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How to Keep Moving Forward When You Are Heartbroken

I got a text from a friend recently that said: “When you are heartbroken, how can you stop the swirling, spinning thoughts that seem to derail you? How can you keep moving forward?”

Her question came at an interesting time for me, since I had just spent most of my night spinning and swirling exactly the way she was talking about. It’s amazing how one minute you can think you’re doing fine and then the next minute you see something you didn’t mean to see online, or the person who was supposed to call doesn’t call, or the pieces of the puzzle of your life don’t fall exactly as you planned—and suddenly you realize how fragile you’ve been all along.

That’s where I was. It’s where she was, too.

heartbroken

So I called her. We talked for maybe 20 minutes, but 20 minutes was all it took. What I told her on our call that day was really what I was telling myself. I should have been looking in a mirror. In case it helps, I thought I’d pass it on to you, too.

Here’s how you keep moving forward when you are heartbroken.

You tell yourself how normal this is.

Sometimes half the challenge of heartbreak is just reminding ourselves we aren’t crazy. We walk around the world most days, looking at all the people so perfectly dressed and perfectly put together, and assume we are the only ones struggling. We assume we’re the only ones with toxic thoughts, with messed up beliefs, with bad days.

We’re the only ones who cry in our beds at night eating a pint of chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

It is this lie that keeps us isolated, that keeps us feeling like something must be wrong with us, that keeps us stuck in a pit of shame, rather acceptance and love. Most of the battle is just reminding ourselves, “this is so normal. This is so totally normal. This is a part of the human experience. Everyone who has ever lived and loved has felt this feeling. It won’t last forever. This will be better tomorrow.”

You are normal. This is normal. You are going to be okay.

You call people. You call everyone you know.

I told her that she should put her 10 best friends on speed dial—the kind of friends who don’t require her to put on any kind of performance in order to be friends with them, the kind who let her show up wearing the same clothes two days in a row because she was too sad to change. I told her to call those friends when she was feeling this way.

Call all of them.

When they answered, I told her, she didn’t really need to say anything except maybe, “I’m feeling sad,” or “I’m heartbroken,” or “I’m not okay right this minute…” I’m not sure why our tendency is to isolate when we are feeling heartbroken, but this would be missing the point.

This is the very time to reach out, stay connected, stay with.

You make peace with what is true.

I once heard Lissa Rakin say, “You do not have to do anything right now. You simply need to make peace with what is true.” That was such a comfort to my anxious, busy, perfectionistic self. Why is it that, when our thoughts are spinning and swirling, our first instinct is to DO? Why do we want so badly to perform, hustle, act, go, change, call, drive, fix, control?

When the ONE thing that would bring us peace is to sit still, to be with ourselves and to accept what is true. You do not need to fix, change, alter, or grow. Not yet. All you need to do is make peace.

It’s surrender. Not struggle.

A list of things that are true might look like this:

  • I am single
  • I want _______ but I can’t have it right now
  • I am sad
  • I may not be “okay” for awhile
  • I am adjusting to a new normal
  • I do not feel strong today
  • I feel overwhelmed

What if it is not your circumstances that are making you miserable, like you imagined, but what if what is making you miserable is your resistance to your circumstances?

Can you allow the things that are true to be true?

After all, they ARE true, whether you allow them to be or not.

When we let go of expectation and come into agreement with Truth, we find the source of strength and love and acceptance and joy.

You connect to love.


I asked her what the worst part of all of this was. I wasn’t surprised when she told me she was dealing with feelings of rejection and self-confidence. The words that kept ringing in her mind, over and over again, went like this:

Why couldn’t he love me?

Why wasn’t I enough?

These feelings of rejection, by the way, seem like they are coming from the outside (why couldn’t he love me?) but the truth is they are an inside job. Always. The most painful rejection you can ever experience is the rejection of yourself.

