When you get into a solid, committed relationship, it doesn’t take long to feel like an “us”. You give people birthday presents from “us”, you go to parties as “we” and you face the world as a pair. When a relationship breaks down, you have to learn to be a “me” again and see yourself as “I”. It can feel like a real identity crisis. Then there are the adjustments you have to make in your mind over the future you imagined for yourself. If you had a life plan with your ex, then suddenly the future can look quite scary.
The feeling that you’ve lost a part of yourself is perfectly common, and research would suggest that the more invested you were in being an “us”, the more your sense of self will be affected. (Lewandowski, G. W., Aron, A., Bassis, S., & Kunak, J. 2006).
As part of a couple, you may have compromised some of your hobbies for something you both enjoyed together. Now might be a good time to rediscover some of those things. It could be joining a sports team, playing with a band, playing a games console, taking up dance classes, or even just spending more time with your friends. This isn’t about distracting yourself, but finding yourself again. You may want to try out some things that specifically did not interest your ex-partner.
If your partner was supportive and encouraging of your interests, it might feel like you have to start again with your self-confidence. Friends that knew you before your relationship will be very helpful as they can remind you that you were liked and loved before you were with your ex, and that you’re still loved without them.
One of the reasons self-identity can blur during a breakup is that – quite simply – you’ve been through an emotional ordeal which has left you feeling confused. Counsellors can be very good at helping you understand your own emotions and come to terms with any grief that you may be dealing with. A breakup can represent a big loss, and this can be very challenging to handle at any point in life. Counsellors can help you unpack these confused feelings as you deal with the emotional distress.
When going from “us” to “me”, it helps if you can loosen the emotional attachment to an ex-partner. One way to do this is to focus on new relationship options. This doesn’t have to mean starting a new relationship – research suggests that just having a positive outlook on potential future relationships can help reduce the attachment to previous partners (Spielmann, MacDonald, & Wilson, 2009).
The process of rediscovering yourself takes time, and you may also experience some unfamiliar emotional episodes (Slotter, Gardner & Finkel, 2010). On a positive note, the research says that any confusion won’t last forever and these feelings are likely to be temporary.