11 Breakup Survival Tips (That Don’t Involve Positive Thinking)

Breakups are as much a part of the human experience as a breathing oxygen and not licking cactuses. It’s actual science that going through a breakup does the same thing to your body as withdrawal from an addiction, activating the part of the brain associated with motivation, reward and addiction cravings.

As well as this, emotional pain triggers the same pathways in the brain as physical pain. 

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it will get better. 

If you’re going through a breakup now you’ll probably want to file that under ‘B‘ for ‘But you don’t get it – no-body has ever lost like I’ve lost.’  Yes. It’s highly possible that humankind is unfamiliar with the level of wretched misery you’ve fallen to now, but read on anyway, because the ugly truth is that the only way through a breakup is straight through the middle. Here’s how to start with that:

  1. Don’t make any big decisions.   

    Tattoos, relationships, work and cutting off your locks. It might seem seem like a good idea to get ‘Just Breathe,’ or ‘Live Life‘ tattooed in times roman 120pt on your forearm but seriously, if you need these sort of reminders so badly as to have them embedded into your skin, then you’re in no position to be making life-lasting decisions. They might all turn out to be great decisions one day, but make them when Rhianna stops singing ‘Love the way you lie’ in your head. ‘Just gonna stand there and watch me bu…’ Don’t. Just don’t.

  2. Unfriend him (or her) on Facebook.   Do it right now. We’ll wait.

    He’s not going to be posting sad faced ‘missing you’ selfies from the places you used to go – and anything else, you don’t need to know about. Keeping up the follow will swallow you whole. The only reason to have him there is to check he’s not getting on with his life too happily without you. He will be. So will you, without him, just as soon as you stop the Facebook stalk. If you’re going to keep him friended, just rip your heart from your chest, hand it over and tell him to squeeze. It will hurt a lot less.  

  3. Exercise. Just not at the gym he goes to. At the same time he goes there.

    Possibly the only exercise you’ll feel like doing is hurling ‘that’ photo of both of you across the room but if you can manage something more active (though perhaps less cathartic) you will feel better afterwards. Cortisol, the stress hormone, will be making itself at home inside you. One way to take the fire out of cortisol is to exercise. Exercise will also stimulate the brain to release endorphins (the feel good chemicals) and you’ll already be short on them so you’ve got nothing to lose. You don’t have to work up a sweat – going for a walk will do. A caveat though: If the activity involves walking slowly past his house or climbing up the stormwater pipe to get a look into his window, it doesn’t count as exercise. It counts as stalking. 

  4. Get rid of texting capacity if you’re going to have a drink. A couple of drinks won’t make you Shakespeare. They just won’t.

    Alcohol is a depressant, so if you’re on a downhill slide it’s best to stay away from it. If you are going to have a drink though, protect yourself at all costs from the temptation to drunk text. You’re human. You’ll want to. But don’t fall for the courage that comes in a bottle of decent pinot. It’s been fed by slightly hammered wisdom and it won’t end well. Never. Ever. Just give your phone to a friend you trust and tell her to feed it to a pack of wolves before even thinking of giving it back to you. Unless you’re totally – totally – sober. You won’t need to explain why. She’ll get it. 

  5. Connect with friends and family. 

    The real ones. Not the ones who you haven’t heard from since the last crisis. The real ones who will sit through ‘Love Actually’ with you for the 37th time and eat microwaved Indian from the dodgy plastic container it came in last night because you used the last clean plate three days ago. One of the reasons a breakup hurts so much is because it messes around with the primal need to be connected to other people. You might not be able to be with the one person you want to be with, but spending time with your tribe will feed the human need for connection and will bring a much needed boost of oxytocin (the happy hormone) you’ve been missing. And those real friends? On the way out the door they’ll pop the dishwasher on before telling you they’ve organised for both of you to do salsa dancing classes to get you out of the house. Don’t argue. Just go. There’s a good chance you’re starting to smell like a week-long temper and it will only get worse.

