At the time I’m writing this, it’s been about six months since a major left turn in my life left me questioning and spinning and hurting and working hard to find my footing again. Most of you who are reading probably know what that feels like.
- You’ve lost someone you loved
- Gotten a terrifying diagnosis
- Received unbearable news
- Been rejected
- Been abandoned
- Or been left waiting for that thing everyone else seems to be getting—the proposal or the baby or the house or the job
Devastated. Disappointed. Heart. Broken.
When you’re in the midst of it, a broken heart can feel like one of the cruelest realities of the human experience. The months and even years after a broken heart can be excruciating and terrible. And yet… at the same time, seasons like these can be some of the richest, most beautiful of your life, given the right perspective.
Below are 10 incredible benefits of a broken a heart.
If you’re suffering from a broken heart right now, or if you know someone who is, I hope this encourages you.
1. A broken heart makes you brave.
Two years ago I met a woman who had lost her son in a horrific murder. As I listened to her share her story, I thought to myself: she is so brave. I couldn’t believe she was able to articulate her grief as beautifully as she was, let alone in front of a crowd of people, from a stage.
After listening to her speak, I went to introduce myself to her and told her how brave I thought she was. Her response went like this:
“Grief makes you brave. When you meet your worst case scenario, you realize you have nothing left to lose.”
I was so amazed by that, and moved and carried her words with me, even though I didn’t exactly know what she meant. I mean I “knew” in the causal way we know information, but I didn’t know deep down in my soul, like someone who has walked in those shoes.
That is, until I had my own tragedy. Then I knew. And all the things I had been putting off or making excuses about because I was terrified to be criticized or rejected, or to fall flat on my face… suddenly I realized I wasn’t (as) scared to do them anymore.
The “worst thing” that could ever happened to me had already happened.
And I had survived.
Grief shows you how strong you are. It reminds you time is short. There are so many things you think you “can’t” do until you just don’t have the luxury of being scared anymore.
2. A broken heart can make you wise.
These days, when I meet someone who is wise, I think to myself: that person has suffered. True wisdom is hard-fought and hard-won.
Anyone can have knowledge. You can read all the books and go to all the seminars and listen to all the “experts” and keep all your knowledge-bombs in your back pocket. But the truth is, wisdom is found in the trenches.
You can know the right path to take, but what happens when it comes time to take it?
A broken heart can make you feel sort of crazy, but that “upside down” feeling you get when life takes a violent and unexpected left turn is really just a recalibrating of priorities, a drastic move from truth from fiction, a growing up from naive to experienced and wise.
3. A broken heart increases your confidence.
Last year Elizabeth Gilbert posted “a letter to the brokenhearted” on her Facebook wall that, among all kinds of other beautiful things, said, “You know that person you thought you couldn’t live without? Look at you, living and shit.”
That made me die laughing when I saw it.
Because the truth is there’s nothing like proving to yourself you can do something terribly hard you never thought you could do to increase your confidence in yourself. Often times a broken heart forces us into places we would have never chosen to go without the catalyst of this situation we didn’t choose.
And as uncomfortable as it is… it is increasing your confidence.
Take a look around. You’re doing it! You’re surviving. You’re getting up every single day and moving through your life. You’re not doing it perfectly but you’re DOING IT and you’re doing a freaking good job! Your best today is good enough. Take confidence in that—despite your broken heart.
4. A broken heart fills you with gratitude.
I was on a plane a few weeks ago, looking out the window and thinking about all that had taken place in the past couple of months of my life, and two words popped into mind, without any effort.
The words were: thank you.
It was so strange, because for all practical purposes, my life was “worse” that day than it had been a few months prior. More drama to deal with. New financial fears. Fears of being alone. Practical obstacles to overcome. Letting dreams go I had been holding onto. Feelings of rejection. Etc.
But it was like suddenly I realized I had everything I needed—all the raw materials—for a really, really AMAZING life.
And when you start to get that into your heart and mind—that the best part about your life is that it is YOUR life, and you get to shape it and mold it and make it into a life you can be proud of—this profound amount of gratitude begins to take over and shape your heart and make you so thrilled to be alive.
The most amazing thing about this life is that we get to live it.
It is an incredible gift to be alive. What are you doing with it?
5. A broken heart teaches you to love yourself.
Anytime we face rejection from another person—a parent, a friend, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a spouse, a boss, a business partner, etc, etc, the next question we have to answer is: will I accept myself? Or, put another way:
Who am I in light of the fact that you did not choose me?
This is one of the most pivotal questions we will ever answer in our lives.
The answer to this question can go one of two ways, but heartbreak sets us up for a profound realization: that if we do not love ourselves, we will not be able to love other people, and we’ll never be able to accept true love from anyone. So our answer to this question determines our path forward.