Over and over again we reject ourselves, lie to ourselves, pretend to be people who we are not, act like we are okay when we are NOT okay, and then we wonder why we feel so terribly alone and isolated. It’s because no one can connect to an invisible person. No one can connect to a ghost. They will reach out to touch you, but where they touch… you will not be there.

The loneliest place in the world is to have rejected oneself. (Tweet that)

The only cure for rejection is love. Just so much love. Love is available to us always and in abundance—as much of it as we can handle, as much as we can stand. As we learn to let love in, to fully accept ourselves without judgement, to embrace who we are even though it is not exactly who we want to be, love begins to manifest itself in our lives.

I love how Elizabeth Gilbert said it the other day:

The parts of yourself that you do not love are terribly vital, because they demand that you dig deep — deeper than you ever thought you would have to dig — in order to summon compassion and forgiveness for the struggling human being whom you are. And until you learn to treat the struggling human being whom you are with a modicum of empathy, tenderness, and love, you will never be able to love anyone or anything with the fullness of your heart…and that would be a great shame. Because this is what we all want, isn’t it? This is what we came here for, right? To learn how to love each other with the fullness of our hearts?

Please know this: Whenever you withhold love from yourself, you are withholding love from the world…period.

We really need you to stop doing that.

The world has enough problems, without you withholding any more love. — 

If you don’t accept yourself… if you don’t receive yourself… who will?

You redefine failure

My friend told me on the phone that she was worried she had wasted too much time with this guy—waiting for him, wondering if things were going to “work out” for them, giving him her grace and patience and all her benefits of doubt—and now she felt like that was all energy and effort and time down the drain. I understood exactly what she was talking about.

And yet…

I find it odd and frustrating that the only definition we have in our culture for the success or failure of a relationship is if it ends. This is the only rubric we’ve been given. You hear this come through even in the way we talk about relationships. We say things like, “it didn’t work out…”

But what if it DID work out—exactly as it was meant to—and we just need a new way to talk about it?

Here’s the crazy thing to think about: every relationship in your life WILL END! Every single one. Whether because of death or divorce or change of heart or change of direction, every relationship in your life will come to an end at some point or another. Heartbreak is as much a part of the human experience birth, death and falling in love.

We need a new way to decide if a relationship has succeeded.

I told her that the incredible investment she had made into her relationship was something she got to take with her. It wasn’t like she had put coins into a piggy bank she was now leaving behind. In fact, it was more like a lottery ticket. This guy, this relationship, this apparent “failure” was like a winning lottery ticket, if she would allow it to be that way.

Her heart hadn’t only been broken. It had been BROKEN OPEN.

And what she chose to do with that open heart of hers, well, that was up to her. But I told her to think of it less like a piggy bank that was yanked from her grasp and more like a piñata. She’d been given a good whack, sure, but now there was candy flying everywhere and children were laughing and children laughing is one of the most joyful sounds in the world.

I told her to think about collecting her loot—to get busy picking up the pieces, to consider herself the luckiest girl on this earth.

Her treasures were abounding—even if she couldn’t quite see them yet.

And I shared with her my new list, the one I wrote to help me define “success” in a relationship.

My list goes like this:

  • Are we able to share the truth of who we are?
  • Are we able to honor and respect each other, as individuals unto ourselves?
  • Are we able to help each other become our best selves?
  • Are we able to let go at appropriate times?
  • Do we lighten the load for each other, rather than make it heavier?
  • Do we leave each other better than we found each other?

Can you think of anything else to add?

You tell yourself the truth of who you are.

I know it seems like this is all your fault and you are the one who ruined everything and, if only you had done this or that differently, the whole thing would have been salvaged. That is not true. Over and over again, you tell yourself the truth. This is not all your fault. You could not have seen this coming. You were doing the best you could.

You are not a failure.

You are exactly where you are meant to be.

Take a minute and write down the qualities of yourself–the very TRUE qualities you bring to this world. Do this when you are not feeling overwhelmed, so you can go back and read them when you are feeling overwhelmed, when the lies are louder than normal, when you aren’t feeling okay.

