How to control your emotions after a breakup

Controlling your emotions after a breakupFor many guys a breakup is their first encounter with intense, debilitating emotions. The emotions associated with rejection are visceral and profoundly painful. It’s no surprise that these emotions quickly start running the show.

Where we usually like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, now some previously unknown biological force from within has completely overtaken our mind, body and soul. Basic needs and pleasures such as eating and sleeping suddenly become obstacles, difficult to surmount.

Participating in your usual social routine, getting back to work and doing errands don’t even seem possible. Truth is, your emotional being has taken over. And as long as you don’t control your emotions, they control you. The question becomes, how do you control that what feels uncontrollable?

As long as you don’t control your emotions, they control you.

The paradox is: emotions are inherently uncontrollable. You cannot stop an emotion from surfacing. What you can do is train your mind to recognize those emotions, and to talk back at them.

You never lose your feelings, you just learn to not let them control you.

You see, the only thing you have somewhat control over are your thoughts. Fortunately there is a neurological feedback loop between emotions and thoughts through which we can exercise some restraint on our emotions.

Emotions, without warning, swell up. These emotions trigger thoughts which then feed the swelling of the emotions. By controlling your thoughts you can subvert the process and avoid the feedback cycle gaining momentum.

Allow me to explain by using a metaphor. Picture your emotions as steam in a whistling kettle on a stove. The steam is seethingly hot, erratic, densely energetic and desperately wanting to escape from its confines.

During your relationship you never really noticed the kettle and it never really affected you much. But now after the breakup the kettle suddenly comes into focus. It is full of boiling water wanting to escape.

Due to the amount of water, the pressure is untenable and steam inexorably forces its way through the tout of the kettle. The steam that escapes from the kettle makes a loud whistling sound and represents the free flow manifestation of your emotions.

Your job is to manage the escape of the steam. Dealing with a breakup equates to letting your kettle whistle when it suits you, and making sure there’s silence, when it doesn’t. This is how to deal with anger, grief and the range of other emotions your subjected to.

The stove remains hot, however. As long as you’re engaging your ex, the stove is turned on and steam keeps building up. The first step is turning the stove off: you accomplish this by going no contact.

The first step is turning the stove off: you accomplish this by going no contact.

Going no contact does not magically turn off the build up of steam. No contact is the starting point. Where there was a constant build up of steam before, going no contact has reduced the rate of buildup.

However, the stove is still hot. Turning it off didn’t magically make all the heat disappear. It needs to dissipate through the kettle. The water in your kettle is still getting heated up, however, it is slowly starting to cool down.

There is a finite amount of heat that is still in the stove that will be converted to steam. Now that the stove is turned off, all that is left is allowing this limited amount of steam to escape.

Going no contact still leaves you with a range of emotions that you are going to have to deal with. The intensity of these emotions, like the steam, will wane with time as long as you keep the stove off. As long as you stick to NC.

Dealing with your breakup amounts to pressure management in your kettle.

Keeping the kettle closed will result in a steam build up which, at some undetermined point in time, will burst its way too freedom. If you bottle up your emotions indefinitely, they will find a way out, without you being able to predict the timing.

The strategy then becomes letting out the steam when it suits you and not letting it build up. Remember, the steam is still building up, its only doing so at a slower rate.

Put differently, there is a time to grieve, and there is a time not to grieve. Grieving is opening the kettle. Choosing not to grieve is closing the kettle temporarily.

Leaving the kettle closed throughout the day might lead it to let out steam during the night as suppressing thoughts and traumatic events often leads to them resurfacing in your dreams.

The powerful lesson here is that once you are aware of the kettle of steam as an analogy for your emotions and you have practiced opening and closing it at your discretion, it will become a tool you can use for the rest of your life.

About Jesse

I've been helping guys recover from their breakups since 2012. Work with me to fast-track your recovery.

  • rmntcsm

    Thanks for this excellent resource for the suddenly single, Jesse. It has definitely helped me cope with my recent break up, and for that I’m infinitely grateful. Also, that clip from Swingers was ace.

    Be well!

