Sex + Love

Breaking in a Broken Heart

How to draw power from a truly crappy experience.

Collage by Minna

Bummer truth time: Being heartbroken is honestly one of the worst things that can happen in life. If you know right from the start I’m being truthful, then maybe all of this forthcoming talk about how to turn a really crappy experience into something empowering will seem less like lilting fairy-speak and more like reality. Without spending a bunch of time telling you about the relationship endings where I was destroyed and crying nonstop and didn’t think anything good could possibly come of any of it, I’m going to take a shortcut and promise you: Everything in here really works.

Let’s start off by talking about what your heart does for you. Besides pumping all your blood so your cells get oxygen and nutrients and you don’t die on the spot, your heart is also, metaphorically, the capacitor of all your emotions, the place where the internal YOU resides. It is the home of your fortitude, resilience, bravery, self-respect, and softness. It’s where you give and receive—and being good at both of those things is important, because real love of all kinds involves exchange.

So when your heart is broken, your aorta may be just fine, but all the experiential things associated with this crucial organ turn into a hot mess. That may seem obvious, though when you consider this study that shows our brains process the pain from heartache the same as they do the pain from physical injury, feeling romantically busted is kind of serious.

To be able to love freely, bounce back during tough times, and fearlessly explore the joy in all things…well, I guess there are some people who just get all that right away. The rest of us need an ass-whipping to understand how to do it. And that’s how heartache can become an empowering experience.

We all know or have heard of at least one person (not naming names) who got their heart broken and became a little hard and jaded, and they possibly got a really weird tattoo that may or may not involve a zombie hand holding a rose, busting out of a grave bearing a banner with the phrase “R.I.P. Love” to commemorate the experience, and after enough time has passed, you just feel a little sorry for them for having to carry their scars so publicly for so long. That isn’t you! So start by saying thank-you to your banged-up heart for teaching you how to be a hero (and avoid bad permanent art).

Now let’s get started. Here’s what got me to the other side, and might get you there too:

Realize that thoughts drive your behavior.
Whatever you believe you are fundamentally, that is the truth. This isn’t where you go, “I fundamentally believe that I am Drew Barrymore,” because that is crazy talk. This is where you go, “I’m awesome, and I might be hurting right now but it’s OK, because I’m going to be better in the long run,” or “I’m a sad loser who doesn’t deserve a damn thing because it’s all gonna get taken away anyway.” Whichever one—or some variation—you choose, you will act it out somehow or another, and you will be treated accordingly. It’s entirely your choice!

Develop compassion.
Now you know what it feels like to feel like garbage. So you can recognize that feeling in others, and empathize. It strangely becomes a healing experience for both people when this happens. You get over your heartbreak even more, and so do they.

Discover that you are loved.
Go ahead and try to reject this because it sounds corny and you don’t like feelings. I’m sorry, it’s just the objective truth of the matter. When you understand that you are loved, that there are, really, people who love you, that you DESERVE their love, and that you really do have huge, undying support in this world, from your friends and/or family and/or pets and/or God if you believe in that, the love that you lost begins to feel smaller in comparison. Some ways you can do this:

  • Say thank you. When you express gratitude for things you have in life, that appreciation will become happiness. Genuine happiness that comes from you and isn’t bestowed by outside forces (like certain people who once used to make fuzzy caterpillars dance in your stomach and now are total a-holes who ruined your heart) leads to bigger and better things, things that actually matter in life. What these things are will look different for everyone: Better grades? More confidence? Finding a little bit of peace with your mom? Whatever they are, they’ll put you in a more positive frame of mind for generating whatever it is that feels good to you personally. Even if you have to force yourself to keep a journal of three things you’re thankful for every day, and one day it’s “I’m thankful for veggie chili,” at least you’ve got veggie chili on your side.
  • Ask your friends for help. Your real friends are going to listen to you, and then shut you up when it’s time to stop talking about it. They will call you at night and listen to you cry, and then remind you of all the good things you have going on in your life. They will help you stay strong and ignore your ex’s late-night texts. They will pay you amazing compliments that almost feel too good to be true, though deep inside you know they’re right—they see who you actually are.
  • Hang out with animals. Animals rule. They love your affection and want to return it.

