Thinking about a romantic breakup is a surprising key to overcoming it, psychologists have found.
After mentally going over the breakup several times, people in the study felt less lonely and more secure in their own self-concept.
One of the challenges of a breakup is separating psychologically from an ex-partner.
Thinking about the breakup and creating a narrative of recovery helps to build a stronger self-concept, researchers have found.
For the study, 210 people who had recently experienced a relationship breakup were split into two groups.
One group just completed two questionnaires, while the second group had a more intensive battery of tests on four separate occasions.
Each time they were forced to reflect on their relationship and the breakup in different ways.
Dr Grace Larson, the study’s first author, said:
“At first glance, it might seem like repeatedly reminding participants that they had just broken up — and asking them to describe the breakup over and over — might delay recovery.”
The questions helped people themselves as single.
The idea is to encourage people to psychologically untangle themselves from their ex-partner.
The results showed that seeing oneself as separate helps emotional recovery.
Dr Larson said:
“The process of becoming psychologically intertwined with the partner is painful to have to undo.
Our study provides additional evidence that self-concept repair actually causes improvements in well-being.”
While the researchers are not sure exactly why reflecting on the relationship aids recovery, Dr Larson thinks:
“…it might be simply the effect of repeatedly reflecting on one’s experience and crafting a narrative — especially a narrative that includes the part of the story where one recovers.”
Although most people do not have access to a psychological study to help them get over a breakup, they can still mimic the process.
Dr Larson said:
“For instance, a person could complete weekly check-ins related to his or her emotions and reactions to the breakup and record them in a journal.”
Dr Larson advises that an independent self-concept is vital to recovery:
“The recovery of a clear and independent self-concept seems to be a big force driving the positive effects of this study, so I would encourage a person who recently experienced a breakup to consider who he or she is, apart from the relationship.
If that person can reflect on the aspects of him- or herself that he or she may have neglected during the relationship but can now nurture once again, this might be particularly helpful.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science (Larson & Sbarra, 2015).