  6. Give your bedroom a bit of a reno. And get some sleep.

    Buy new sheets, new pjs and new scented candles for your bedroom – nothing that reminds you of him. Get rid of anything that makes you think of what you’ve lost. And then remind yourself that you haven’t lost it because it wasn’t there. Otherwise he would be too. Shake away those sepia dusted images of the two of you at your almost-but-not-quite spring wedding staring longingly at each other or the buffet. Keep your ‘OMG My Wedding Yay’ Pinterest board though. It will still come in handy one day. If you want it to. It just won’t be with him – and that will be okay, you’ll see. And stop falling asleep on the couch in your day clothes. 

  7. Eat Healthy. Or don’t. Whatever. Just don’t keep it going for too long.

    You’re doing it tough.  You’ve got enough to worry about – you don’t need to get sick on top of everything else. Give your body what it needs to function. Eat healthy and eat regularly. Of course, the occasional crowd-pleaser bucket of fried chicken won’t hurt. Everything in moderation. Or in a delicious crunchy coating.

  8.  He’s gone. He’s not coming back. But you are.

    Every breakup survival needs a breakup comeback. When the time is right, plan for yours. Do something you wouldn’t have done while you were with him – and no – that doesn’t mean hooking up with Russell, the 40-something from accounts with the earring and gold bracelet who threw you a cheesey line at office drinks. He’s not the only man to own a guitar and being able to play the first four bars of The Simpsons doesn’t make him a musician. Leave Russell where you found him – possibly texting Shona, Shaniqua and Shaniya – and instead learn Italian, cook French, buy new lingerie (with you in mind, because you deserve it), plan a girls trip to Morocco – or if you’re budget’s gasping for breath, a girls’ trip to Target for your new lacy knickers will do fine.

  9.  Don’t meet up for coffee as friends. Actually, don’t do anything as friends.

    There is nothing in this ‘let’s be friends’ thing for you. No doubt you’re a mature, emotionally together lady-human who can deal with this just fine, and deal with it you will … until he wants to introduce you to his new friend Sally – ‘Sal’ – the pilates instructor who snacks on kale and beetroot juice and drops a quick line about the movie they saw last night together. Together. As in, to-geth-er. Rational heads don’t necessarily follow broken hearts. There. I said it. So when they go to the movies, you (quietly) go to ‘What. A. Jackass. Did I ever really know him no I don’t think I did because we’ve been untogether for three months now which is practically five minutes in breakup years and now he’s watching movies with some girl and that can only mean that they’re shagging and she says his name like they’re practically engaged and I can’t believe this did he ever really care about me at awwwwwwlllll?’ Sound familiar? Nope? Well maybe just me then. At any rate, you loved him once remember. And he loved you. It’s hard to go backwards from that.

    If you can take the dignified high road and forgive and forget and be friends, good for you, but you might be heading for trouble. You’ve been there. Done that. Nothing to gain from doing it again. In this sort of relationship, someone will always want more. And it probably won’t be him – especially if it’s only been weeks since he was outta there. If he is the one that wants more, then still ‘no’. A few weeks is never enough for him to ”find himself’.  He’s not a remote that slipped behind the couch. It’s never that simple. Never.

    Of course, if you have kids together you will have to stay on friendly terms (at least in front of the kids). It might not be easy but you’re a woman who will always love your kids more than you’ll want to hate any man so you’ll be fine. You’re phenomenal. And that’s why you’re his loss. Remember that.

  10.  Look for what it can give you.

    Sometimes when you’re down it’s because there’s something down there you’re meant to find. As part of your breakup survival, look for the gems. What can you learn? Why did you choose the relationship? What’s the wisdom that’s left for you when everything is said and done? Everyone comes into our lives to learn from us or to teach us. What have you learnt? The fact that it’s over doesn’t mean it wasn’t important. It just means it’s run its course and it’s no longer the right one. Use it as a step up to the one that is.

  11.  You only have to get through today.

    Don’t think too far ahead. It still has the imprints of you and him with your perfectly behaved children, that spring wedding and you running that marathon (actually, keep that one – just don’t have him at the finish line ready to receive you and your gazelle-esque stride). Just don’t go there. Unless it’s to make real plans for something fun. You only have to get through today. You can deal with tomorrow when it gets to you. Just put one foot in front of the other and it will get easier. Promise.

Above all else remember that the path to wisdom and a happy life is often littered with shards of broken hearts, including our own. And keep going. You’ll get there. 