Learn how to be alone.
You’re no longer half of a pair, and you’re still at least somewhat functional. Yes, you need your friends (especially right now, and now’s the time to depend on them to help you out when you’re sad, which we talked about above)—you’re not an isolated hermit whom no one loves. As much as you can, get into that space of You Power, because enjoying solitude is an important life skill.

When you’re alone, the things that are exciting to you as an individual will become beacons of inspiration, if you let them. Whatever you deem your “work”—and it can be anything: personal collage projects, tracking down awesome comics (hint: Ron Regé Jr.), acing your history paper, beating the top score on that video game, concocting the perfect Pandora station (Top Girls + Diva Dompé + Enya + Grimes + Tomita + Sun Araw), focusing on emotional growth, powering through your Netflix documentary queue, getting your Tumblr in shape with some homemade custom CSS, or exploring some aspiration that doesn’t have a shape but is right now just a “feeling” inside you—starts to have focus, detail. These are the things that come to the forefront when you can be happy by yourself. You can burn all your anger and sadness as fuel, and this “work” becomes a rocket that transports you to your personal goals.

Plus, not everything is better if you share it with another person. All those fries are yours. And you get to explore whatever you want on your own time, go into your dream world, sit in the bookstore and scheme up random correlations between subjects, dress up for the special occasion of bonding with your favorite pinball game…it’s like being five again, only you know how to cross the street by yourself and not get hit by a car. These small things are glitter treats for your independent spirit, and you’re the only one who can provide them. In other words, you learn that you are your own source of validation, and that you decide when you’re cool, which is always.

Developing your independence means you know how to protect and take care of yourself, you’ll be able to lead when the situation arises, you dress better because you don’t care what anyone thinks, you’re able to make decisions for yourself without consulting seven and a half people first, you learn how to share without being weird about it, and generally you just get radder. Seriously, you know those people who are nice to everyone yet mysteriously don’t seem to need company every minute of the day? How do they do that? Maybe they got their heart broken once.

Develop your will.
You’re not really supposed to have all this self-control in life right now. It’s not your job to be calm and rational and know how to cope with everything and have the perspective that it all “happens for a reason” (it drives me insane when people shrug and say that—why would you hand over your power of choice to some outside force, aka “the universe”?). However, it is important to have the experiences that give you the chance to cultivate self-discipline, because knowing how and when to bite down and power through really comes in handy in life. Mentally getting a grip and refocusing—even just distracting yourself, if that’s the best you can do sometimes—takes hard work. You don’t have to take the high road all the time, but it’s good for you to be able to quit checking your ex’s Twitter or Facebook, because it hurts to keep looking. Plus, you can’t pass your driving test if you’re crying over your ex.

Find what you’re really made of.
It’s always good to have a starting point from which to measure everything that comes after. Do you wallow? Want to smash stuff? Say horrible things to your ex that you really wish you could take back? Good news! You’ve gotten a chance to identify parts of yourself that show up only when you’re in mega pain, and now you know what lives inside you. When else do you get to do that? The fantastic thing is, once you see who you really are, you can make a better decision about who you want to be. Also, you get to see where you’re solid and dazzling, and can still be nice to someone who might not deserve it. Maybe you realize you’re worth something better than what you previously had. Maybe, actually, you’re stronger than you ever thought you were. Nice work, A++. I knew you had it in you. ♦

Whatever it is, if it’s following your heart Liz Armstrong will tell you to GO FOR IT. She lives in Los Angeles, writes for a living, believes no amount of glitter is too much, and currently aspires to better pinball chops.


  • PearlFog May 4th, 2012 3:31 PM

    Hey, great piece :o) Although I’ve been struck several times in my life by how often you meet people who have heard their heart broken and have never really gotten over it. I mean married people, middle aged people…I don’t know, maybe heartbreak can be hard to let go of because it’s so strangely romantic and it’s easier to cherish a memory than an actual person, but I definitely think it’s important to try hard to move past it. I know I don’t want to be married with kids and still thinking about the daftie who broke my heart when I was 21!