Tell yourself:

  • I am beautiful
  • I am exactly where I am meant to be
  • My life is perfectly unfolding
  • I am safe and protected
  • I have everything I need
  • I am not defined by what he thinks of me
  • I am so deeply loved
  • Nothing I do (or don’t do) can change how loved I am

We do not always live from our most authentic, truest selves, but that doesn’t mean they cease to exist. That quiet place inside of us—the one that is overflowing and abundant with love, peace and happiness—is always available to us, even if we don’t access it. So when you think about the truth of who you are, don’t think about the mistakes you’ve made or the ways you’ve fallen short.

Think about the fact that you are made in a heavenly image.

At your core, you are pure light and beauty.

Call that out of yourself.

You let go of beliefs that do not serve you.

You will find—in the midsts of heartbreak, more than almost any other season—a litany of beliefs that are driving your life but which you didn’t know you had. Beliefs about yourself. Beliefs about men. Beliefs about women. Beliefs about relationships in general. Work consciously and completely on letting go of these beliefs.

This is your only job.

It is the HARDEST job there is. But it is your only job.

In fact, this job is so difficult, your mind will do anything it can to get out of doing it. It’s like a teenage kid who has been told to do his chores. So much resistance. Instead of re-routing old beliefs, you’ll find yourself spinning with thoughts about who your ex is dating now, and if she’s prettier than you, and wanting to gossip and blame and judge… it’s all distraction.

This is what drives you to drink or smoke or find someone new right away, or eat a pint of ice cream right before you go to bed. This is all your way of getting out of the work. It’s the escape from responsibility.

It feels nice for a minute. But it is keeping you stuck.

So, when you find yourself spinning and swirling, ask yourself: what is the negative belief that is taking me to this dark place? What is the rut that my brain is stuck in? Am I willing—finally, finally—to let it go?

You are the only one who can free yourself from the trap of negative thoughts.

You have all the power.

You are ready. You have this. You have everything you need, everything it takes. You are not alone. And—as one of my very favorite poets, David Whyte would say—everything, everything, everything is waiting on you.

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Allison Fallon

I write books. I help people write books. I believe a regular practice of writing can change your life.

38 thoughts on “How to Keep Moving Forward When You Are Heartbroken”

  1. My only caution is this: what you are feeling is real but may be wrong. Check in with trusted people, listen to what they have to say, and then act on it. Your truth may not be true Truth.

    1. mm

      I’m a bit confused by this comment Keith. Were you adding this to the list of things to do when you’re spinning, or were you replying to something directly I suggested?

    2. I totally get that especially when lust plays a factor. You might have these real (but possibly false) feelings for someone but you want to avoid the red flags that are popping up now knowing there will be a major problem later. I have quite the story based on this that has turned my last couple years into spinning and still too this day I can’t get over it. And its all because I ignored the truth eventhough I felt at first that what I was doing was right.

  2. So often, faith paradigms undermine our humanity. When I learned to value, to cherish my broken heart, I finally began to live wholly and fully within the life that is mine. Beautiful perspective here Ally.

  3. Ally,

    Thank you for this refreshing and positive perspective! I am beyond frustrated with our culture’s cynical attitude toward relationships, particularly when they come to an end. The reality is that not everyone is going to be in your life forever (and it may have more to do with them and where they’re at emotionally than with you). However, if they help you learn and help you grow, then why should it be viewed as a waste of time? That and this whole concept of the “right” and “wrong” relationships just makes me cringe.

    -Alyx

    1. mm
      Allison Fallon

      Yes, Alyx. I totally agree. Taking this perspective has helped me so much to let go of bitterness and find healing. So glad to hear it’s helped you, too. Keep spreading the love! Appreciate you reading and sharing.

  4. I feel sad. My dad passed away 07/01. For the past few months he had been promising me money, money I was was going to use to move back to my hometown & be happy again. BUT, he passed without a will at age 94. Now, I find out I have to split any money with a step-sister I do NOT get along with. Life is not fair. Dad dashed my hopes & dreams. I have to forgive & move on.