What are your breakup survival remedies? Let us know in the comments below …

154 Comments

Rui

She’s on her hometown for 2 months now, I let her be to fully enjoy her leave, but one time I was shocked, she sent me her photo with friend lesbian holding her too close. She’s with old friends and drunk like she didn’t care in the world and she handed her phone to her friends who have seen my negative reaction about the photo, they reacted in return in messenger. I felt betrayed for them all to sneak into my private message that’s only for my gf. My distrust was triggered, I’m not a possesive person but I argue that she has to know some limitations now that she’s not single anymore. The next day she posted something to pacify her friends that they won’t drop them just because her relationship is “jealous” with her female friends. I felt the rage of anger for such actions… My fb is now up for deletion, I don’t want to know what’s goin on anymore. I felt so disrespected. She’s supposed to come back after a month, and the pain is dragging now. I keep myself busy improving my fish pond, but I’m always reminded me of her in this room. It’s hopeless for us to be together again, she’s more open with her friends than with me. I just want to get this over and pack all her things. I feel so miserable seeing those.

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Hope

My boyfriend and I broke up a few days before our 3 1/2 years together. I knew it was coming. He knew it was coming. He broke up with me but I did not fight him on it, thus making it mutual. He said he does not feel as though he can be affectionate towards me right now. In the past year, he has stopped posting about me, bringing me around his friends, and stopped being as ‘obsessed’ with me. Which in turn, made me doubt myself and I became very insecure and less confident. He said he still wants to see me again and reassured me that it wouldn’t be the last time we see one another. We face-timed a couple of nights later and he said the possibility of us getting back together is slim, which makes me hold onto that hope. I feel as though he looks at relationships in a very black and white way, which is bad. Relationships have a lot of gray areas and he needs to understand that. I started therapy a few days before the breakup to start working on myself and help the relationship. Once we see one another again, I want him to see that growth and feel more secure in the relationship. I also feel like we won’t know until we see one another what we want. I think it is easy for him to say that his policy is that when people break up, it is for a reason and they shouldn’t go back on that, but I feel like/hope that once we see one another again, we won’t be able to walk away. I made a joke about him wanting to kiss me and he said, “well, yeah low-key.” So there is still that strong attraction there. I could use some advice, though.

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Ashley

My boyfriend and me were together for 3 years a few months ago he started getting protective over his phone and when I went on vacation he met up with a girl , he answered the phone accidentally and I heard them , he lied to me and told me it was his mom he dumped me and told me my insecurities ruined our relationship I begged him to stay with me but he was really
Cold toward me like if he wanted nothing to do with me , the next day he sent me messages saying he loved me and wanted to see me when I came back and declined and we haven’t talked in a month , I keep blaming myself we have broken up before and he always reaches out to me , he does post on Snapchat sometimes throwing subs at me

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Rita

My boyfriend of 1 year and 3 months broke up with me yesterday, because he said he can’t give me what I need (more attention, affection and time) and that my trust issues pushed him away, he also said we are too different. I feel so horrible, my trust issues only involved one area: his exes. I felt like he hasn’t gotten over them and felt the need to talk to them. Sometimes he would be so much more comforting and nicer to them than to me. So it got my mind to overthink everything he did and sometimes I would accuse him doing something that he did not actually do, only I overthought it. I do truly love him, and it hurts. He tells me not to blame myself, because it’s both of our faults, but I feel like it’s mostly mine. How can I get over this feeling and the break-up?

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Martha

Rita, same thing happened to me or at least something similar. I wish I could give you answers as I’m going through the same thing right now. I know its hard though. My boyfriend was hung up on his ex and would compare me a lot to her. His obsession with her was so bad that on Valentines Day he broke into her house drunk. Of course my stupid self stayed. Then eventually bc of that event that insecurity led to more because the only thing he was concerned with was not how it impacted us but how it impacted him alone…career wise and such. I overthought a lot and would bring these insecurities to the table which he took and ran away. When I think of it now and what I learned, if this guy cared for you he would have made you feel secure in the relationship. He would have made you feel loved. He didn’t though. Take this as a life lesson and find someone that loves you and makes you to not have to feel those insecurities or drive you to the point of overthinking. Do as much self healing as much as you can so you can bring your best self into the next relationship or if anything know when to walk away when you see the red flags such as this. Best of luck!

