Put The Pen Down: Writing About Your Breakup Actually Makes It Harder To Get Over

December 5, 2012  |  

Source: Shutterstock

It took me 17  months to get over “him.” I know because I counted the number of months between the first emotion-laden piece I’d written about him (when I suspected he may be trouble) and the last (long after I discovered that “trouble” was a gross understatement).

He was the worst thing to ever happen to me and, in the words of The Decemberists, I wrote pages upon pages trying to rid him from my bones.

In the recap of that disastrous relationship, I don’t paint myself as blameless because I wasn’t. However, isn’t it true that “we all righteously recreate our self-image, diminishing our moral lapses and shabbier behaviors, in order to live with ourselves”?

I know that I made mistakes with him, the chiefest of which was falling for him in the first place, but through my writing I was able to analyze every aspect, question every moment, reimagine happier endings, finally accept the inevitable and ultimately gain closure – all without seeing him for months.

But what if I had never spent all of that time writing about him? Would I have been able to get over him sooner? A new study says yes.

According to The Atlantic, researchers at the University of Arizona hypothesized that focusing creative word vomit into narrative form could help patients with the highest tendency to ruminate about the past to pull themselves together and move on following divorce.

Instead, what they found was that scrawling out one’s feelings post-breakup can actually cause greater emotional distress months down the road, especially for people who already tend to overthink their relationships.

Once they got over their surprise, the researchers were able to go back and see how their findings actually make a lot of sense (or at least, they were able to spin it that way). “If you’re someone who tends to be totally in your head and go over and over what happened and why it happened, you need to get out of your head and just start thinking about how you’re going to put your life back together and organize your time.”

Darn. I was doing it wrong!

There were times that I suspected that my constant cryptic Facebook statuses, heavyhearted Facebook notes, heartsick poetry and the entire secret blogsite (55 despondent entries in total!) that I wrote about him weren’t as therapeutic as they were reinforcing negative feelings, but it definitely felt cathartic at the time.

What I find especially ironic is that though writing about him didn’t necessarily help me get over him, it did help me become a better writer. In fact, when I finally stopped writing about my pain – because I didn’t feel that pain anymore – I found it difficult to find inspiration.

As Adele, Keyshia Cole, Mariah Carey, Candace Bushnell and the fictional Carrie Bradshaw illuminate, sadness sells books, blogs and records. Heck, even Rihanna found mainstream fame after her highly-publicized incident with Chris Brown.

However, if you’re not interested in profiting from your pain, not encouraged by the knowledge that you’ve written something some other miserable girl can relate to, nor have any desire to prolong your suffering, then there is a tried-and-true way for even the most over-analyzing and obsessive woman to get over a guy.

Pretend he doesn’t exist.

It seems so basic, but it truly works. If you’re serious about letting this guy go, now is not the time to text him feigning interest in how his cousin’s neighbor’s dog is doing. Shut him out of your life. Stop wondering where he is, what he’s doing or who he’s with. Stop checking his Facebook page, hide his updates on your newsfeed and quit reading his Twitter timeline/mentions (unfollow or mute anyone who retweets him into your timeline!). Stop following him on Instagram, stop checking his location on FourSquare and remove him from your Gchat list. Stop asking about him. Stop listening to music that makes you think about him or watching movies that make you miss him. Tell your friends not to speak his name to you. Notice whenever you’re unnecessarily and obsessively thinking about him (whether out of anger or sadness) and immediately will yourself to stop. Oh, and quit writing about him.

How will you know when you’ve succeeded? When you look up one day and realize you’ve created a happy life for yourself that doesn’t include a single thought of — or word written about — “him”.

What do you think? Are you surprised that researchers found writing about a breakup doesn’t help you move past it? Do you think pretending a guy doesn’t exist is the best way to get over him?

 Follow Alissa on Twitter @AlissaInPink or check out her blog This Cannot Be My Life

 Photo courtesy of Shutterstock 

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  • bluekissess

    This is bull. People need to do what’s best for them. I’ve personally used the writing technique and it worked. Please don’t base this on the study of five people these “researchers” based there data on.

  • aliengirl

    It is hardest in the very beginning to get over a breakup. Writing can therapeutic for the first few weeks, but I think the “no contact” rule is the best thing. Cry your heart out for a week or two. Put away everything that reminds you of the person. Disconnect from the person on FB, and delete his phone number from your devices. Go out and have fun, don’t stay home and mope. Look your damn finest – lose that 10 pounds you’ve been meaning to, indulge in some retail therapy, get a new hairdo. Reconnect with your own fabulousness.

    • I agree with this advice. Writing is therapeutic if you do it with the mindset that “I’m writing this letter to him to express all the hurt, disappointment and pain he’s caused me. Then I’m going to rip it up, burn it and move on with my life.” I mean if you’re creating a blogsite to write your daily musings about your ex that’s too much and not healthy. The best way to get over a break up is to rediscover what it is about you that is wonderful, and deserving of love.

      • pretty1908

        exactly , if you have a positive attitude and desire a change/goal then change will happen, and you will get past whatever the issue is.

    • Pivyque

      Exactly. Writing always helped me get over it. I agree with you about the no contact thing as well. My friend blocked a guy, changed her number and gave him the new number. She said it was because she was “over blocking him”. What does that mean? Lol She needs to write!

  • aliengirl

    I tend to disagree with this post wholeheartedly. There is some “rule of thumb” that says it takes 1/2 of the time you spent with someone to truly get over them. I think that is too long for just a dating situation where no kids are involved. For me it has always varied and my relationships ranged from 3 months – 3 years so far. Writing down my thoughts has ALWAYS helped me to sort my thoughts. 17 months sounds like a very long time to get over someone, but I guess it would depend on whether you were married, how many years you were together, if you have children together, etc. I think if you can’t get over it after 3 months and are still so sad over it, it may be time to seek professional help from a therapist or a counciling from church.

  • Sophia

    I really love Madame Noire! It seems like your post come right on time for me! Just this morning I was writing about a guy, asking God how did I let myself get caught up once again, and here this blog appears! I’m so grateful I stumbled upon Madame Noire. Its always entertaining, relevant, and uplifting, and heart felt. Keep up the good work, you never know how one simple thing you write can change someones day/outlook on life for the better. I know this blog has helped me.

  • pretty1908

    While i get what the author is trying to say , i have to disagree. Journal writing is and can be carthartic to a person if they use it properly. there is no right way to journal, but it can be damaging if the person doesn’t have an emotional goal or reason for doing so. Personally, I have found that writing helps me process a lot of emotions i am afraid to share. I encourage everyone to get their feelings out whatever why they choose.