    1. mm
      Allison Fallon

      I’m so sorry you’re sad, Sheree. Whether its with a death, a divorce, or a breakup, one of the hardest parts are the unanswered questions that linger… my hope for you is that, in small ways, those “loops” will be closed for you over time and things will begin to make more sense. Until then, just keep doing the next right thing. You are not alone.

  5. Perfect timing. My heart was broken over the weekend, in a totally unexpected way, by seeing something I was not meant to see. And like you said, the initial reaction is to spin and fret and figure out what to do. Thank you, thank you, thank you for helping me see that right now all I have to do is be. And to not be afraid of the pain, but experience it, for the first time in a long time.

    1. mm
      Allison Fallon

      So so sorry to hear about your heartbreak, Trisha. It is never easy to walk through that season. But there will come a day when it doesn’t hurt so badly. Keep walking forward. You’re right where you are supposed to be.

  6. Dear Allison, thank you a lot for sharing. Though I am still in a relationship I believe your words are expressing how i feel now. I don’t know if we will get old together but I am learning and growing. Furthermore I want keep in mind that I will always be in a relationship with myself and it’s the most important one. Thanks again for your lovely words.

    1. mm
      Allison Fallon

      Oh, I’m so glad Marianne! It is interesting how this perspective takes the pressure off a relationship even while you’re still in it. Appreciate you reading and responding.

  7. You have so much wisdom! I would like to add that this process can take time. It took at least 5 years (and two unhealthy rebounds which I could have done without) to accept the fact that my marriage of 20 years was over and we weren’t going to grow old together and to accept that I was single and might stay single. I could not accept that as normal. It wasn’t supposed to happen to me. What helped stop the spinning was to focus on my strengths and the constants that have always been there for me: art, nature, family, God, my dogs, music. In time, I did my “chores” and loved myself again. And something wonderful happened that made me realize my marriage did work out, as you wrote: “—exactly as it was meant to.” The process took about ten years. But it was worth it! I hope you don’t mind if I mention I’m writing a book about it. The world needs all the hope we can give it.

    1. mm

      Such an important addition that this process takes time! And one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to be gracious with ourselves in the process, giving ourselves exactly as much time and space and whatever else we need to heal. Thank you for adding that—and for reading.

  8. Allison,

    Thank you. Making peace with what is true is difficult, and yet essential. My life has changed in so many ways since being diagnosed with a chronic illness. Yet since the diagnosis, I am slowly making sense of what is true and what that means for my decisions regarding money, relationships, job, housing, etc.

    Am I still heartbroken some days? Yes.

    Do I still need to cry and feel like life isn’t fair occasionally? Yes.

    And yet the more I lean into my life with a chronic illness, I’m discovering that my voice is stronger, that I’m more comfortable in my own skin, that I’m living my life and not someone else’s for the first time.

    You are remarkable.

    1. mm

      Thank you so much for sharing this, Alyssa. I forget sometimes that there are many things in life that break our hearts—chronic illness would definitely be one of them. Making peace with a reality that we did not ask for is not easy, but it is the task of our lives. Appreciate you so much for reading and telling your story.

  9. this is an amazing piece. i have been the definition of resistance for YEARS after my divorce, thinking i was being tenacious and brave. it took me so long to embrace the fear and pain. thanks for much for writing this.

  10. Thank you for writing this piece! Great points, especially about reminding yourself how normal this is — for too long I shamed myself for my feelings without realizing how NORMAL it was for me to feel upset over a broken relationship. Fortunately I learned to offer myself grace in my heartbrokenness, though it took a while. Great piece!

  11. Great post again. I struggle with this a lot Allison. I’m constantly battling myself. I know all the truths you so beautifully share here, I know them in my mind, in my rational, mature, adult self.

    But my heart does not believe them.