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Liv

Hi Rita,
If your not already, then start following Matthew Hussey on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube. The videos he posts will help you understand that the breakup wasn’t your fault.

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bev

i soo needed this real no bull read
one year out of a blindsided separation been together 27 years.boy its hard even now but articles like these give me stamina.thankyou

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Christine

I left my partner of 14 years in August 2020 because he was secretly meeting up with his ex-wife from 30 years ago that recently moved back to this State. She also happens to be my cousin… I was devastated. She left him 30+ years ago for another man, left her son behind and a lot of heartache. She returned and started giving him ‘extra attention’ that I sensed at family events. He denied it but I felt him pushing me away. I ended up moving out, hoping it would wake him up to see what he was loosing. After several weeks he started to make contact again – and our relationship rekindled but not living together. He asked me to go on a holiday he had planned for himself, I agreed to go but asked if he had invited his ex – he said no. On our last night away of a lovely holiday, I happened to look at his phone and found evidence of lots of contact by phone and an email from him inviting her on this holiday. I confronted him and he had no option to eventually admit this. I felt humiliated and 2nd best. Despite all this our relationship continued on a part-time basis but once you lose the trust it’s hard to get that back. We continued on this part-time relationship. It turns out that is how he wanted to continue and not live together. I couldn’t handle the yoyoing of it all and called it quits just before NYE. I’m still heartbroken that it didn’t work, makes it particularly hard because a cousin involved… They haven’t taken the relationship any further but I can’t seem to let go but I am trying very hard this time to cut the cord and not contact. It is so hard but helped to offload. Thanks for listening. Nothing is ever straight forward and he has had a lot going on this year and he has finally taken the step to get help for depression. Am I wrong to feel hopeful that once he gets in a better headspace that there might be a chance for us???

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Rich

Christine,
I can answer your question: yes, you are wrong to think that his self help will result in a different person than the one who left you for your cousin. I’m so sorry. I can tell you that he has given you the greatest gift. He has given you the gift of you. Look in the mirror and see the lovely woman you are. You deserve the love you want. You deserve to be treated with complete dignity and respect. Don’t settle for less. Choose you, Christine and love and happiness will come. You have to be in allowance of it. To be in allowance you must believe you deserve it. To believe you deserve it, you must love yourself.

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Cat

My ex and I had been together for about 8 months and i was happy because i had thought i had finally found the one. I genuinely loved them. He showed me what a healthy relationship is supposed to look like and i couldnt be more grateful. Recently on New Years Eve he asked for a break because he was unhappy in our relationship. I feel sorry for not being able to give everything he needed emotionally especially since I started a new job. My schedule there is completely new to my old job so I was just starting to adjust my time for everything. During that time he felt lonely even though i would try to hangout with him as much as I could and I would text him and message him everyday. But i guess things felt different so then while I was crying by myself on New Years Eve by myself at 11pm I realized that it was time to break things off and now I feel lonely myself. He hasnt answered my break up text yet and I dont think he will until after the break he wanted to take so wish me luck. Also, I know its says not be befriend your ex but he means so much to me. Hes my best friend and has always been there for me. Is that a good ideas though? How is it like to have an ex as a friend? This is also the 2nd break weve been on since the last break he took he was deciding whether he was gonna breakup with me or not before he left in august 2021 but he decided to try long distance with me.

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Shaun

Just don’t. It’s not worth it. Your heart will heal no matter how close the relationship was. Don’t try to be friends. If he was so uncertain about you that he needed to take two breaks from you then you should be certain about him- he’s not the one for you and you can do better than him. You deserve more. You deserve someone who doesn’t make you feel doubtful, who makes you feel secure, and someone who you know will be there for you. As the article says, being friends works fine and dandy until they do or say something that will utterly crush you again. Don’t make yourself go through a break up twice. I know it’s hard, but ripping off the band aid once is far easier than reapplying it and ripping it over again and again. You will be fine. I can guarantee you that. It’s ok to feel hurt, lonely, sad, angered, confused. Just take it one day at a time and do what makes you feel better- while trying your best to be healthy. Find the balance in your life that works, remember what makes you happy, and live each day anew and you will be happy again. Not all relationships last the test of time, and if he broke up with you on New Year’s Eve, take this as a new opportunity to breathe again and rediscover yourself. This will be a stepping stone for your own self improvement- and it’s perfect timing for a new year and a new you.

