A new client is sitting in my office crying. She cries for the full hour we are together, wadded up tissues in her fist. Her story comes out in short bursts. It’s a story you might be familiar with – in fact, you might have gone through it yourself. It’s a story of love and breakup. Love and possibilities suddenly turned to despair and lost dreams. Her love broke up with her because of something said in anger. Her love didn’t give her another chance. Her love broke her heart.

When someone breaks up with us it is hard – there are no two ways about it. We feel rejected at our core. We may even reject ourselves for a while. We second guess all the reasons behind it. We feel regret at what we’ve done. We pine for our ex. It’s difficult to even consider them an “ex” for a long time. We feel sadness. We feel depressed. We feel anxious. We might not know who we are without them. We say, “Why me?”

My work with my client over the next months supplies a safe space to work through and validate her emotions, and the focus gradually shifts from the content of the breakup, having regrets, having hopes of reconciling, to herself. What are her core attributes? How does she find strength? What gives her joy in life?

My client works hard. She journals, she asks for homework, she comes in with questions. One day, I see something new in her, and I tell her so. “What’s going on?” I ask her. “You seem like a different person. What happened?”

No, her ex didn’t call her, she is quick to say. “I’ve decided I’m moving on,” she tells me. “I’m getting angry – he can’t treat me like this.” I tell her that she seems happy, happier than I’ve ever seen her. “Yes, I think I am,” she says in a wondering voice. “I’ve decided it’s time.” I ask her what advice she would give to someone else going through what she did, and without hesitation she lists five things while I write them down.

As I examine her list, I feel a sense of exhilaration; in fact, goose bumps appear on my arms. I look up at my client. “I think you’ve just figured out how to get through anything,” I tell her. “This is a list you can stand on. This list can become part of your core.” My client looks at me and smiles. It’s an empowering moment.

My client’s list (shared with permission):

  1. Take your time. If you want to cry, cry. It’s your timetable, not anyone else’s.
  2. Do what you believe is best for you.
  3. Find support – friends, family, therapy.
  4. Go out and do something even if you don’t feel like it.
  5. Find a new hobby.

What would go on your list? What advice would you give someone? What’s gotten you through a challenge?

Recognize your resiliency. Put it into words. Make a list. Then stand on it next time you face tough times.