How to recover from a breakup: the stoic way

Article recovered from archives of my old blog originally written on the 18th of May 2020. This article captures what the old me called a ‘journal entry’ and it is a fascinating time capsule of who I was at the time and what I was grappling with in my mind.

Breakups provide us with a great emotional challenge and an abundance of grief. When confronted with a breakup, we wonder how to deal with it, so let’s discover the stoic way…

It happens to all of us.

Happily coupled, hand in hand, side by side, enjoying the warmth and companionship that your partner provides to you, and you give to them. You are black-out drunk with the emotion that we call love, walking along while the light fades from the sky and dusk ensues, as you look up and gaze at the stars sparkling in the sky. At this moment, everything is in order.

Then, for whatever reason, perhaps a quarrel occurred, where you saw a different side to them, or an issue arose which highlighted the fact that you were both, despite the feeling of order and completeness, insubstantial, and predisposed to collapse and chaos.

You’re no longer drunk, you’re sober and awake, suddenly, to the reality that you are alone in this feeling of chaos, and you are drinking a dire cocktail of emotions, containing toxic jealousy, betrayal, wonder, desire and regret.

Chaos is the tail to the head, the yang to the yin, the right to left. Chaos is the opposite to order, and the state that nature fights every millisecond of its existence, in every shape and form, shaping it back into order.

So, how do you turn your feeling of chaos – this breakup, into order? By turning to our ancient friends – the stoics.

You’re in a hole, stop digging.

You’ve found yourself in a hole, the sand below your feet is sinking, and the walls are caving in. Do you carry on digging? Do you flail your arms around and scream and kick?

Well, I hope you don’t, because you’ll only find yourself digging deeper until there’s no way out, or so it seems.

It seems stupid, doesn’t it? However, this is what most of us do when something goes wrong.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, your actions are simply making the situation worse.

How does it help, to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them? – Seneca

When you’re in a negative situation, do everything in your control to not add negative emotions to it, too.

Don’t ring them 100 times, hoping for a path back in. Don’t download dating apps in the aim of replacing them. Don’t look to social media to solve your attention problems.

Stop looking. Stop digging. Simply, act.

We always have a choice, we always have something within our control that we can do to make the situation better.

Get active within your own rescue – if you care for yourself at all – and do it while you can!

– Marcus Aurelius

Wipe your nose.

During situations of chaos, in this case, a breakup, every atom in our existence wants to complain about how terrible it is and to wallow in self-pity.

We want to scream about how unfair this situation is. How we wish we did this or that differently. We think that things could have been different if we did it this way, or said something that way.

This is living in the past. This is wasting time.

It is easy to be angry. It is easy to be aggrieved and full of pity. It is easy to hide under the covers.

However, there are still things left in your control, and you should do something with them.

We cry to God Almighty, how can we escape this agony? Fool, don’t you have hands? Or could it be God forgot to give you a pair? Sit and pray your nose doesn’t run! Or, rather just wipe your nose and stop seeking a scapegoat.

– Epictetus

It’s okay to need help.

As I mentioned before, this pain happens to all of us.

Therefore, there are people that empathise with your situation and would be willing to help you climb out of this.

You don’t have to face this on your own. If you need help – just ask.

No one ever said you were born with all the tools you’d need to solve every problem you’d face. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

We are born helpless creatures, and our purpose is to arm ourselves with the tools that allow us to become useful, to ourselves and others.

Don’t be ashamed of needing help. You have a duty to fulfil just like a soldier on the wall of battle. So what if you are injured and can’t climb up without another soldier’s help?

– Marcus Aurelius

It is what it is.

Personally, I learned this lesson very early in life, through one of my first mentors.

It is one of the hardest lessons to learn, and also one of the hardest to stay consistent with.

It’s also how I explain stoicism to those that have never come across it.

Stoicism, first and foremost, teaches us that we can’t control anything outside of our control and choice.

Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquillity and outer effectiveness become possible.

– Epictetus

Extreme stoicism takes it a step further. Instead of simply accepting what happens, they urge us to actually enjoy what has happened, no matter what it is.

Nietzsche, many centuries later, packaged this idea and coined it in the phrase amor fati, meaning a love of fate.

Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.

– Epictetus