While your heart is aching, your head is racing.
During a breakup, the same old thoughts tend to run through our heads on a spin cycle.
These thoughts are totally normal and downright predictable in the wake of a breakup, but they can become toxic if they’re allowed to spin too long, and they deliver a relentless diet of guilt, sadness, and regret.
When I work with clients at “breakup ground zero,” I hear these thoughts emerge again and again. If your thoughts are holding you back from moving on, it’s time to stare them in the face and call them what they are: total BS.
Here are some of the most common and compelling toxic breakup thoughts, along with the reasons why it’s time to kick them to the curb.
1. If only I had/hadn’t…
That innocent comment I made that led to the conversation that led to the breakup…
That one moment of friction that I should have just smoothed over or let go…
Are these kinds of thoughts spinning in your head?
The reality is that if he were the right person for you, one misstep on your part would not have broken the relationship.
If you are in a relationship where you can’t make a mistake, that’s not the right relationship.
What’s more, if your ex ran at the first sign of trouble in paradise, that says a lot more about him and what’s going on in his world than it does about you.
Your partner needs to be able to stick it out when the going gets tough.
Ambiguity intolerance (inability or unwillingness to bear with the uncomfortable limbo feeling that comes with a fight or a core “relationship question mark”) and lack of resilience are indicators that this isn’t the right match or that he isn’t in a place to be in a relationship with you at this time.
If you are in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to be with you, that is not the right relationship.
Most often, I hear this toxic thought when someone is attributing the reason for the breakup to the most minor of incidents or actions.
Chances are that that one thing did not single-handedly cause the breakup; if that one thing was the trigger—the first domino—there were already other dominoes lined up and waiting to be tapped (possibly ones you didn’t, and couldn’t have, known about. Possibly ones that had absolutely nothing to do with you).
At the end of the day, one or both people chose to end the relationship based on all the factors and information that made up the whole picture—all the pieces that they experienced as good and bad.
You did not cause this because you said one “wrong” word or sentence, or expressed one emotion, or because you didn’t say or do one “right” thing. Know that this toxic thought often shouts loudly even when you haven’t done anything “wrong.”
Of course, if you knowingly or carelessly made a choice to do something major that really hurt your partner, this is an important learning opportunity for you.
If you made what feels like a major “wrong turn” or hurtful choice, or repeatedly engaged in a destructive communication pattern—yes, it is worth learning from and working on those “mistakes” as an individual, so that you don’t continue to hurt others (and yourself) in that way. (And you can do that learning without your ex there.)
Whatever the case, what’s done is done; focus on what you can do in the future. Identify the changes that you want to make within, clarify what you are looking for in a partner, and move on.
2. If only s/he had/hadn’t…
Do you find yourself saying “She’s perfect, except for…” or “If she would just ___, everything would be great”?
It’s understandable to think this way when you love so many things about a person—when someone is an “almost-fit.”
This toxic thought impacts dumper and dumpee alike; if you made the choice to break up, you may be dealing with your own feelings of alternating guilt (why can’t I love her?) and resentment (why can’t she be different?)
For those who have been broken up with, this toxic thought likes to drop by over and over again and hang around long after the breakup, taunting you and making you think you should call your ex—because if she really understood, she wouldn’t be doing this, right??
Whether the breakup was your choice or not, it’s common to find yourself wrestling with a bad case of the “if onlys.”
Here’s the deal: underneath this toxic thought, you likely have some hard-to-spot control stuff going on.
On some level, you long to be able to edit your ex-partner’s personality or puppeteer her choices.
The hard-but-true reality is that you can’t control anyone else.
If there are fundamentals about her that just didn’t work for you, she was not the right person—and that applies whether you were the leaver or the left.
Here are some common for-examples (keeping in mind that every scenario is different).
Leaver: if you love everything about her on paper, and you should love her, but you just don’t feel it, it’s just not right.
Left: the way she shut down when you tried to talk and her lack of investment in your relationship are as much a part of who she really is as her amazing smile and incredible sense of humor.
Those are all parts of her, and pretending that some parts are “the real her” and some parts are not can keep you really stuck in the “if only” place.
If she would just see things my way…
If I could find a way to make her understand…
If she knew what I really felt/meant…
If she could just see how good we actually are together…
But it’s PERFECT except for…
I know, I know.
This is one powerful thought, and it hurts!
But replaying this soundtrack keeps you stuck in trying to change someone who doesn’t want to be changed.
Work on accepting that people are different, and that she is making choices and based on a perspective, priorities, models, and values that are different from yours.
As “wrong” as she is, from your point of view, she gets to make that choice. And you get to make yours.
So choose to stop hitting the replay button and move forward.
3. I’m right back where I started.
This is a very, very common toxic thought for the 30somethings I work with.
“It would be okay if I was still in my 20s… but here I am starting all over again and I’m running out of time.”
If you have started to put pressure on yourself to find The One, you’re likely to feel discouraged and like you’re back at the beginning when a relationship ends.
But that’s simply not true.
You are not the same as when you started.
You’ve been impacted and altered by each of your experiences. Each new relationship—in its beginning, middle, and ending—is full of opportunity for learning new things about who you are and what you want, and to try on new skills you’ve learned.
Framing this breakup as another failure…more proof that I can’t make it work…there’s something wrong with me, etc. does not serve you and is also total BS, by the way.
Framing it as one step closer to finding the right fit—that’s empowering.
4. I’m not good enough (attractive enough, loving enough, smart enough, funny enough, tall enough, thin enough, easygoing enough, etc.)
