dickinson. "Breakups are a normal part of dating life as people search for compatible partners -- they are not personal failures."
Rather than dwell on your bruised ego, reconnect with yourself and take some time to take part in activities that make you feel good and that emphasize your strengths. Dickinson suggests completing the following self-esteem-boosting actions.
• Reach out to friends and family members who make you feel loved and worthy.
• Engage in activities that you enjoy.
• Write down how you feel in a journal, which can be very cathartic.
• Set personal goals and work toward achieving them.
5. Embrace change
Try looking at the end of a relationship -- especially one that wasn't working -- as an opportunity for positive change.
"For some people, the idea of being without a partner can be overwhelming, lonely or scary. In these cases there is a risk of people staying in a relationship even when it is an unhappy or even unhealthy one," says Dickinson. "While no relationship is perfect, staying in such a relationship comes with risks," she warns.
If you're struggling with leaving a situation you know isn't healthy or dealing with the aftermath of it, a therapist can provide the support and emotional tools necessary to help you move forward.
6. Pace yourself
While jumping right back into dating might seem like a good way to get over your heartbreak, there are some considerations to keep in mind. "Opening yourself up to a new relationship can be daunting, but you can manage and minimize the negative impacts of false starts in several ways," says Dickinson.
Entering the dating scene and making new connections is exciting, but keeping a level head and not rushing things is key. "Be honest with yourself in your new relationship. If something doesn't feel quite right, don't ignore it. Relationship red flags often appear early on," she explains. "Identify how you are feeling in a new relationship and trust your instincts if things don't feel quite right."
Getting past the pain of a failed relationship is never easy. But by discovering the benefits and rewards that come from silencing your inner critic, refocusing on your strengths and reconnecting with yourself, moving on becomes a much less daunting task.
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