beautiful boy by kevin tachman

photograph by Kevin Tachman

Who among us hasn’t has our heart broken, at least once? It’s impossible to get through life without it. People are unpredictable, they hurt us despite their best intentions. Pets, partners, beloved friends and relatives die. We fall in love with someone who doesn’t feel as we do. And when it happens, we’re surprised how much it hurts. Sometimes all we want to do is stay home and cry into our pillows…but what can we do to heal when our heart is broken?

A broken heart usually results in one of two choices: (1) we harden our heart and vow to never be hurt this badly again, or (2) we allow the pain to “tenderize” our heart and we become more empathic and compassionate people. Since #1 really doesn’t work in the long run, I recommend #2. Let your broken heart be a wake-up call: people all around you are suffering, but you were probably out shopping and never noticed before.

Based on my work with clients and – more than once – the healing of my own broken heart, here are some suggestions to help your healing process:

Honor your heart and your feelings. No one else can really tell you what to do. Even with their good intentions, your best friends don’t know what it’s like for you on the inside. People mean well, but when, for example, your pet dies, no one else can know how close the two of you were. Allow yourself plenty of time to grieve what and who you’ve lost.

A broken heart is like a little death. Your relationship with your loved one is gone. You need to mourn it. A relationship ending can be just as intense as when a loved one physically dies. Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions you’re feeling: sadness, disbelief, guilt, rage, confusion, numbness, etc. Feel them – don’t repress them. Remind yourself that all these emotions are temporary…they won’t last forever, even if it feels like they will.

Be patient and gentle with yourself. Treat yourself as you would a beloved child grieving the loss of someone he loved. You wouldn’t scold or punish a child or tell him that he was stupid to have loved, would you? Nor would you tell him to forget about the person/pet he loved and just “move on”. Give yourself this kind of compassion.

Time heals all wounds, but the time involved is unique to each wound. No one can tell you that in six days/weeks/months/years you’ll be over this. It doesn’t work that way. There is no clock that measures the time to heal a broken heart. The process is gradual. For most of us, there are good days and bad days, days when you cry a lot and days when you feel good. This is the natural process of healing, it comes in stops and starts, ups and downs.

You may be tempted to “stay busy” and avoid feeling your feelings. However, this is a sure way to INCREASE your pain and PROLONG the healing process. The only sure way to be free from pain is to go through it. While it may hurt like hell, just keep going, one step at a time, through good days and bad days. Keep going and eventually your pain will subside…and it will, I promise.

Sometimes, when our hearts break, we may think we don’t want to go on living. These thoughts – called passive suicidal ideation – are not unusual. However, if suicidal thoughts persist, get professional help.

While many people initially feel they “can’t go on” after their hearts are broken, in the long run, most of us heal our hearts and live to love again. The pain of your broken heart may shock you by its intensity, but if you can use this pain to “crack” your heart open wider, you’ll emerge MORE aware, compassionate and able to love and be loved than you ever were before.