    • Thanks RMNTCSM! Glad it helped out 🙂

  • lee

    Hey this is an awesome website thanks for your advise, i’v just been though my first a brake up, and wow it hurts really hurts, she was my whole world she ment everythink to me to put simply she was perfect to me! beautiful, funny, kool, kind and caring and she has gone! i know i should not put her on a pedestal… but i can’t help it, it is a fact i have never met anyone as amazing as her. i have lost THE ONE i really feel that no other girl will compare to her and now i have to settle for second best and be unhappy for the rest of my life. mean how do you deal with that?! also its the guilt i could of done things so much different, not been mean to her, not going out with my friends getting drunk all the time ect.. how do you live with the guilt?? we lived together and i had to move back home with my mum, so i feel like i have lost everythink my whole life is gone and i am really stugglling to cope that she has a new boyfriend, just a day after we split she was out with him … god help me i will never get over her, never find anyone as amazing as she was, i mean everythink about her i idolise, i think about her all day long and dream about her all night. i just want the thoughts to stop they are killing me! i want to move on but i can’t iv read somewhere it can take years! i can’t go years with this i would rather die x x x

    • Hey Lee,

      The fact that you feel as if she is the one, and no one will ever compare, is an irrational belief. Let’s dismantle it.

      First of all. How many attractive women your age do you know very well? I’m going to guess, not a whole lot. Those you do know, what percentage would they constitute out of all attractive females on the planet your age? Probably a smaller number than you can comprehend.

      So, you don’t KNOW that she’s the one. You FEEL that she’s the one. Just like you FEEL like you’re going to die without her, but you should KNOW that that’s simply not true.

      Objectifying your emotions helps you get over them.

      Concerning guilt, and other obsessive feelings. Anything that you can’t CHANGE or WALK AWAY FROM you need to ACCEPT. All other options are madness. You can’t change what you did, you can’t walk away from it, so you must accept it.

      And is everything she does really that perfect? I know several mature, considerate women that respectfully avoid rebounds so as not to hurt their ex. Her behavior sounds impulsive and inconsiderate.

      Also, she clearly doesn’t want to be with you. Is that your image of a perfect girl? A girl that doesn’t love you back? You need to open your eyes to this reality: Essential to the description of your ideal girl should be that she loves you back.

    • Sean

      Hi Lee, apart from my ex getting another guy straight away and going out dei king with mates.. Were in the same boat as to how we both feel. She left me in november last year…about four months ago..im devastated words cant say. Im going to arite to jessie…take care mate…sean

  • Jesse, Fantastic! article on controlling emotions after a breakup. Especially the analogy with ‘turning off the stove’. Absolutely NC is THE most important tool in the shed, pair that with doing activities that you love and time becomes your best friend. Check out my blog for dating tips for singles and relationship advice (before the breakup) http://www.relationshipsuite.com

  • j

    Hi Jesse
    Your articles are great, insightful and helpful. I read your experience and I’m sorry that happened to you, though it has brought you to this place where you are, now. My situation is similar, but completely different, I’d like to hear your impression:
    I am the one to blame for our downfall. I was with her, but never really thought that she was THE ONE for the majority of the relationship as I was afraid of being hurt and falling in love. I cheated on her and she found out but we still continued to move forward until her pain, insecurities, anger and sadness couldn’t be ignored by her any longer. The irony is that I did love her, despite my actions. I did love her despite my inability to communicate that. I started to imagine her in my future and place her in those immaculate moments and for the last 3-4 months, I was the happiest I’ve been. I thought that we were going to be fine, but the steam was boiling inside her and I didn’t know. She said that she needed ‘time to heal, time to work on herself and space’ but I understand where I am, and it deserved. I know that I need to let go and move on as I am the villain, but I just wanted so badly to prove to her that this love didn’t have to end as a tragedy, but I fear that this is the only way this plays out.
    Apologies for the long post, I’ll be practicing the theories you discuss, for sure.

    • Hey J,

      I see infidelity as a symptom of an underlying problem, not the problem itself. For that reason, I don’t think relationships can ever recover from cheating.

      You can feel very much in love, and still cheat. Feeling in love doesn’t mean your relationship is destined to last.

      The cheating likely fed her insecurities but it sounds like it fed your feelings of guilt as well. That must have shifted the dynamics in the relationship and that’s what could have contributed to its demise.

      You don’t ‘deserve’ this. And you’re not the ‘villain’. You both were engaged in a toxic relationship ‘dance’ and your symptoms happened to be not-seeing-her-as-the-one and cheating.

  • Catherine

    Hi Jesse,

    I had the most wonderful boyfriend any girl could wish for, I loved him as my best friend, someone I told EVERYTHING to but did not love him as a life long partner. He was in love with me and was pushing for the next stage of commitment which I couldn’t give him. We have gone our separate was about 3 months ago. After 3 weeks he got with someone else which tore me apart and now I never hear from him even though he promised we would remain friends. The strange thing is that I never felt he was ‘the one’ but at the same time I feel we are meant to end up together. I still miss him terribly and have good days and bad days. He is still with this new girl and sounds like he has moved on but I can’t seem to do it. I feel like years down the line I will still think about him and miss him and just can’t imagine ever meeting anyone else who could know me so well like he did. I have good family and friends but still feel so lonely and find it difficult to make myself do things. My life now seems no different from before I met him, still living with parents with no hope of moving out for a few years, I just cannot see a happy future.

