What to Do If Your Worst Breakup Keeps Haunting You (2024)

Many people get stuck and can’t move on from the “big one.” They keep playing it back, over and over. They can’t show up as their true self, or be present in new relationships. They fall into the trap of comparison because they can’t forget what they felt. and they compare what they’re feeling now—or not feeling—to what they felt then.

Do you still play back “the “big one”? Do you find yourself comparing young love to new love and wondering why it doesn’t feel as powerful? Is it difficult to stay present in a current relationship or with someone you’re dating? If your first big breakup keeps haunting you, the following four journaling prompts may help you revisit and process what happened so you can move through it.

1. Reflect on the relationship.

Write about the positive aspects of the relationship, the lessons you learned, and the growth you experienced. Explore any underlying patterns or dynamics that might have been happening underneath. What was the tug that was fueling the attraction and that you may not have been aware of? Is it tied to any false beliefs about yourself and your story?

2. Express your emotions.

Allow yourself to freely express your feelings about the relationship and the breakup. Write about your sadness, anger, confusion, or any other emotions you’re experiencing. Give yourself permission to be honest and raw in your writing. Don’t hold back.

3. Identify self-discoveries.

Explore the ways in which this break-up has led to any self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself during this breakup? How are you different today? Do you have new definitions of love, dating, and relationships? Have you discovered or rediscovered any personal strengths or qualities?

4. Play it out.

Imagine how you think the relationship would have actually played out if you didn’t hadn’t broken up, knowing what you know today about love and relationships. How would it have unfolded? What problems would have persisted? How would you both have handled conflict? What would it have been like after the honeymoon phase? How does it keep you from falling in love? What would it look like to close that chapter of your life? To fully let go of it?

Know that if you went back to that relationship now, you would have a very different experience.

When you reminisce, you are playing back what you experienced through the lenses of your younger self. What you see is likely a distortion, not truth. You are remembering what you felt—not what it actually was. Read that again.

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When you fall in love, your brain undergoes a complex series of changes. The brain regions associated with reward, pleasure, and motivation become highly active, releasing chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin.

These neurotransmitters cause feelings of euphoria, attachment, and a desire to be close to the person you’re in love with. Activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and critical thinking, might also show decreased activity, putting you into a certain “lovestruck” state that keeps you from seeing your partner’s flaws as readily.

Part of letting go is practicing self-compassion and forgiveness. I find myself blaming myself often for how I showed up (or didn’t) in my “big one,” and self-blame also keeps me stuck to that story. By blaming yourself, you are holding on. Giving yourself grace and knowing you loved to the best of your capacity from where you were at that time in your life is what starts to release the anchor of self-blame.

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Know that you did your best. You didn’t have the awareness or tools then. Be kind to yourself. The more you blame yourself for what happened, the tighter the grip the event has on you. It was that chapter of your story, which was an important one. It's not about wanting it, and it can’t be ripped out. It’s about you writing a new one.

We collide with people. We make decisions based on how we feel. Then we realized that other things were happening underneath the surface. We tried our best. It didn’t work out. We can look back and beat ourselves up for our choices we now regret, and wish that they never happened, and let those collisions become stains on our story. We then internalize and believe we are less than, defective, or unlovable.

Or we can believe we needed to play it out. The rock needed to be turned over, even if there was nothing there. Because to discover there was nothing there was of value. Otherwise, we would have lived in regret. As long as we have value in learning about ourselves and love through the process.

This is the path that leads to acceptance and self-forgiveness (of self). This is the path that leads to our evolution and learning about ourselves through love, especially lost love. It’s not about why the relationship didn’t work (going backward on the path) but rather what we were meant to learn from the collision (going forward on the path).

Most of us get stuck in reverse. We dwell on “the one that got away” and on what could have been, and it keeps us locked in that one gear. We shift gears when we start to believe (feel) that we were meant to collide with the one we collided with, because there is learning to be had from every collision. And we would not have that learning if we never played it out.

Reminder: You needed to go through what you went through to know what you know now. Not all love is supposed to be forever. Each expired relationship is meant to connect you more to you.

What to Do If Your Worst Breakup Keeps Haunting You (2024)

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