How to “Win” a Break-Up

by Coach Ellie

I stopped playing video games after Ms. Pac-Man, but something I still appreciate about electronic gaming is how quickly you can restart after a loss. How great is that reset button? It’s atonement at your fingertips.

In a post break-up fetal position?

If you are, atonement can taste like fresh-squeezed lemonade on a summer day. And when you are enduring emotional pain that is every bit as intense as drug withdrawal, you need relief, STAT.

You can feel better. By owning your mistakes, you can be renewed. These are YOUR mistakes I’m talking about, not your ex’s. Yours. While it might seem scary at first, it is actually liberating. Like shaking a mental Etch-A-Sketch to erase the messy squiggles of the past, you can reset your emotional state.

To realize the benefits of atonement during withdrawal, let’s look at:

  1. What is atonement?
  2. How to atone well.
  3. How to atone without triggering a shame spiral.

What is atonement?

Atonement is a way to start anew by reflecting on what has happened. It’s taking stock. You look at what you did right, what you did not-so-right, and what you’d like to improve on going forward.

It is NOT an excuse to attack yourself and revert to old addictive behaviors. More on that later.

Because the ending of relationships can be so traumatic, particularly if you suffer from love addiction, you have a tendency to suppress all the icky feelings that come up. This is a problem because those complex emotions need some sorting out. You need to provide context to them for yourself.

So cry. Eat ice cream. Listen to sad songs. Watch sad movies. But also pick through the rubble. Make piles. Figure out what goes where and why.

Image by Austin Guevara on Pexels.

Hurt feelings left unexamined can trap you

If you only react to your pain rather than respond to it, you do not grow. You will either act out by getting involved in another relationship too early or you will act in and reject relationships entirely, risking lifelong loneliness and bitterness. Atoning for your relationship “sins” helps you avoid the polar extremes.

Atonement gives you a chance to slow down and examine the puzzle pieces. You can look at some of your less-than-mature behaviors and understand the motivation behind them. Again, this is NOT about blaming and shaming yourself. Just as it isn’t helpful to name-call other people, it doesn’t work when you do it to yourself, either.

Relationships do not create these unpleasant feelings. They uncover them.

Losing a relationship kicks up the same chaotic feelings you have been avoiding all along. Atonement saves you from slipping into victimhood when confronting this formerly dormant volcano of bad feelings. Instead of just throwing up your hands and giving up on love entirely, you can become a dutiful scientist.

By tracing back through your own imperfections and petty behaviors (we all have them) you see how you also played a part in the weirdness. In doing so, you see where you have power to do things differently, moving forward.

By examining those uglier parts of yourself, you get freedom

You can see where you made some odd choices, like: trying to punish your partner instead of talking it out, staying loyal even though it was clear your ex had no ability to reciprocate, or sulking and crying rather than grabbing your keys and walking out the door.

Instead of just feeling a wall of bad and then numbing out with food and whatever your distractions of choice are, you can get better acquainted with yourself. Once you take a bird’s-eye view of your behavior patterns, you can then consciously choose to do things differently.

You start to see solutions. There are actions you can take. You can challenge those unhelpful thoughts and form some supportive habits. You do not need to pummel yourself emotionally to achieve this.

  1. How to atone in a way that creates better relationships in the future.

You want to use this withdrawal period well. Atoning lightens the anguish and ensures that your future relationships will be much healthier.

Carpe diem

A safety video about lawful freeway lane changes is much more likely to hold your attention if you’ve just had a car wreck. Similarly, the end of a relationship is a great to time to get real about your own behaviors so as not to endure another miserable relationship.

You are uniquely open after a break-up. You are cracked! And “that’s how the light gets in,” as Leonard Cohen put it in his song “Anthem.”

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

If you drink too much, eat too much or work too much in order to suppress your feelings and escape painful memories, you miss your chance. It’s during this very distressing time that you are most likely to stay emotionally sober long enough to sufficiently self-reflect. Because, right then and there, your misery has your full attention.

It’s time to get super, duper honest

This is your chance to get rigorously honest. Let it all hang out … with yourself first and foremost. What were your motivations? Where were you operating out of insecurity? What caused you to self-abandon? Ask yourself these questions out of genuine curiosity, not condemnation.

You are creating your own SurveyMonkey questionnaire. Likewise, you can even offer yourself a Starbucks gift card for completing the survey. Truly though, your honesty with yourself is its own reward.