    And the hurting 15-year old self with scars from over 20 years ago, which are still raw, still has so much power over my todays. And to him, every single even minor, insignificant frustration can feel like another betrayal by God, more evidence to support the loser, failure theory. And in this part of me, saps any sense of drive, energy, the work ethic, the motivation, to even bother trying…that part feels like I’m on an inevitable road to loserdom and abandonment, poverty, and lonliness, which is God’s plan for me and how He has set up my whole life.

    Not that success, popularity, wealth or relationships can save us – I’ve had enough life experience to know that’s a lie – but the knowledge a lie just makes it worse in many ways, because I know nothing will ever satisfy this feeling of betrayal and abaondment, and rid me of this insane lack of self-belief and belief I’m a failure waiting to happen.

    I know, it’s totally crazy thinking. Not true, not rational, non-sensical. But it’s this part of me my mature, rational, adult self is battling every day.

    I’m working with a spiritual director/therapist, which has helped – but again, this 15 year old version of me in my subconscious is thinking this is another solution which works for most, which won’t work for me. This is the battle I face every day.

    Another great post Allison – you really do tackle some tough issues with great wisdom and encouragement, and they really do help. Thanks.

  12. Thank you. After I separated from my husband, everyone kept saying I was so strong and I would get through this. But inside I screamed “HOW?!” How do I get through every day, every night when my mind kept replaying different scenarios? Just kept spinning until I was dizzy and exhausted.

    I really liked the pinata vs piggy bank analogy. I do love candy.

  13. Thank you. This was an amazing and well written post. I have been so depressed lately and heartbroken. This actually made me realize I will get thru this. It is up to me the direction i proceed. I choose to make a list of the positives I have gained from this relationship and embrace myself. Thank you for sharing a clear prospective.

  14. Allison,

    Your blog post about new beginnings has been my go to any time something difficult occurs in my life that creates redirection.

    This weekend, I went through a break up that was undoubtedly my fault for not fixing a problem I have had for years. However, my partner hadn’t mentioned my need for fixing in months so I believed I was doing much better. Unfortunately, I slipped up and it ended our relationship.

    Reading this has helped me deal so much with the heartbreak. I am, however, curious as to whether you have any more to say to someone who is struggling knowing that had I not made this mistake, my relationship would still be intact. I feel disgusted and disappointed in myself and don’t know the best way to forgive for the preventable mistake I made.

    Thanks for your wisdom and your beautiful writing. It has helped me in so many ways.

    Elise

    1. Over a year ago, my relationship of over two years ended for a similar reason: my depression and anxiety was hurting the relationship and I never satisfactorily addressed it. At this moment, I am hurting because I connected with a woman, but we never developed a relationship because she was too busy, and I was afraid of burdening her, or demanding attention she couldn’t give me. It turns out that she then began seeing someone else, and then she came back to me when she thought that was over, and then it really wasn’t over. Twice now, I built up these hopes just to have them dashed. Now, I am still thinking back to when we first connected and thinking that I should have been more persistent, or more honest, or this or that.

      I think that there is no way to know you made a mistake, or how serious it is, until you make it. I think back to how I felt about trying to get her to find time for me, and how agonizing it was for to try to find that line between assertiveness and neediness. In one sense, I couldn’t have done anything differently, because I really tried the best I could to do the right thing, and I suffered, and only now does it seem clear I made the wrong choice.

      For your issue, and for mine, the first step may be to understand that if you could expect yourself to always do the right thing for the relationship, that would make you perfect, and we know you aren’t. Secondly, know that fixing your own issues is so, so hard, and you are not nearly the only one to lose a relationship because of it: I will be exhibit B. Finally, I don’t think it’s possible to fix these problems going forward without forgiving yourself for past failures. Your relationship happened how it had to happen, and now all there is to do is forgive yourself and make peace with it, and hopefully move forward.

  15. Hi,
    I just came across this while searching for peace of mind. My on and off again relationship has finally come to a brutal end. I’m deep in the throes of heartache. I’m just going through the motions of “normalcy”, but feeling totally helpless and alone. This isn’t my first rodeo. I know in time it gets easier, but I hate hearing it and saying it.

