How do I rebuild my self-esteem after a break-up?
July 9, 2008 12:44 PM   Subscribe

How can I rebuild my self-esteem after a break-up?

A guy I really liked, whom I'd dated for a few months, recently broke up with me (I'm a woman in her late 20s.) I took it hard, but we've remained friends. He is dealing with several serious personal issues outside of my control, and my friends have repeatedly assured me that I'm an awesome person and that the break-up was not my fault. But I'm still struggling with feelings of "I'm somehow deficient as a person, and that's why my romantic relationships don't work out."

Some background: I have been in one long-term relationship (lasting about two years) that ended because we simply grew apart/lost the "spark." Since then, I've only been seriously interested in three other guys, all of whom I dated for less than six months. In each case, the guy I was dating broke up with me - although in one case, the guy contacted me a couple of years later to tell me that he'd been dealing with some emotional problems at the time and that the break-up wasn't my fault whatsoever. I should note that, until recently, I haven't been especially active on the dating scene, assuming that the right person would find me at the right time. In a number of instances, I went out on one or two dates with a guy and subsequently decided he just wasn't right for me.

I know that it takes two people to make a relationship work, and that you can't necessarily fault only one person for a break-up. I have a great, close-knit group of friends who assure me that I'm smart, funny and attractive, and that some day I'll find the right guy. I assume that these excellent, socially adept, well-adjusted people wouldn't be such good friends with me if I were unlovable or seriously screwed up in some way. But for some reason, I'm having a hard time getting over this most recent break-up, and I can't shake this onslaught of low self-esteem. How can I rebuild a positive self-image?
posted by zembla3 to Human Relations (17 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe this is an ass thing to say, but lose the guy entirely. Having him around can't be good for either of you. Especially "out of the gate."

I've tried this with every woman that's broken up with me, and it's never worked long term, and short term wasn't good for anyone involved.

Also, the idea that the "right one will come along" won't get you very far. Just like you point out that is takes two to make a relationship work, you also have to work at getting a relationship if you really want one.

But to answer the question: Give it time. And I would dedicate some of that time to activities I excel at. Get some art under your belt, or cooking, or writing, or whatever you like to do. Success in other areas will bleed over into other parts of your life, but having tangible accomplishments will give you something to be proud of.

It's also ok to just feel down about yourself for a while. You're allowed to be mopey and self conscious after a breakup.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:03 PM on July 9, 2008

Enough of this guy for now, you don't need him as a friend.
Start hanging out with people who don't have "serious personal issues" and start hanging out with more guys who would want to date you. (Go out and meet new people!)

Do whatever you like to do, make sure you are going out where you will see fresh faces and don't just stay in your friend group when you go out. Try to mingle. You'll find a lot of people (some desirable to you, others not) who want to talk to you. Don't get stuck on this one guy and this one relationship that didn't work out.
You need to spend time with people who make you feel good right now.
Friendship with him can come later if you really miss it.
posted by rmless at 1:14 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't engage in "personalization" which is the assumption that because things didn't work out, it is because there was something wrong with you.

Plus you are human. That means some people aren't going to dig you. That does not mean that there is some sort of "general worthiness" which is reduced when a single person decides they aren't into you.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:17 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do Good Things
posted by low affect at 1:21 PM on July 9, 2008

I know that it takes two people to make a relationship work, and that you can't necessarily fault only one person for a break-up.

You also shouldn't necessarily fault anybody for the breakup. Breakups happen for infinite reasons, and - when you consider that most people have a number of relationships over their lifetimes - the truth is that the vast majority of relationships don't work out. So thinking along the lines of "oh no! all of my relationships have ended!" is kind of ridiculous, unless you think that anyone who doesn't marry their high school sweetheart is seriously screwed up.
posted by moxiedoll at 1:24 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree, keeping the guy around as a friend is only slowing you down when it comes to finding yourself post-breakup. I speak from experience. When I broke up with a girlfriend of mine a few years back, we remained friends for long after, but I still carried a thing for her that whole time. We 'saw' each other a few times during that time, which didn't help me get over her one bit. It was only when I realised that I was spiraling into depression at not getting her back completely that I realised I needed to stop being friends with her. So I did (and it was hard to do) but after a few months things started to feel better. Within a year I was over her and seeing someone else; a someone else I'm now engaged to and getting married to next year.