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PJ345

My ex and I broke up after 2 months of dating.. I know that’s a short time but I was crushing on him BAD for 6months before dating. as a person he was everything i wanted looks and personality wise. I ended up feeling unhappy in the relationship because I would overthink a lot, felt he started to lack on effort and saying romantic stuff to me, and over a relationship with a friend of his i was uncomfortable with. I know we broke up for a reason, but it just hurts when I still want him and just wish that he was capable of loving me like I wanted to be. I work with him, and we both said “we should be friends” im just currently suffering now and going through so many mood swings. I have no one close to me who can support me through this, I don’t know what to do. my heart hurts, badly.

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Dee

Week before Christmas. LTR live-in (11 years). Abruptly broke up tonight, even though I have been wanting to end things for quite some time. Had intention of breakup after holidays, but HE asked me if I wanted him to leave (living in MY house) and I shocked him by saying YES. He has an adult daughter whom he dotes on. She blew all her money on booze and now her Daddy supports her, even though she works. She manipulates him constantly, but he just can’t see it. The final straw was me refusing to allow her to come here for Christmas because of the COVID19 pandemic. Her job exposes her to many people, many positives. I didn’t feel safe allowing her to come for Christmas and my fiancé did not want to see reason. There are so many issues, yet he is unwilling to talk about them. Constantly wants me to do things for him— phone calls, internet research, insurance quotes, etc. Feel like his employee. All in all, breakup had been coming for a long time. But was trying to get through the holidays, before our breakup would render him homeless. Our situation is hopeless because we cannot communicate, on ANY level. I’m sad, but also relieved it’s finally over.

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Jas

he broke up with me because he thought his best friend, i didnt so he broke up with me for no reason and i loved him. he asked to be friends what do i do?

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Liebe

Personally I wouldn’t be friends with him. It extends the pain you’re already feeling from losing that relationship. It’ll make you hold onto hope when there maybe isn’t anything to hold on to.

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Wind

I am reading reading, reading, everything right now. for me it was not a romantic relationship though … kind of was and he gave me mixed signals. but he was my best friend and comrade. we went through a tough time together and were there for each other. but now that everything is fine he said I am allowed to die since he doesnt need me any more. I am confused as to… what should I have done? he has a girlfriend now and said this is it. was he expecting something more? but losing my best friend is so much tougher…. it just feels like the whole world abandoned me. how am I going to get old with not one soul to trust? I feel like a dog who was thrown out of a moving car to th side of the road. I have no strength. but Im reading, reading, trying to understand, trying to find the power to keep going.

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Audrey

I have just been broken up with for the third time by the same man whom I have been with for a year and a half. I also work with him and have to see him everyday. He is an alcoholic and broke up for good reason because of it. I knew it was probably coming, but I am still hurting greatly and feel so utterly lonely. I suddenly have way too much time and no energy. I feel like my head is detached and wont work right. I have so much emotion. Yet he seems okay. I struggle to keep my mind busy because not doing so hurts too much. What is this life we live? What is the purpose for all the pain? I started dating him as I was getting divorced 2 years ago. I’m about to graduate with my Associates degree. I’ve moved back with my parents. I’m 34 years old. So many changes. So many struggles. My heart is so heavy.

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Brooke

My biggest question, my most troubling why, is if I loved this person so deeply, truly fought to have and fought to keep this person, what does that say about me? My choices reflect my needs and my needs reflect my worth, so why did I choose someone who is incredibly unstable, to the extent of being unwell? Why did I try to integrate this person into my family with two little kids? How did I let myself depend on someone financially and emotionally who from the start was intensely undependable? The bond between us was so intense. I welded myself to a person who, when he brought me joy, did it magnificently; he made me Helen of Troy, but when he disappointed it’s the stuff of comedy routines. It’s so unkind to be absurd. Am I inherently unstable? Why did I tolerate this? These wild swings? Why do I still crave him? Despite the wreckage? It makes me fear my judgment, what I might love next, and what makes me capable of being treated like this. I grieve most this rising knowledge that I will never be happy. There are plenty of other guys out there who will mistreat me if that’s what I’m into. They need only be sexy, creative, witty, and intensely bright, and eager to oscillate between treating me like fetid garbage and Lady Gaga. I woke up, and realized I am Courtney Love. Except he’s still out there.

