How to Get Over Your Ex: 7 Tips for Personal Growth After a Breakup

How to get over your ex blog post - Man hunched over looking at phone

Breakups are not an easy or pleasant part of our journeys, that’s for sure. And yet, it’s exactly those tough moments in our lives that help us grow and learn. Even if it doesn’t seem like it now, getting over your ex can make you stronger, and it can help you grow. Multiple studies have investigated factors that lead to personal growth after stressful and traumatic experiences, including breakups. This article synthesizes key findings in order to share with you the 7 best strategies you can utilize to transform your breakup – from a negative or traumatic experience to a positive personal growth journey. 

This blog post is a part of our “Heartbroken” series. For more tips, recommendations, and self-help resources for getting over your ex, check out our previous post “Heartbroken? 6 Tips to Cope With Breakup [Plus links to 15 mostly free self-help resources].”

How to get over your ex - Seek the right type of support

1. Seek the Right Type of Support 

Social support is a key ingredient in almost every healing recipe. Yet, studies support the idea that not all types of support are equally effective when it comes to getting over your ex [1], [2]. For instance, while emotional support has been linked to personal growth after breakups, that is not the case for instrumental support [2]. 

The key take-away here is that you definitely should reach out to the people you love, especially when you need to talk it out, have a laugh, or even hear your best friend’s encouraging pep talk about how awesome you are. Nevertheless, try to avoid seeking and depending on instrumental support – having others take care of you or do things instead of you. If you’re upset or depressed, and you feel like staying in bed all day, it might be convenient to ask others to come over, do your grocery shopping for you, help you around the house, assist you with your work, etc. Even if your friends and family are totally up for it, keep in mind that this type of support is unlikely to facilitate personal growth. 

2. Go For Acceptance, But Avoid Slipping Into Helplessness 

Scrabble pieces placed to spell "Let it go"

In order to move on from a negative or traumatic experience, you need to let it go. You need to give up your desire to regain control and acknowledge the situation for what it is: you’re neither denying, nor fighting your current experience. Studies have pointed out, however, that not all types of acceptance are equally helpful when it comes to overcoming negative, unchangeable life events [3]

Active acceptance involves approaching the situation calmly and confidently, moving beyond the negative experience, and focusing on the goals and positive aspects of your life. Resigning acceptance, on the other hand, is similar to the concept of helplessness: it is associated with becoming passive, hopeless, and negative about the future – somewhat, like giving up [3]. Unlike resigning acceptance, active acceptance is believed to be an adaptive way of coping that is associated with personal growth as well as with better mental health and behavior control [3]

Try to move towards acceptance, and be careful not to let acceptance turn into hopelessness, pessimism, and surrender. 

How to get over your ex - Reconnect with your true self

3. Reconnect With Your True Self

If you’ve been in a relationship for a longer period, it’s normal that you identify with the person you were in that relationship. And after a breakup, you might feel lost about who you actually are – outside of your past relationship. That’s when it’s time for you to find your way back to yourself. 

Take some time to reflect on parts of your true self that you neglected while you were with your ex. Maybe you didn’t have enough time for your hobbies? Or perhaps you spent less time with your family and friends? Maybe your confidence was not at its highest, because it was dependent on your partner’s opinions and reactions?

Studies have demonstrated that self-rediscovery is a key factor for personal growth after breakups [2], [4]. Try to think of the breakup as a chance for you to reconnect with yourself. Go back to the things that you wanted but weren’t able to do (for one reason or another) when you were with your ex. Rediscovering yourself will not only help you get over your ex; it will also help grow and develop. 

4. Change Your Perspective – Positive Reframing 

See the good - Coffee Cup

Oftentimes, we can’t choose what happens to us. But we can choose how we look at it. Though that seems difficult to do, changing your perspective can do wonders when it comes to getting over your ex. Remember that you are in charge of how you interpret each and every situation. Once again, YOU are in charge. You can decide to dwell on all the negative aspects of your breakup, or you can decide to focus on the positive. 

We’re not saying that you should lie to yourself and deny that you miss your ex or that you feel hurt. Yet, we strongly encourage you to look for the positive aspects of your breakup. If you do this long enough, you’ll find that there is a silver lining. Once you do, hold on to that and don’t let go. 

This strategy is called positive reframing (or positive reinterpretation), and it has been linked to well-being, positive emotions, and personal growth after stressful or negative life events, including breakups [1], [2], [5]

5. Add Positive Experiences and Emotions 

Two girls smiling in bed

One of the main ideas of Positive Psychology is that the absence of a negative does not equal a positive [6]. In other words, being happy does not equal not being depressed. Just like flourishing is not the same as simply not experiencing negative emotions. This might seem obvious, but it’s essential when you’re trying to get over your ex. 

Dealing with the negative emotions is definitely an important step to healing. Yet, getting rid of the sadness and anger doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll become happy and flourishing. The solution is to work not only on coping with the negative emotions, but also on creating positive emotions. You can start with something small, like reconnecting with an old friend, having a nice conversation, or doing something nice for yourself. Over time, work your way to creating as many positive experiences as you can. 

