Subtle Ways To Improve Self Esteem After A Breakup (Right Now)

Beyond simply missing the companionship, camaraderie and history of a past relationship, a great deal of pain stems from our self-image taking a nosedive. As always though, if you’re in the midst of relationship turbulence, I certainly don’t need to convince you of that.

While we can’t directly control the thoughts and actions of an ex who may be walking further and further towards a future of their choosing, we can exert a certain amount of discipline over how we judge ourselves. Which is precisely why it one of our best breakup healing options. Because we don’t have to wait around for fate to give us a high-five, we can get cracking right now.

Drop The Guilt

When I speak of guilt, I’m not solely referring to the guilt we may feel at having been the primary architect of the relationship’s demise. There are many subtle ways that guilt can infest our objectivity and color our world in shades of grey. For instance:

  • Guilt at being weak and unresponsive in the face of grief.
  • Guilt at dragging your friends and family down with your incessant sorrowful narrative.
  • Guilt at being guilty (it really is a snake that bites its own tail).

No matter how justified you feel these feelings are, and it’s entirely probable that you did royally screw up, consider the effect of grief objectively. It does not prize those you may have wronged, it only ever punishes you. It plays no practical part in our deep-seated need to right wrongs and tie loose ends. Ironically, it may hinder us instead.

Is guilt complete psychological dead-weight then? I would say that it isn’t, because it represents a subconscious call-to-arms that allows us to take responsibility for our actions. Once we recognize the guilt for what it represents then it stops having any real purpose — other than providing a suffocating torrent of self-inflicted torture that prohibits us from acting.

Dropping the guilt is a prerequisite to becoming an active and constructive participant with our future and present well-being in mind.

Redefine The Lens Of Failure

Filling our lives with objectives is all good and well, but having the expectation that if we are unable to meet them we are consequently unworthy is the fast lane to defining ourselves solely via our failures (rather than weighing our failures with our successes).

Why do we call those who define themselves solely by their successes arrogant and conceited but then fail to apply the same logic to ourselves with regards to defining ourselves through failure? The truth, of course, is that by basing our value on our lowest common denominator we are erecting an equally deluded construct.

In order to help alleviate the naturally recurring thought of being sub-par, we need to attempt to be more honest with ourselves, because most failures are also successes when viewed from the right perspective.

  • They may have dumped you, but they also fell in love with you (or, if it wasn’t quite love, then they certainly set you apart).
  • The emotional fallout may seem debilitating and draining, but pain provides an unparalleled chance to grow.

These realizations are not the results of an internal delusion, they are not expectations, they are rooted in objective fact. And cold, hard, tangible facts — the blacks and whites of our present — are what we should cling on to with both hands.

Dictate Your Terms

Breakups often lead to feelings of being out of control because we become dependent on external variables to define how we feel. Being lost in the tides of fate in this way often makes us forget that no matter what situation we’re in, we have the ability to dictate our terms and thereby regain a measure of control.

You have options, you always have options, and sometimes merely exercising them (and it doesn’t really matter what they are) is a great way to improve self-esteem.

For instance, if you’re tired of the mixed messages consider erecting a no contact or limited contact communication framework to shred over-analysis and force clarity (silence is an answer as well). Tired of the moving-on-without-you collage on your ex’s Facebook? Block them (for those of you who feel this is too harsh given your history, please consider my first point in this article!).

Do what it takes to contain your anxiety and make your situation something you are a willing participant in rather than a hostage to. Your ex has made their decision, now it’s time to make yours.

Even if taking small steps yields small comfort in the face of grief in the present, bear in mind that this is also a way to rid your subconscious mind of the last vestiges of co-dependence and re-quaint yourself with the vast array of advantages you retain as an individual (beyond just being a fraction of a whole).

The Value Of Giving First

Once we’ve begun to exercise control over our lives, it becomes a matter of time before we begin to rediscover our value as individuals, outside and inside of a relationship context. Which consequently vastly improves our ability to participate in other aspects of our lives that may have been collecting dust.

Participating is giving. There is no better way to feel better about ourselves and our plight than by giving first (which is why charity work is often heralded as a breakup cure-all). Receiving back is great, but it is the act of giving that generates value (and is something we can control, even though we can’t count on anything back), because by definition we become valuable to someone. Even if the giving is going out with long-lost friends and being part of a good night out. Your presence contributed, therefore you have value.

This may seem like an overly simplistic point, nevertheless it is a difficult one to grasp because it requires aiming our expectations away from the relationship and towards a future that exists irrespective of it. It is a subtle yet powerful shift in focus from “us” to “I”,  from “it” to “this”, and the subconscious mind will gladly tag along if we keep at it, catalyzing healing and building the foundations of a new grief-free existence.

Forget About Sympathy

I might risk sounding emotionally dismissive or insensitive here, but I really do feel that ditching sympathy and preferring dignity is a powerful way of improving our self-image. Simply put, I mean we should actively attempt to stop feeling sorry for ourselves.

Not only will self-victimization destroy whatever of value we left (the downward spiral), it will also define us, not only potentially in the eyes of others, but more importantly in our own eyes.

Much like guilt, beyond functioning as a kind of subconscious warning bell, self-victimization serves no positive practical purpose other than damaging us. Yes, in the short-term it is a cry for attention and affection that may help us re consolidate ties and reform a social circle that comforts us. But left to its own devices, unchecked, sympathy will feed off itself and overthrow our will to build and move forward. The need for external validation will consequently grow, as will our dependency on it.

As always, talking the talk is easy, and realistically speaking, it is both understandable and normal to succumb to self-victimization. My only real point here is to attempt to become conscious about how we interact both within ourselves and with the world, and how these actions can come to define who we think we are. Sometimes merely shining a light on a pattern of behavior vastly diminishes its power over us, giving us just enough room to redefine ourselves in a better light.



  1. Lori
  2. rachel