  16. Thanks you for writing this article. This is what I needed: to face that it’s true and just be. My fiancé left me weeks before the wedding and since then a lot my pain comes from comparing my current self with “what I was supposed to be.” ( I wasn’t supposed to be alone; I was supposed to be in his arms and loved…etc)

    I’ve been blaming myself for everything and thinking what I should’ve done, just as you wrote. But I need to keep reminding that I’m not what he thinks of me, I’m way better than that.

    Thanks you Allison.

  17. It is so hard to believe we are where we are meant to be, and we haven’t failed. My husband left me after 40 years of marriage. I was to blame, in that I didn’t show him enough affection, I was too busy with kids, work etc. He recently married, a woman 25 years younger, who dotes on him. She has no kids or work to distract her. She is lovely, and treats him better than I did, so I don’t blame him for leaving and finding his true love. But I miss him so much, and have to start my life over at 63. I have so many regrets and try daily to forgive myself. It is so difficult, even after 3 years. I am grateful for all I have, and have learned so much from this, but it is too late for us as a couple.
    I just feel so, so sad.

  18. Wow, This is so refreshing. I literally smiled through out this whole post instead of crying (Like I’ve usually been doing) My kids father and I just recently broke up. I’ve been having so much trouble letting go. I’ve been scared not wanting it to end wondering why things happened the way they did. Everything in this post touched home for me. Even the part where you said “Your wondering if she’s prettier than you”. These thoughts have really consumed my mind, Not being able to focus on work or the kids. But I googled “heartbroken” and this popped up. I’m so glad it did. It gave me peace. Made me look at life and relationships differently. And finally it made me pick my head back up. Thank you so much for this. Things will be ok, I’ll be ok, I am beautiful and people and my kids love me. Thank you Thank you Thank you ❤🌹

  19. I’m currently going through heartbreak. After a 24 year relationship I’ve decided it’s time to move on, no matter how much you love someone and they love you, you can’t change a person if they don’t want to change. Everyone has their faults, no one is perfect! I’ve grown, I’ve changed. Now I need to realize, that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. Thanks for the great read

  20. “So, when you find yourself spinning and swirling, ask yourself: what is the negative belief that is taking me to this dark place? What is the rut that my brain is stuck in? Am I willing—finally, finally—to let it go?”

    But what if you don’t know what inner evasive beliefs you process that continue to hold you back, what then?

  21. Dear Allison,

    I’ve been resisting the truth for over a month. My ex-girlfriend has finally gone to college. I’ve dreaded this coming ever since I met her. She is the smartest, cutest girl I’ve ever met. The love she gave to me was everything I prayed for. After two years of dating I can’t name one thing she ever did wrong. All I see now is the millions of mistakes I made. I can’t help but feel like if I was just the male version of her then we would still be together. She says there’s nothing I could do either way. I truly believed we could make it through anything. College might require all of her time and now I’m giving her all the time she needs. I just can’t help but feel defeated. I’d do anything for this woman. Please give me your advise.

  22. Hi there… I know this article was written awhile ago, but I just stumbled on it right now following a tremendously sad ending of a friendship/relationship the nature of which is hurting me deeply. Everything you wrote resonated with me on a very real level and I appreciate you so much for writing this. It will take a lot of work for me to get through this as I feel like I’m getting older and every disappointment just seems to get harder and harder to recover from…. but this gives me a little bit of hope.

  23. Good post, stumbled across it as I’ve started to relive the regret I have for screwing up the greatest relationship of my life. Unfortunately, these feelings have come back 10 years after my relationship ended. All I keep thinking is how to get her back, will she ever call, does she feel any regret or am I only a distant memory. I know she has moved on, married as she always wanted, but I refuse to look her up or confirm my fears that she is gone forever. I certain deserve the pain, I ignored her too long, I let love fade, but how long will this pain go on and how will it end? I have no idea..:-((

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