    • Hey Catharine,

      It is always painful to see someone you were once so close with, being intimate with someone else. But you’re feelings are fooling you. Let me explain.

      You say “you can’t imagine ever meeting anyone else who could know me so well”. That may be how you feel, but that says something about your imagination at this point, nothing about reality.

      The truth is, there IS someone out there for you. Whatever your age, whatever your background, whatever your situation, there are literally thousands of people looking for someone like you.

      I’m not saying this just to make you feel better. I’m saying this because if you look at the numbers, that’s what they tell you.

      The problem is that when you’re feeling down, feelings and thought overwhelm you, and a concept like “I’m never going to find someone else” disguises itself as truth.

      The way to deal with this is becoming aware of these “disguised truths”. Whenever you feel something that brings you down, put it to a rationality test. Are you basing this on evidence? If so, what’s the evidence. If not, does it have anything to do with how you feel right now? Accept that when you’re feeling down, you’re going to come up with some crazy distortions that are completely disconnected from reality. You need to learn to recognize when that’s the case.

      Secondly, you need to have a plan. “No prospect of moving out for years” is bullshit, I’m sorry. You need to make a plan, and work at it every day. Recognize that it’s scary to make a plan and watch how your mind tries to duck out from the responsibility, but do it anyway.

      Staying at your parents can be comforting, but it eats at you at the same time. Your self-development comes to a practical stand still. So I would recommend you make a plan that includes you moving out a.s.a.p. Being on yourself will invigorate your life and your passions.

  • Mike c

    Hi jesse
    I’ve been reading some of your advice and it’s scarily accurate to my situation and how i feel, my girlfriend of nearly 5 years all of a sudden told me she didn’t know how she felt about us anymore, this was made harder because it happened 2 days after my birthday and 2 weeks before christmas and what makes it worse is she was unemployed for 5 months before. I was paying all the bills and she dumped me a week before she got her first full wage so i also feel used.
    I know there’s someone else she’s seeing but she won’t admit it, she keeps saying the break up was coming for a while but it came as a complete shock to me.
    The problem i have is we still live together and i have to see her everyday so it’s hard when she’s home but when she’s out I know she’s with him. Any advice on how to deal with still living with her, seeing her everyday and trying to cope with her doing everything she can to avoid being in the same room as me? Also any tips on sleeping properly because all the emotions are keeping me awake all night?
    Thanks.

    • Mike c

      Nevermind, its amazing how quickly someone can make you hate them.

      • Hey Mike,

        Not dealing with the emotions during the day will result in them coming back at you at night. They need to be processed at some point.

        In terms of dealing with living with her, I would plan to move out or have her move out (less preferable as you have no control over her) ASAP. Secondly, I would go overboard on just filling your calendar with all kinds of shit so you’re basically never home. Get in touch with old friends, go to a comedy show do all those things you’d otherwise never do. This distracts you, avoids her and treats yourself, all three which are beneficial at this point.

        Helen Fisher says that hatred after a breakup might be meant for extricating yourself from the relationship. I suggest you use it in that manner. Use your anger to get out of the house and fill that agenda! Oh, and start running and lifting weights if you’re not already!

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  • Cece

    i want to know why do i keep coming back to my ex after he cheated on me and why i still love him? i want to let him go but i mean its hard because he was my first true love and i don’t know what to do

    • Cece, your template for affection and attraction are largely based on how you were raised and interacted with your parents. You need to revisit your childhood and look for recurring patterns within your relationships throughout the years. It’s a tough and demanding process, and professional help can really make the difference.

      • Cece

        I need more help on my relationship.