    • Cerise May 4th, 2012 4:05 PM

      Hmmm. That’s a good point. I’m getting over someone right now (thank goodness it’s *much* better than it was), and I think it’s really easy to romanticize heartbreak. For a while there, I kept thinking, “I’m never going to forget him,” but then I realized that I wasn’t going to be happy again–not really, anyway–if I kept giving all my love and mental and emotional energy to someone who, realistically, I was never going to be with. I mean, he did change my life a great deal, so I probably won’t *literally* forget him, but I want to keep moving on so I can find and fall in love with someone else. And maybe this time it will work out. :)

    • Eliza May 5th, 2012 7:25 AM

      Exactly, you know! My best friend’s (really cool) aunt told her that it takes about three years to get over your first love. But not really, you know? Different people see things in different ways. Nothing is a given. Like, you may admire his/her photo everyday and you will NEVER get over him/her. OR you can make a list of all the things you disliked of his/her but you ignored because you were so effing crazy in love, and then you will be past the point of wanting him back! You have to take control.

      • Eliza May 5th, 2012 7:26 AM

        *wanting him/her back.

  • KinuKinu May 4th, 2012 4:06 PM

    This will probably come in handy ONE day…hopefully not though. I finished the episode where Oz left Willow. Oh my goodness that was the SADDEST thing I’ve ever seen in my life……….This was an amazing post. ♥Really good advice,too♥♥

    • SweetThangVintage May 4th, 2012 4:24 PM

      It seriously is the saddest! I loved them together.

      • KinuKinu May 4th, 2012 4:45 PM

        Yeah,me too♥
        It was soooo sad…I almost cried…I hid so no one would tease me :P

    • Zoe with two dots May 6th, 2012 2:36 AM

      Oh my gosh, that episode! I was in TEARS.

  • Cerise May 4th, 2012 4:12 PM

    Good article. I’m so glad that you took an painful issue like this and didn’t just reduce it to “eat some chocolate ice cream and you’ll feel better.” Thank you!

    Also, I love that you brought out the compassion-growth side of heartbreak. I know that most times I go through something painful or awful, I learn a lot about myself, but it’s also always a wake-up call to what my friends go through when these same things happen to them. I think sometimes going through this stuff brings us a lot closer, even though it’s difficult.

    • Cerise May 4th, 2012 4:13 PM

      Nothing against chocolate ice cream, of course. ♥

  • lelelikeukulele May 4th, 2012 4:54 PM

    As someone who had her heart broken recently, I would like everyone to know that this is absolutely true and right on the mark in every single way.
    In some ways, being in a relationship is kind of sheltering. Being in love is great, but it also takes a lot of time and energy and you don’t even realize it at the time because it makes you so happy. But after going through a really awful breakup, I was surprised by how much I am now able to focus on myself and get my ass in gear to do things that are important to me (you know, after I finished bawling my eyes out for a few solid weeks).
    Another thing that I’ve learned from the experience is that you cannot expect yourself to get better quickly, or even moderately at a normal pace….it’s been several months since my heart was broken, and although I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress in the not-bursting-into-tears-at-the-drop-of-a-hat front, there are still certain things that I just can’t allow myself to think about, ever, or I just break down. I still think of my ex a lot, that much is unavoidable, but I’ve learned to compartmentalize my thoughts so maybe I can just think about what an idiot he is and not about how much I miss him.

    • lhmr May 4th, 2012 5:11 PM

      So true

    • Tavi May 4th, 2012 5:18 PM

      totally. it sucks, but at a certain point all you can do is give it time. and that’s when you need to turn to your obsessions and pour all of your energy into something that will keep you distracted until it’s eventually more than a distraction, and you have real love and feelings for what you’re doing there, too. i have a few bands/movies/books/etc. that i don’t share with ANYONE, that are completely my own, so that when things go wrong with friends/significant others, i would still have those to myself, and don’t have to listen to them and be reminded of anyone else. i recommend that, personally..

