Why Breakups Can Be Traumatic — And How To Heal From One

A loss is a loss, no matter what.

Why Breakups Can Be Traumatic — And How To Heal From One getty

A traumatic breakup can feel like a nightmare that's never going to end.

What occurs when your investment of time, energy, and emotions come tumbling down, destroying all your hopes, wishes, and dreams?

What are the physical and emotional ramifications of this disorder that leave you feeling anxious, depressed, and hopeless, often losing faith in love and trust in others?

Can you learn how to heal from a breakup and move on?


RELATED: How To Move On From A Painful Breakup When Your Ex Is Literally The Worst

Falling in love is a risky business. And to really love is to be vulnerable and accept the possibility of loss.

No one goes through life without experiencing a breakup. It’s part of the human condition.


To love is to risk losing. The only way to avoid the loss is to never allow love into your life, but that would be worse than losing.

"It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all," says the old adage.

There are differences, depending on who made the choice to break up — you or your partner. If you were dumped, it can be devastating, not unlike losing a loved one to death.

Grief has no boundaries. A loss is a loss, especially when you feel you had no control in the decision making. Even worse if it came as a shock, as if the rug had been pulled out from under you.

There are women in my practice who had no clue a breakup was coming. Some may have suspected their partner might have been cheating, while others were fearful that their partner had simply lost interest in them.


Others were in denial and unwilling to acknowledge any suspicious behavior. The love they once knew had vanished. 

If you are the one who was dumped, there are 5 manifestations of a breakup that can take weeks, months, or even years to overcome.

1. The pain of heartbreak.

The physical and emotional symptoms that accompany a broken heart are, in fact, actual pain in the heart — a feeling that part of you is sick or even "gone."

Heartache is a common effect and the pain is palpable. You are not crazy and it is very real!

You can experience a pit in your stomach accompanied by anxiety and even panic attacks. Inertia, lethargy, and even depression are not uncommon.


2. Lack of sleep, weight loss, and low self-esteem.

Sleepless nights, loss of appetite, weight changes, a devalued sense of identity, and a diminished sense of self-worth are all common effects of a broken heart. Nightmares often interrupt your sleep. 

Crying spells when you least expect them, sudden outbursts, stomachaches, headaches, diarrhea, murderous rage, frustration, profound hurt, and a feeling that this will never pass are all normal reactions, too.

Asking yourself, "Did I ever really matter? What did I have that I don’t have now?" are questions that keep torpedoing into your thoughts many times throughout the day and night.

These feelings are synonymous with losing a loved one. Grief accompanies both, and just like grievers, you become nocturnal and lose sleep.


Grief does not make a distinction between the death of a loved one or the death of a relationship. However, unlike losing a loved one, a relationship can be replaced.

3. Loss of interest in things that once were important.

Loss of motivation, poor concentration, fatigue, and even suicide ideation are not uncommon.

If any of these persist for more than six months, it is time to seek a therapist. If not addressed, you can be on a very slippery slope.

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4. Just getting by day by day is an all-out effort.

Feelings of abandonment, loneliness, apathy, self-degradation, self-contempt are not uncommon.


Immune systems can be compromised, precipitating illness.

Not everyone experiences it alike, but these are all common responses to a breakup.

5. Acting out.

Behaviors that seek a "quick fix" don't work. In fact, this just compounds the grief.

Using and abusing drugs and alcohol, becoming promiscuous, or trying quickly to replace the loss can easily cause more pain, interfering with your recovery.

These are all destructive behaviors to fill the void of the loss and cover up the pain that you must feel in order to recover. It requires embracing the pain—feeling the feelings and going into the emotional gauntlet.

The only way out is through.

What if you were the one who wanted to end the relationship?


The feelings of being the dumper are different than that of the dumpee. Both suffer, but with different emotions and experiences.

Most people have experienced being both the dumper and the dumpee during their lifetime.

The dumper, even with a sense of relief that the relationship is over, can experience some guilt, self-doubt, and shame.


There is also an important distinction between losing a relationship that was based on healthy adult love and one based on codependency.

The pain that lasts longer than six months to a year — causing clinical depression with a need for an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication — is a sign of codependency.

Codependency has absolutely nothing to do with love. It is a compulsion stemming from a wounded part of you that has to do with your childhood and family of origin. It feels like love, but with extreme highs and lows that too often interfere with the quality of your life.

Do not be fooled. This is not a healthy, mature love, but a pathological addiction to a person that has mood-altering effects with life-threatening consequences, not unlike any other addiction. It looks, sounds, and feels like the real thing, but it’s not.


When you feel that you cannot go on without them and that they made you whole, that’s a red flag. If you feel that your world and happiness depend on the other, then you can be sure it was a codependent relationship.

If your suffering is lingering more than six months, accompanied by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, you have all the signs of classic codependency. If that is the case, you need help!

There is a reason why your struggle in letting go is so interminable. Your history brought into the relationship, hoping that it would make your past better in the present. That never works.

You are the only one who can heal the past in order to make better choices in the present.


RELATED: 5 Reasons Why You Can't Move On From Your Breakup

Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker, and author of I HATE THE MAN I LOVE: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success to be released October 11, 2020. To learn more about how Encounter-Centered Couple Therapy can renew and restore your relationship, contact Joan.