        Subject: Re: New comment posted on How to control your emotions after a breakup

  • Oldman

    Jesse,
    I found your site by accident, it is very good. I’m probably a bit older at 46 then most of the other folks here, I’ve been around, seen my fair share of break up. I have one I didn’t see the aftermath coming 3 months ago, and it is till haunting me now. I hooked up with a woman in sept, I’d known her for a while , we always had an interest in each other. She was just recently out of a 2,yr relationship , I spent a lot of time with her over a month, we got along like we had known each other for ever. I knew she had some issues . One month later she pulled a disappearing act,ran back to.her ex. I can see that, hell we all go back to what stops our hemoraging . I didn’t realize how bad I had it for her, but it didn’t make sense, I would look at her and say, I don’t know what I see you, not really pretty, not smart, not anything special, period.. So I’m sitting around feeling like pounded dog shit for 2 months, and it got it much better after the first month, saying to.myself, this is the same shit my ex from 5 years pulled, then it hit me , this crap isn’t about a one month relationship, its about something left over from 5 years ago reeling its ugly head. That provided a the releif valve, but also starts the what is unresolved from 5 yrs ago and I’m still good and pissed about the whole recent dissappering act . it seems that 3 months of greif over a one month fling with a borderline dog is excessive. What am I missing to resolve this? The no contact thing helped.thanks

  • Dougie from NH

    I met a woman on a dating site, she contacted me first and we met for breakfast. She seemed to take a great interest in the things I did and enjoyed. She took the initiative in finding these activities (Salsa Dancing) and loved it. I was paraded around her friends and coworkers, she told me of the interest her friends had on FaceBook. She and her friend said I was a keeper it was going great then out of the blue she tells me “I still have feelings for my X, it’s not fair to you, I wish you well”. It dawned on me I was a tool for her to get back at or with her X — who is married bty and she was with him for 2.5 years. Anyway I wrote this and sent it to her. After two weeks she emailing me asking how am I doing and wants to talk about salsa music. What’s up with that?

    Dear Bxxxx,
    Since
    I’ve had a couple of days to process things in my head, I’ve decided
    that I do not want to be your second choice, in fact, I will be no
    one’s second choice. I deserve more and I am better than that too. I’ve
    endured way too many years of loneliness and sleeping by myself to be
    put on the shelf of your Plan-B. Personally, I don’t think you should be
    someone’s Plan-B either, but that’s your business and I can’t fix that
    for you. I’m not going to lay down a bunch of psycho-babble about who or
    what you are — to me, you were a kind, caring and beautiful woman — a
    woman to potentially, with time, share our futures together (if it
    worked out).

    However
    be warned, your x is a narcissistic / passive aggressive pig. If what
    you tell me is true, for him to reach out and whine-n-pine about wanting
    you back after a year, “only” after hearing you had “met a good man and
    that you
    where happy” is extremely sadistic and controlling. What angers me the
    most is that this POS, ruined something that could have been absolutely
    amazing for the both of us — and me, someone he never even knew. What a
    dick! Even if he does happen to get a divorce (maybe next year), you will no longer be his fantasy after that, and creeps like him need their fantasies. Absolute selfishness — his poor family — stop enabling that bastard, he’ll never change.

    This
    breaks me more than I thought, since after last night’s performance Sam (my daughter)
    asked where you were, and without words gave me a big hug and said she
    was sorry.

    Bxxxx, you were the BEST!

    Doug

    PS:
    Please remember this letter after three months when you realize
    everything coming out of that asshole’s mouth is nothing more than his
    farts in the wind.

    • i am horis

      I remember lying in my room when I was in high school and writing in a journal to my future husband. I’d write all sorts of notes and questions and things I’d wonder or ask this man when I eventually met him. I would wonder where he was and what he wad doing and if he was thinking about me too. It has always been such a strong desire in my heart to find a wonderful man to marry, someone who would love me and cherish me and appreciate me for the person I am. I always thought I would get married right out of college, just like my parents, so when that plan didn’t work out, I started to get discouraged. A school mate snatched my future husband away from my arms just because she had spiritual powers, all hope was lost to me before i came across the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@yahoo.com) who i confided in, i told him my long story and he helped me regain back my lover with his prayers which is now my husband today. if you have any problem email the help doctor (prayerstosaverelationship@yahoo.com).

  • Venkatesh

    Hi Jesse,
    Me and my girlfriend were dating in the USA for about 1.5 years. During this period of time, we had several arguments which always leads us to no contact for few hours and then again things cool down. Currently we are staying away from each other. When we talk , she always talks about the past and keeps telling me that ” Why did you behave like this on that day? or this day? I have truly accepted my fault and mistakes to her and most of the arguments have been from my side where I have created. Last 4 months we have been just talking over the phone but not anything which leads to love. She always comes up to me saying I have something to ask you personally and she raises ” did you love me in the past” and she gives an answer on her own that I didn’t. I feel that she assumes things and even after 4 months, she keeps asking me the same past questions and mistakes I have made now and then which always leads to a heated argument one over the other and we end up not talking. We already broke up 4 months ago. She goes off no contact and after a week or so she comes back and again pulls up questions and argues. What does this mean and what do I have to do? Every day talking about the past is not going to help and thats what I feel.