    • tellyawhat May 4th, 2012 6:59 PM

      I find when you are at that point where you are after a breakup. It’s mostly takes time and falling in love again to stop you from thinking about your ex. At the point where you are moving your love energy in someone else’s direction, you don’t have time for an old news love relationship. Not that you ever stop loving that person, it just takes up another space in your heart, a much further to reach under the bed hidden behind an old moldy mug spot. And when you are in a super good place in your life you can look back on the relationship and think about how stoked you are to not be in it right now. Time is awesome.

  • lhmr May 4th, 2012 5:06 PM

    I’ve been following this magazine since the very beginning and I still haven’t registered until now.

  • lhmr May 4th, 2012 5:09 PM

    Talk about good timing. My ex boyfriend of five months broke up with me two days ago and I’ve been a mess ever since. Thank you so much Liz for the advice. I haven’t ever come across an article on this topic ‘say it like it is’ that I felt so compelled to comment on this. (and I never comment on anything) (:

    • smilesandsun June 23rd, 2013 6:49 PM

      Getting over something myself, very similar heartbreak. How have you been feeling of late? Any more tips?

  • Susann May 4th, 2012 5:24 PM

    This is absolutely amazing. I went through the worst heartbreak the past… 8 months (or more) and although it has gotten a lot better, I still feel sad and alone a lot. But whenever I read an encouraging article like this it gets me a little further knowing that it’s something everyone has to go through at a point in his life.

    • Anaheed May 4th, 2012 5:31 PM

      Oof, I’m sorry, Susann. But yeah it’s true that it happens to EVERYONE.

  • mayaautumn May 4th, 2012 5:42 PM

    this article is so powerful..;) im sure this article will come in handy in the future, but it was a great read!
    i think power is an amazing theme.

    • mayaautumn May 4th, 2012 5:54 PM

      also,i love it how the ‘sweet dreams’ picture keeps changing!:)

  • heleniusius May 4th, 2012 6:10 PM

    this is incredibly wonderful and made me feel so much better i love you

  • Margo May 4th, 2012 7:09 PM

    I literally was crying when I started to read this article. Now I feel so much better, thank you <3
    And also "an isolated hermit whom no one loves", that's me!
    I don't even have one friend :( and my family it's away at the moment.

    • smilingrottenflesh May 5th, 2012 1:15 PM

      Hermitdom can be a lovely place to go, but I understand how crappy it can feel when it’s not your first choice.

      What I love about Liz’s article is that it emphasizes showing yourself the love – in active ways – so that the feeling of “no one loves me!” ain’t even a thang. Or at least comes closer to that place.

      Also a great place to come from when forging friendships – which I know will experience. ;)

  • kendallakwia May 4th, 2012 7:12 PM

    great article, wish it had come about 6 weeks before so I could read it during my breakup :,(

  • Nomi May 4th, 2012 8:56 PM

    Interesting that this is today’s article because two well-established couples at my school broke up today.
    and yet my boyfriend and I made four months today…

  • Abby May 4th, 2012 9:13 PM

    Although I’ve never been in a romantic relationship that’s left me heartbroken, when my older sister left for college in another country, it was like I was going through a major breakup. I was a mess for weeks afterward; I felt like half of my heart had been ripped out. We were as close as it gets; God made us sisters for a reason. I still feel like I did those weeks after she left sometimes, but then I remember that I’m okay here, and how happy she is there… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • Caden May 4th, 2012 10:43 PM

    I love love love the illustration! Rookie artists are so talented!

    This is fantastic advice. Especially about animals – they are the best to cuddle when upset.

    Caden x

  • rayano-banano May 5th, 2012 11:44 AM

    this is great!

  • smilingrottenflesh May 5th, 2012 12:35 PM

    Okay. This whole post is amaze. My insides are swooning and melting all over the place in ecstatic response to the form and ethos of this message. Not to mention…

    “glitter treats for your independent spirit”?!

    Let’s be biffles forever, Rookie. <3

  • pretty_betta May 5th, 2012 7:07 PM

    I wish i would have known a lot of this information a long time ago…it would have been so helpful!! T-T
    Having a broken heart is definitely a tough thing to go through . It is like someone took a punch to your heart and you just feel like you have been robbed of trust, love, or a friend.
    I think you can learn a lot about yourself though through a heart break and that eventually you will come out a stronger person.
    It takes some time, but you can learn from your experiences and realize that it’s not the end.

