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.


About the author

James Nelmondo

James "the Unknown" Nelmondo is a self-styled relationship enthusiast, former infant, part-time dumper and full-time dumpee.


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  • I think after a week I’ve entered the bargaining part of grief. No contact has been semi permeable. He would like to continue our relationship as friends and date someone else. He’s never really treated me well, and even though he says he loves me and needs me, I told him I need to walk away. I can’t be just friends. But now I’m miserable. He’s asked how I am, and I replied out of respect. Now I feel like I want to call him. But I’m the one who broke it off in this strange way…ugh. Should I settle for friendship, is that even settling? If I stand firm I doubt he’ll be back professing his undying love. It’s just making me crazy.

    • Hey Lori,

      Standing firm may not mean he’ll be back professing his undying love, but by offering a thinly veiled friendship you are potentially giving him the best of both worlds at your expense. Not that there’s anything wrong with this of course, but if he senses that friendship is just a way for you to cling on the the hope of things changing over night, then he’ll never get round to considering what life without you entails because he may feel confident in moving forward knowing that if things don’t pan out he can fall back to the canopy of your relationship (or at least try, in any case).

      Hope that makes sense, it’s pretty straight forward in my head, but reading what I wrote makes me scratch my own head!

  • Hi James,

    I met this well educated, successful guy on the internet and we hit it off really well. We dated for 2.5 months. He said he loved me on the fifth date! But after 2.5 months, I was away on vacation and he called to say that he needed space. He gave the “its not you, its me” spiel. But when I asked are we breaking up or what? He didnt respond. What does this mean?

    He texted me 1 month afterwards, saying “Hey”, but I never responded. After one week he unfriended me on social media. Was this a rude approach on my part to not respond to his text message? I feel that I have the right to do so. But, did this sabotage the chances of reconcilliation?

    I have been in no contact for 3 months now. I have gone on many dates since the incident. I have also worked on self improvement and have reached the stage where I can view the relationship in retrospect, objectively. However, I still wonder what his text meant. Does he want to free himself of the guilt? Does he want me back? Should I give him a call to figure it out? What should I go from here? Is 3 months of no contact too long to even consider reconcilliation?

    Thank you James!

    • Hey there Rachel!

      Was this a long distance relationship?

      Whatever else it may mean I’m fairly certain that after a short (it really is) month after this implied breakup any attempt to communicate, even if it is a “hi” is just that, an attempt to open dialogue, which at the very least tells me you were/are weighing on his mind.

      I can’t know what his intention was, but I’ll hazard a guess based on the experiences of those I’ve talked to via the site. Almost ubiquitously, guilt is never the sole reason to contact. It could be part guilt, but it’s usually part regret as well. But a “hi” hardly equates any tangible form of commitment, nor does it herald the kind of drive that reconciliation requires (especially when there’s no follow up should you understandably pass on mixed messages). So, personally, I think you acted appropriately — by choosing clarity in a hazy situation over indulging hope and risking further confusion.

      I personally don’t believe that no contact is ever too long if the underlying emotions that tied you both together in the past were strong enough. Having said that, you mention making significant process and opening that door could destabilize much of that temporarily (in the long run it won’t make much of a difference) should it all end up being an emotional pang or hiccup of his rather than genuine remorse. Consider also the way in which the relationship ended. I think it’s natural that loose ends are probably a source of pain to him, but it may have very little to do with actually wanting to reconcile deep down inside.

      Not to end on a sour note… :)