Practice being vulnerable

Once you’ve nailed being honest with yourself, it is time to practice doing that with other people, or at least one other person. Pro tip: Don’t then ditch this friend after you find your next romantic relationship. (That’s addressed in another article).

Find a trustworthy person or two

You need to tell somebody what’s going on with you. A therapist or coach is an excellent option, but it can also be a friend. Just make sure it’s a friend you can trust.

This finding someone you can trust may be its own journey. You may have a past of being either overly trusting and thus over sharing, or you may be super tight-lipped, holding your cards very close to the vest. It is critical that you work through this. Everyone needs a trusted friend or two.

Image by Stas knop on Pexels.

  1. How do you atone without triggering a shame spiral?

When you beautify with eye makeup, you also get something called “fallout” under your eyes. You need to clean the tiny bits of shadow dust out from under your eyes before you head out the door.

There is fallout at the end of relationships that need sorting out as well

Ideally, you could put on your white lab coat and examine the relationship under a microscope. You would be objective, just looking for the facts, ma’am. But as a love addict, and just generally as a human, you may turn this opportunity to understand yourself into one where you interrogate and humiliate yourself and/or endlessly blame the other person involved.

How could I pick THIS kind of guy, AGAIN? Why did I stay this long? What was I thinking? Am I just a hopeless idiot? Gawd, I’m stupid! I didn’t deserve this! Life is so cruel.

You know the drill.


To avoid triggering a brick ton of shame, stay aware of this exact tendency to shame yourself. It’s an old habit you likely cultivated in childhood. As a kid, you shamed yourself into behaving in a way that pleased your caregivers. It’s an old safety mechanism that is not serving you anymore.

This is a time to do whatever “therapy” means for you

You need to do something that gets you to challenge the logic of your thinking. Examine your choices and your beliefs from different perspectives.

Therapy options are endless: cognitive behavioral therapy, somatic therapy, group therapy, 12-step programs, EMDR, journaling, yoga, Family Constellations, religions, spirituality, nature and so on. Pick something that both challenges and comforts you.

If you try something and start to feel worse, stop. Self-examination is vital, but so is support. Hiring a coach, for example, can help you achieve more balanced thinking so that you do not fall into the trap of blaming yourself or your ex, which will only keep you stuck.

Why you?

“But,” you say, “my ex was the jerk! I am the one who got hurt. Why do I have to do all the atoning and understanding? This doesn’t seem fair.”

I believe you. But here’s the thing. If you tell me s/he is 90 percent at fault, then that means you have 10 percent to atone for.

That 10 percent is where the miracle happens. It’s where the dam breaks, the crack happens and the light gets in. Never mind their piece of the pie. Focus on your own plate because that’s what you can control. By focusing on your part, you get insight into yourself and greatly reduce the chances of having to experience another crappy relationship.


Atonement provides a redo.

You can replay the challenging moments from your relationship, but this time you are not fighting anyone. This time, you are taking on the role of a third-party observer. You can slow down the footage and see where you might have put a toe over the line or called a foul unnecessarily.

This is not a time to blame yourself or your ex.

This is a time to understand yourself. Not your ex. You. What makes you tick? What ticks you off? When and why and what can you do about it? What to this day is still eating at you? Why? What, if anything, can be done about it now?

Even though the end of a relationship creates intense grieving, it also represents an excellent opportunity to mature and make way for much more fulfilling relationships, romantic and Platonic, in the future. If you do the work now, you are not doomed to repeat this.

Get honest and get support

Just like a surgeon cannot operate on herself, you need outside help too. Obviously, I encourage coaching, but pick whatever will work best for you. Keep trying various methods until you start to feel better. Don’t give up.

The trick is not to fall back into old patterns of shaming, blaming or numbing out.

Instead of distracting yourself, get to know yourself. As for your past indiscretions, learn to be gentle and forgiving with yourself. Admit where you messed up and vow to do better.

Never mind the ex. You can only oversee yourself. There is relief in that.

So regenerate! You’ve hit the reset button. Now go forth and chomp on those Pac-Dots, but this time avoid the pesky ghosts. Wop, wop, wop.

Reeling after a break-up? Feeling too burned to get back into a new relationship? Trying to get the courage to get out of a bad relationship? Set up a free discovery session today. See if coaching with me is the right option for you. Click here.

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