  • grizzly May 5th, 2012 8:47 PM

    Regina Spektor’s ‘Rejazz’ always helps heartbreak for me “I thought I’d cry for you forever but I couldn’t so I didn’t” Blunt but true?

  • rubyhobbit May 6th, 2012 1:04 AM

    This is a great article, I think I’ve been doing this for a while now. One of my guy friends was just direct about it and called me a dumbass for crying for a guy that didn’t even bother to talk to me on valentines day and never again. I did the unthinkable and blocked him from everything… I’m still in that process of getting over him. According to this Psychological book, it says that it takes a year to get over someone. Meanwhile, i’ve been doing my own thing like skateboarding, tumblr, concentrating on school… and now that I read this article I feel less of a weirdo for doing the things I do. But it’s the only way you can truly mature and see what kind of person you are. Good luck everyone!

  • Zoe with two dots May 6th, 2012 2:38 AM

    The part that really resonated with me was taking up new projects, or some kind of work that absorbs your energy.
    When my recent relationship ended badly, I rented out a stack of Quentin Tarantino movies. And BAM – who’s going to feel unmotivated after watching Kill Bill? No one, that’s who.

  • Katharine87 May 6th, 2012 2:40 AM

    I just came out of a five and a half year relationship and reading this, imagined my future self reading it out loud. How does rookie alway get it so right?

  • Anikebee May 6th, 2012 12:41 PM

    I’m just getting over a breakup with a boyfriend who I really cared about. This is so useful! Thanks so much! Gives me hope for the future :)

  • Svart May 6th, 2012 4:33 PM

    I felt like this text made me nothing but upset.

    Now usually I feel like everyone at rookie is so open-minded and able to see everything from so many different perspectives, but dude, what if you don’t have any friends? And what if you’ve got this really complicated relationship with your parents? I mean it’s not THAT unusual.

    Reading this makes makes me feel like you’re just practially screwed then, if you’re all on your own. Grrrreat.

    And not everyone has pets.

    • Anaheed May 7th, 2012 2:36 AM

      Hey, Svart. I have a complicated relationship with my parents, and I have gone through periods of having no friends. And while you can’t really change the parents thing, you CAN change the friends one, if you want to, and I think it’s the rarest kind of person who can be happy in life without friends. It is hard to make friends sometimes, and I have gone through my share of anxieties and humiliations in my attempts to do so, but almost nothing is more worth it, IMO. Also, conveniently: one thing that can really turn a casual acquaintance into a close friend is asking for their help in a time of need. It is SO HARD to do, but most good people LIKE to help.

  • lylsoy May 6th, 2012 8:45 PM

    I am in a relationship and we are totally in love since almost a year… so only the thought of breaking up makes me feel ill. But this article helped me to see it all more realistic.! All these fries would be mine again! A really amazing article <3 you are helping soooo many girls with rookiemag and finally there is advice from real people instead of, you know, someone from these absolutely cheesy teen-magazines that are 99% giving you useless advice.

  • NickelSodium May 9th, 2012 5:11 PM

    This is so amazing. I’m 20 now, but when I was 18 I fell hard and fast for the wrong person. When he bailed, I was so crushed. It took me the better part of a year to feel truly happy, let alone to find find value in myself. I’m back now and I have come to learn who I really am and who I want to be. This article covers all of that. Even reading it after all this time reminds me of the struggles I overcame… and it’s awesome. Thank you for writing this. Fortunately I missed the jaded boat, but it was a close one. I have no doubt that this article will provide many people with miraculous life-changing results. <3

  • OliviaCreates May 9th, 2012 11:27 PM

    This was absolutely wonderful. How…..did you manage… touch on that undescribably painful feeling? And know exactly what to say? I am in awe. I feel empowered. Thank you.

  • rakel May 11th, 2012 2:46 PM

    I think this article is spot-on. I’ll tell you my story briefly :)

    When I was 18, I had my first boyfriend and we were in love. Then college happened and we had the typical breakup thing. We were great friends, and it hurt a lot. It took a few months to start feeling better, but eventually in talking to my mom and friends a lot, things got better. To this day, he and I are still friends, yet I don’t try as much because I’m a very different person than I was back then. Embrace the changes!