There’s nothing like a breakup to make you question your own self-worth and lovability.
In many cases, you exposed your most vulnerable self to someone, and that person ultimately looked at that self and said, “No thank you.”
If you are feeling rejected, it’s totally normal to run through all the “rejectable” qualities about yourself in your mind, looking for all the ways that who you are is not enough.
The truth is, though, you are worthy, just as you are, whether or not someone else decided to walk away from you.
To quote Augusten Burroughs, “You are exactly everything enough to the right person.” The fact that someone broke up with you does not mean that you aren’t good enough. It means that the two of you were not a match.
Of course, we all have things to work on, and romantic relationships have an incredible tendency to shine a flashlight directly on those things (if we’re only brave enough to look!).
But when you are feeling rejected, reject the BS that someone else’s (or your own) choice to leave means that you’re not good enough.
5. I’ll never find anyone.
Have you had this nasty little beast of a toxic thought before?
Have you had it, say, before each and every relationship you’ve ever had?
Take yourself back to the week or two before you met your last girlfriend or boyfriend or partner.
Before you met your newest ex, did you have any idea that she was around the corner?
Now travel back in your mind to the month before you met the person before that.
And the person before THAT. Could you have seen him coming?
Now laugh in the face of the ridiculousness of thinking that you have any idea what (or who) is around the bend!
Ha! Ha HA!
You don’t and you can’t!
There is no way for you to know what the universe has in store for you—but you can be sure that more amazing people are out there.
There will never be anyone as wonderful as he was.
Everyone you have ever loved was already out there before you knew s/he existed.
And one day your lives intersected and you met.
One way you can work with this toxic thought is to do some work around lack vs. abundance mindset.
I’m not trying to get all woo-woo on you here, but the universe will never stop offering you opportunities, in the form of new experiences and new people.
That’s a “never” you can hang your hat on.
6. Yes, but, I still just don’t understand…
The impulse to turn events over, and over, and over again, replaying every conversation in your mind, reading and rereading every email, thinking that if only you work hard enough at it, you can figure out what happened, make sense of it, and make it unhappen—this is a totally normal impulse.
AND it can create and reinforce a very self-destructive thought pattern.
This toxic thought often comes from a subconscious desire to control events that are beyond your control.
We think if we can understand it we can fix it.
What’s more, if we stay in that place of thinking over and over and over it, we don’t have to accept that it’s, well, OVER.
There are always going to be some things you don’t understand.
This can be very, very hard to accept.
Even if you have coffee after coffee with him, you may still never be able to completely understand what happened, why he thinks and acted the way he did, how he could be telling you he loves you one minute and be gone the next…
Forcing yourself to continually try to explain the inexplicable is a form of self-punishment.
This is not to say there isn’t a place for communication and for trying to come to a better understanding within yourself of what happened—after all, some of the best learning we do comes out of challenging relationships and breakups. I’m the first to advocate for understanding and learning!
But when all is said and done, there may still be things that you just can’t ever make sense of.
This toxic demon wants to move you constantly backwards, telling and retelling yourself the story until you find the key to fix everything and make it not be true—make it so that you don’t have to feel this wrenching pain.
Love yourself enough to use your energy for something else, rather than pouring it all into analyzing something in the past.
Get the support you need to heal and move through your pain. Work with a coach, talk to a friend, and get into action by filling your life up with new things.
You can move on even if there are some things you still don’t understand.
You are deserving of happiness, and you are stronger than you think.
I want to hear what toxic thoughts are on spin cycle in YOUR mind, and how you break through them. Which of these toxic thoughts resonates most with you? Share in the comments below.
Do you know someone who’s getting over a breakup? This article could save him or her a lot of suffering! Pass it on, and share it using the links below.
5 thoughts on “6 Toxic Breakup Thoughts to Call Bullsh*t On”
As usual, your post has implications for a much wider range of issues than the one that’s your focus. These points certainly aren’t applicable only to a breakup. The “if only I had/hadn’t” entry in particular is relevant in so many situations. That’s probably the toxic thought that runs through my mind most often in all kinds of situations.
Yes, unfortunately, toxic thoughts like these rear their heads in all different areas of life. (I’ll be revisiting this topic in relation to career change soon!) What do you do to respond to the “had/hadn’t” beast?
Regret = not being able to let go. I struggle with this not so much as regards relationships but more when it comes to losing things or making mistakes. It can be very hard for me to let go. Even if I say to myself, “Oh, well, it’s just a thing.” I keep wishing, “If only I hadn’t left it, dropped, or whatever.” With time the intense feelings fade – but it sure would be nice to be able to let go sooner!
Miriam, it’s such a great point you make about the intense feelings fading with time. Sometimes just acknowledging that for yourself can help normalize and even lighten the pain or sadness in the beginning: “Of course I’m upset about this right now–it just happened; it’s fresh. With time it won’t seem to matter so much.” This can help you be patient with yourself in letting go–and as you do that, you can decide what you *do* want to hold on to.
Amazing article, I am having imaginary conversations with my ex that I was with for 4 plus years, we were dating and I loved her deeply. She is volatile and has a wicked temper and fights on a 12 year old level, yet I am doing the ‘if she only would…”. I am 62 she is 54, so you dont have be young to experience this. I am doing everything you mention in this article. Days after a fight we had she was back on match dot com looking for the next man. That was like a knife through my heart when her profile was sent to me by a friend that is on that site and she popped up on the daily matches. My head is still spinning on how she can bounce back so fast after telling me every day many times a day how much she loved me.