Do I love myself?
One of the most memorable things a friend said to me when I was going through my big heartbreak was, “people are going to want to do nice things for you. Let them.” And what I found was it can be really challenging to let people do nice things for you when you aren’t sure how you feel about yourself.
It can also be really healing, as you learn to love yourself and accept yourself just as you are, without putting any more requirements on yourself, or any more expectations on yourself, to let people love you simply because you have decided you are worth the effort.
As you learn to love yourself, you discover you are really quite lovable.
6. A broken heart shows you that you aren’t alone.
One of the hardest parts about grief and heartbreak is it can make you feel alone, especially if you don’t have people who are willing to bear witness to the grief as it unfolds. Grief demands to be seen, which is why, when you’re going through a heartbreak, it’s all you want to talk about.
It’s why your friends get a little sick of you re-hashing the same old things, over and over again.
But the truth is we are not alone—and a broken heart, if we are willing to share it, begins to show us that. I love this poem (below) by David Whyte and how he speaks so beautifully to the fact that everything happening around us is happening for us and with us and begging for us to participate.
It’s called: Everything is Waiting for You
Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things to come,
the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last.
All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably
Everything is waiting for you.
I LOVE that poem. My favorite line is, “put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation.” I can’t help but think about how often, when we feel alone, our response is to isolate ourselves. To let shame or grief or just the heaviness of our loneliness to take over the entire scope of our lives.
The truth is we are not alone. We have never been alone. We are part of a bigger drama unfolding. All we have to do is open our hearts and eyes to see it.
7. A broken heart opens space
I was in a yoga class the other day and my instructor explained how spring is that time of year when all the things that were frozen through the winter—in our bodies, in the earth, in our houses, etc—begin to thaw, and we experience movement again.
Think about the concept of spring cleaning. Why do we wait until March or April to purge all the junk we’ve been keeping in our house and finally clean the cobwebs? Who knows. It just seems to make sense, right? But the point is, as movement happens, new space opens up.
The same is true with a broken heart. When your heart is broken, when you lose someone you loved, or when you have to let go of a big dream, or when life doesn’t go as you planned, new space is opened up.
And here’s the kicker.
Next, she said, “there will be an incredible temptation to replace what is gone. To fill the space.” In other words, you may purge the clothes in your closet you never wear and immediately feel tempted to shop again. Or—you may end a relationship and feel like running out to date or hook up with the next guy or girl you meet.
Her admonition to us was this: avoid this temptation if you can. Sometimes it’s good to have open space in our lives. If you can stand the open space in your life for just a little bit of time, it can be the precursor to the greatest blessings you have ever seen.
8. A broken heart makes you humble and kind.
There is nothing that grows your compassion like having your heart broken. Once you’ve known the darkness of despair, it gives you a whole new level of grace and compassion for those who can’t seem to get past their grief, or who make counter-intuitive decisions as they’re trying to numb or manage their pain.
It’s a breaking down of your ego.
When you have walked in those shoes—when you’ve suffered and tried your best and watched everything fall apart anyway—you suddenly realize that most people, most of the time, are just doing the best they can.
9. A broken heart makes for great art.
Not only are our creative energies are put to incredible use in times of heartbreak, but the creative work that comes out of periods of intense suffering tend to be some of the most beautiful works of art the world has seen. As I think through the list of my favorite authors, I realize each one of them has suffered greatly.
The same is true for brilliant musicians, painters, dancers, athletes, etc.
Something about heartbreak gives you the determination, the tenacity, the gumption, and just the plain guts to say things you never would have said otherwise, to put to words or to colors or to action things that would have otherwise stayed stuck inside of you forever.
So if you’re dealing with a broken heart, how can you use the loss you’ve experienced to create something beautiful?
10. A broken heart is a catapult for who you were meant to be
Grief breaks you open, in the most beautiful and painful way, and what comes out on the other side is incredible.
A stronger, braver, more resilient, more through-and-through version of you. Your priorities are refined, you gain a deeper understanding of what you really want, what matters to you, where you’re going in your life and you’re less likely to detour or to let other people get you off track or get in your way.
That’s your “jumping off” place for your next season.
How is this broken heart—which, no doubt hurts like hell—setting you up for what is coming next? Even if you can’t see it yet, are you willing to believe it’s there?
- Spiritual Divorce by Debbi Ford (a great book for any break-up, not just a divorce)
- On Being: an interview w/ David Whyte & Krista Tippett
- Healing Through the Dark Emotions by Miriam Greenspan
- What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Psychology of Post-Traumatic Growth by Stephen Joseph
- Brook Castillo on Post-Traumatic Growth (a podcast)