    Since, I haven’t been to concerned with the male gender. I had been focused on being a strong independent woman, lol. Flings here and there as many ladies experience in college, but nothing real. Until a few months ago. As a graduate student, last winter it dawned on me that I really liked this cute dorky guy in my major. We bonded fast, he’s a really great guy and we are very drawn to each other with several similar interests. Eventually after lots of talking, we got together but he immediately backed off, saying he wasn’t ready for a relationship with me as much as he really liked me. I was bummed but things got better.

    Over the past few months we’ve gotten very close as friends, and honestly I sort of had this hope that in becoming close friends the ~romance~ might rekindle. I just found out yesterday he’s been talking to this younger chick for a little while, and…it hurts. But, I’m older than him and truly do think I’m more mature so this is the closure I need to remind myself to be true to myself and put my interests first! If I got this, you got this ladies. :)

  • Haz_TW_ATL May 18th, 2012 11:46 AM

    I’m sorta moping about a guy. I went absolutely crazy (and I mean crazy) about him for a year and a half. Then some bitch started flirting with him and he… He didn’t flirt back but… I didn’t like it. So I told myself to get over him. I was reaalllyyy depressed that night, I could barely eat (believe me, that’s good for me). But now, I still think I kinda like him and another girl is flirting with him, he’s flirting back…. They are perfect for each other. But it’s really upsetting to see this…. Any suggestions on what I should do???? xxxx

  • ellydishes May 28th, 2012 9:17 AM

    Dude, I am like 29 and this is excellent advice *even now.* Thank you Rookie Mag, my day just got way better.

  • CeeJay June 27th, 2012 5:30 PM

    I’ve been looking for something like this for awhile now, glad I found this. I just got out of my first breakup where I wasn’t the one doing the dumping. I guess you could call me a heartbreaker? But karma always has a way of finding you, doesn’t it?

    Coincidentally, The King of Wishful Thinking by New Found Glory started playing on Pandora as I was reading this.

  • EmmaE June 27th, 2012 8:49 PM

    I just came across this, and I think it’s amazing and such great advice.

    I was devastated when my high school boyfriend broke up with me at university, and we ended up getting back together a few months after the breakup. But the funny thing was, in the intervening period, I’d gone out and met new people and done fun things with my life – and after a few weeks of being back together, I realised, I just didn’t love him anymore. I would always care about him, but it was like the heart had been scooped out of the relationship. So I ended it for good.

    I’m 22 now, in a new relationship, and I still can’t believe I dated a guy for nearly four years who didn’t like books, didn’t like smart women, and who made me feel bad about the way I looked. Even though heartbreak feels like the worst thing in the world when you’re going through it, it also makes you change and grow as a person, and that is kind of awesome.

  • Yani July 10th, 2012 5:41 PM

    it’s not going to happen that you move on if that person is part of your thoughts every day. blocking them out might be an easier way to process it later, residual feelings left over. but it will come back, whatever’s left deep within. if that person wants other experiences or lovers it is not your authority to try to stop that. love within, love doesn’t go away ever, no matter how much you don’t think about them or if you think they don’t love you. what you had with that person will always stay with you. might make for beautiful expression or changes in your life. if you don’t want to be hurt, let it go.

  • chelseap June 10th, 2013 2:46 PM

    This article is amazing. It’s helped me come to realize all the amazing things I can do on my own. I don’t need the love and support of a boyfriend. I have the love and support I need from family, friends, my dog, and most importantly myself.

    My boyfriend of 9 months were off and on a lot, throughout our relationship. I grew to understand that as much as I love him, that’s not the type of relationship I want. So, I ended it.

    Of course, I had a hard time with it. I went through days and nights of regret, anger, depression, and having all this bottled up wasn’t helping either.

    I had a lot of help from my aunt who would hold me while I cried, listened to my rant and vent about it all.

    With the help of this article I’ve learned that not only am I going to be okay, but I have other ways than relying on people to take my pain away. I made the right decision and even though at times I regret ending it, I know it was the best thing for myself to do.