Several studies have pointed out the importance of positive emotions and experiences in times of stress and adversity. Positive life events are believed to have the potential to buffer the harmful effects of negative life events on well-being [7], [8]. Furthermore, positive experiences have been linked to personal growth following stressful life events [1]

6. Let it All Out … In Your Journal 

How to get over your ex - Let it all out...in your journal

While you’re working on getting over your ex, there might be times when you’ll sense a wave of emotions rising. And you might be tempted to let it all out – to burst in tears or to pour out all the anger and rage you’ve been holding inside. We’re all human, we all do that sometimes; and that’s okay. Keep in mind, though, that venting your emotions might not get you far on your personal growth journey [2]

Studies have explored different means of emotional expression in times of stress and adversity. While venting is associated with more negative emotions and distress following a breakup [2] or divorce [9], expressing emotions in the form of writing has various positive effects on psychical and mental well-being [10]. The positive impact of expressive writing is believed to be especially strong for people who struggle with invasive thoughts about their past relationship [10].

If you’re struggling with intrusive thoughts about your ex or your past relationship, consider giving expressive writing a go. Don’t get discouraged here, if you’ve never journaled before. Feel free to write down whatever you feel like writing – it could be literally anything. If you feel like it, write your ex a letter (which you don’t need to send or show anyone), write a song or a poem, or simply describe your (emotional) experience. It doesn’t really matter what you write, as long as you feel better afterwards.

7. Stay Away From Your Ex on Social Media

Man sitting outside looking at phone

A study by Tara Marshall [11] explored the relationship between Facebook surveillance of former romantic partners and personal growth following the breakup. The results support the idea that checking on your ex through social media websites and Apps is a bad idea when it comes to your personal growth after a breakup. 

Sure, you might be tempted to ‘take a quick look’ at your ex’s photos, relationship status, new friends/followers, likes, comments, and so on. Yet, if you’re determined to get over your ex, the best thing you can do is simply stay away from all of that. It might be tough in the beginning, but you will get used to it. After all, are your ex’s new posts and photos more important than your mental health and your personal growth?

Take-Home Message for How to Get Over Your Ex

Breakups can be tough, but they can also be an opportunity for you to move forward in your personal growth journey. If you’re struggling to get over your ex, give these strategies a try. Soon, you might find that you’re not only over your breakup, but you’re also better aligned with your true self. 

You don’t need to implement each of these tips right away. If you need to, take it one step at a time: choose one strategy you are willing to start with today, and then move on to the rest of the tips. It’s your journey, so it’s up to you how you’ll make use of the research and advice we share here. 

If you liked this blog post, make sure you check out our Instagram account and Part I of this series about overcoming heartbreak by changing your mindset. There, we’ve included 15 self-help resources (such as books and meditations) for getting over heartbreak. 

Man outside in nature with hands in air

Sources: 

[1] Park, C. L., Cohen, L. H., & Murch, R. L. (1996). Assessment and prediction of stress‐related growth. Journal of personality, 64(1), 71-105.

[2] Lewandowski Jr, G. W., & Bizzoco, N. M. (2007). Addition through subtraction: Growth following the dissolution of a low quality relationship. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2(1), 40-54.

[3] Nakamura, Y. M., & Orth, U. (2005). Acceptance as a coping reaction: Adaptive or not?. Swiss Journal of Psychology/Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Psychologie/Revue Suisse de Psychologie, 64(4), 281.

[4] Tashiro, T. Y., & Frazier, P. (2003). “I’ll never be in a relationship like that again”: Personal growth following romantic relationship breakups. Personal Relationships, 10(1), 113-128.

[5] Schaefer, J., & Moos, R. (1992). Life crises and personal growth. In B. Carpenter (Ed.), Personal coping: Theory, research, and application (pp. 149–170). Westport, CT: Praeger.

[6] Seligman, M. E., & Pawelski, J. O. (2003). Positive psychology: FAQS. Psychological Inquiry, 159-163.

[7] Shahar, G., & Priel, B. (2002). Positive life events and adolescent emotional distress: In search of protective-interactive processes. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 21(6), 645-668.

[8] Cohen, L. H., McGowan, J., Fooskas, S., & Rose, S. (1984). Positive life events and social support and the relationship between life stress and psychological disorder. American Journal of Community Psychology, 12(5), 567-587.

[9] Berman, W. H., & Turk, D. C. (1981). Adaptation to divorce: Problems and coping strategies. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 179-189.

[10] Lepore, S. J., & Greenberg, M. A. (2002). Mending broken hearts: Effects of expressive writing on mood, cognitive processing, social adjustment and health following a relationship breakup. Psychology and Health, 17(5), 547-560.

[11] Marshall, T. C. (2012). Facebook surveillance of former romantic partners: Associations with post breakup recovery and personal growth. Cyberpsychology, behavior, and social networking, 15(10), 521-526.

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