There Are Great Ways to Bounce Back From Rejection
As famously quoted by singer Neil Sedaka, "Breaking up is Hard to Do."
As experienced by everyone else, it can also be extremely hard to get over. Some people are much better at rebounding than others.
What makes the difference? Research reveals some answers:
The Benefits of Distraction
Much research has tackled the issue of how to find the best way to recover from romantic rejection. Love regulation is one of the techniques used to alter feelings of romantic love. In "Down-Regulation of Love Feelings After a Romantic Break-Up," (from 2018), Sandra J.E. Langeslag and Michelle E. Sanchez test several ways of decreasing feelings of love for an ex-partner.
The authors define love regulation as, "the use of behavioral or cognitive strategies to change the intensity of current feelings of romantic love." They tested the effectiveness of negative reappraisal of the ex-partner, reappraisal of feelings of love, and distraction. They then measured feelings experienced while viewing a photo of the ex-partner through electroencephalogram recording.
They found that negative reappraisal decreased feelings of love, but also made participants feel more unpleasant. Distraction, on the other hand, did not impact feelings of love, but caused participants to feel more pleasant — indicating the value of post-breakup distraction in achieving positive emotions.
This study is significant because it incorporates the practical reality of seeing an ex-partner after the breakup. This scenario is highly likely, whether through a photo on Facebook or a live sighting, when a former flame is a member of the same social group or workplace.
Positive Traits That Reflect Resiliency
Lucia F. O’Sullivan et al., in the aptly named study, "Plenty of Fish in the Ocean" (2019) examined traits reflecting resiliency that may assist partners heal following a romantic breakup.
Looking at relationships in a sample of young adults, they hypothesized that a higher level of self-esteem, optimism, and grit (defined as "perseverance" toward long-term goals even in the face of adversity") would be associated with less rumination and depressive symptoms post-breakup.
Among other findings, for study participants, optimism was a particularly important predictor of how they experienced and adjusted to a breakup.
Post-breakup, low levels of optimism were linked with higher levels of rumination and symptoms of depression. For participants with high levels of optimism, however, a breakup was associated with lower levels of depressive symptoms.
The authors suggest that perhaps optimistic individuals view a breakup as an opportunity for positive change, citing research indicating that some people view romantic dissolution as an opportunity for growth and self-improvement. For people low in optimism, they suggest that a romantic breakup may be perceived negatively and reinforce existing pessimism.
O’Sullivan et al. noted that optimism was the only resiliency trait measured in their study with a future orientation — a characteristic that may offer protection when adjusting to stress, such as the loss of relationship. They note that self-esteem and grit showed contradictory effects, with high levels being associated with more symptoms of depression post-breakup, and in the case of self-esteem, more rumination.
Interestingly, low self-esteem and grit were associated with more depressive symptoms independent of relationship status.
With respect to individuals high in self-esteem, the authors speculate that the intensification of symptoms of depression and rumination may mean that a recent breakup is a "sufficiently distressing catalyst to make individuals question or challenge their self-worth, performance, and abilities as a romantic partner."
Time Management a Must Post-Breakup
If distraction and optimism are linked with emotional healing post breakup, find ways to incorporate both into your schedule. Healthy time management involves thoughts and activities that reflect an intentional, optimistic, focus on the future, not on the past.
This means no Facebook stalking. Time spent checking the status updates, Likes, and other online activity of an ex is far better spent meeting new people and making new friends.
Admittedly, many people who find themselves newly single, especially when it is not by choice, are not in the mood to mix and mingle. At least not for a while. In that case, there are plenty of opportunities for personal growth.
Physically, mentally, academically, or professionally, post-breakup breathing room offers the opportunity to pursue multiple avenues of self-improvement.
Time is a precious resource. Do not use it to prolong grieving, but to promote growth. You've heard that "the present is a gift." Use today to celebrate the present and focus on tomorrow, allowing failed relationships to disappear in the rearview mirror.
This column was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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