So in short, you'll rebuild your self-image and your self-esteem when you break away from this guy. It might sound completely selfish to do so, but you owe it to yourself, your mental health and even your future happiness to do so.
posted by Effigy2000 at 1:34 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks Effigy2000 for saying what I was trying to say in a more positive way.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:40 PM on July 9, 2008

yeah n'thing complete break. I just went through a 6 month cycle of 'break up/get back together/let's just be friends," repeated in every possible permutation.

Bottom line: she wasn't a good girlfriend for me, and an even worse friend. having her around in one form or another was a crutch for not wanting to be alone. In retrospect, i wish I had cut her out of my life completely six months ago.

It sucked for about a week, but I kept telling myself I was a worthwhile person and a lot of people care about me. It seems to have sunk in, so I bet it will for you too. Just don't keep him around as a crutch.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:44 PM on July 9, 2008

As for keeping the guy as a friend, are you really helped by this?
posted by Ironmouth at 1:47 PM on July 9, 2008

Just remember that you don't need to judge yourself strictly by your relationship history. I've fallen into this trap on more than one occasion after a breakup. Focus on doing things you enjoy. I would also repeat the advice of the previous responses urging you to not have contact with your ex, at least for several months.
posted by number9dream at 1:48 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go the gym, start doing yoga, or dance or something physical that you enjoy. In the short term it pumps your brain full of endorphins which make you happy. In the long term you will just start to look and feel better which will help your confidence and feeling desirable/worthy of someone else's affections. It worked wonders for me. I'm now in a fantastic relationship after getting out of a seven year one.
posted by skewedoracle at 2:00 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Since then, I've only been seriously interested in three other guys, all of whom I dated for less than six months. In each case, the guy I was dating broke up with me -

Can I make a suggestion that you expand your dating pool to include guys that you are only somewhat interested or on the fence about, and that you not be afraid to break up with them if they do not work out? I think it might be good for you to date more without attaching as much or as quickly, in order to get out there and make sure you understand what is really important to you in a relationship. I think then you will be more sure of yourself and what you need, and less likely to take a breakup as a personal blow rather than something that naturally comes with the territory of dating.

And, in case it helps, fwiw, you are light years ahead of where I was at your age. (And I'm now happily married.)

Good luck.
posted by onlyconnect at 2:09 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Rule 1: Do not look to others for validation that you are a beautiful person.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:57 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am supporting moxiedoll's sentiments - when a relationship ends, it is not always one party's fault. If a dog person and a cat person are together, and suddenly the dog person realizes they need to be with a dog person, and dumps the cat person, whose fault is it? Nobody's. If the dog person is a jerk and says something like "you're just too much of a cat person for me", then they are either a jerk or clueless, and you're better off without them.
posted by mrgoldenbrown at 3:11 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

The only thing that has ever helped me get over negative feelings following a breakup was cutting ties with the ex. "Friendship" was just an excuse to stay close. It's hard to complete sever your relationship with someone you used to care about, but you will be much healthier in the end.
posted by katillathehun at 4:20 PM on July 9, 2008

My advice is Bukowskian: "Amazing how grimly we hold on to our misery, the energy we burn fueling our anger. Amazing how one moment, we can be snarling like a beast, then a few moments later, forgetting what or why. Not hours of this, or days, or months, or years of this... But decades. Lifetimes completely used up, given over to the pettiest rancor and hatred. Finally, there is nothing here for death to take away."

When I catch myself wallowing I shake my head in amazement and try to remember this quote.
posted by pwally at 5:37 PM on July 9, 2008 [13 favorites]

I'd try thinking about why you didn't like certain people, and particularly, why you have really clicked with the people you really clicked with. I bet it's for really weird reasons. I bet the reasons you liked someone relate to who you are as much as who they are.

So then, who cares? You didn't remind this guy of the person he dreamed of when he was nine. You weren't [bratty] in the way he cannot resist indulging because it's like [his little sister]. You don't embody his repressed desire to [quit his job and travel with folk festivals / be an arcane science geek]. I know that it's tempting to view it this way, but in reality, you not matching someone's particular desires doesn't say anything about your quality as a person. You sound level-headed and positive. Just hang in there.
posted by salvia at 7:01 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

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