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Rich

Brooke,
I know it’s been over a year and for your sake I hope you have answered your own questions. However, if you have not than I can guide you a bit… you are dealing with childhood trauma as well as an anxious attachment style. I know this because I have been healing both and have spent hours and hours reading, writing, and talking about it. I cannot get into all the details but if you search the terms you will get all the info you need. The short answer to your questions is that you will find partners who share your trauma and either a. Try to fix them or b. Have them fix you. The problem is they have the same trauma so have none of the tools to do that. Neither of you get fixed and the relationship collapses. You will inexplicably want that person even though the relationship was terrible. That is how you know that it was a healing cycle and not a relationship built on healthy love. Your relationships are mirrors and what you get from that person is all you can give. They reflect your own unresolved issues. Learn the lessons and heal before repeating the cycle with someone else. Lastly, the anxious attachment style causes you to hang on tightly as they reject you, so it will take you much longer to let go. You may have noticed that your exes all have moved on before you could. Anxious attachment will seek out dismissive-avoidant. I’m so sorry you are going through this. Truly. But I promise that if you address these issues in yourself and find the love that you already have inside that you WILL find that unconditional love in another. Be strong, Brooke, and know that you are loved.

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Deena

I don’t even know where to begin. I have been in what I suspect is a mentally and emotionally abusive relationship for a little over a year which has finally come to a very painful end. The entire relationship I spent trying to prove my worth and value to this person with them constantly criticizing me. They would tell me that I am boring, I have no goals, I am not passionate etc. in addition to them constantly insinuating that I am dumb and all that. It wasn’t all bad. It did come across like they were truly trying to help me be a better person. Anyway due to unforeseen circumstances I fell into depression. At that point I just knew it over for me as I had been hanging by a loose thread anyway. I had to tell him I was unable to give him what he wants from me right now and I did hope he would stay and give me more time to get back on my feet. He chose to leave and expose the private reason I was depressed to his entire family. Devastated is an understatement for how I feel. I would have never predicted that my life could unravel with such a series of unfortunate events. I don’t know how I could ever be happy again. I am so traumatized by life. So much loss all at the same time. Every step I take I hear his voice “be more fun! Show me you’re passionate! Impress me!”. The feeling of worthlessness is something that nobody will ever fully understand. I’m not sleeping. In addition I need to spend lots of money and time to fix the issue that resulted in me being depressed. I have so much guilt and regret and I am just a shell of my former self. I will never forget how low I feel right now. I pray I make it to the other side.

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Mercedes N

I’m going through a break up right now and reading your post actually gives me strength for me and you. Only because I know you will get past this, pain doesn’t last forever and everything on this planet is temporary especially emotions. You don’t think your strong enough to pass this phase but you are and eventually you will have no choice but to let go of the pain in the same sense you had to let go of your relationship. Nothing happens on OUR Time just because we want it to. There is a very valuable lesson for you in this which is why you are STUCK, A lesson that’s bigger than the relationship it’s self. After reading this you made me realize how I MUST SOUND LOL, Just like you. But without even knowing you I see the light at the end of the tunnel, which means that my light will come soon too. Stay strong, we have our whole lives ahead of us don’t stay stuck in the moment…especially a bad one lol.

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Teresa

He is a narcissist. Read everything you can on narcissistic personality disorder. Put your running shoes on and don’t look back. You are lucky to have escaped him.

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Imelda k

I know how low you feel because i’m going through the same thing and all i wanna do is dissapear to another continet if possible…but one day at a time we will get to the other side happy and peaceful.hang on

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Shane

We we’re just together for 3 months compared to others that was been on a long term relationships that was ended but heck, why am I feeling this way. When throughout that relationship I was the only one suffering. He was my crush and everything just happen so fast that I didn’t even notice. I got pregnant but the only thing that I hear from him is he will think first leaving me behind. At first I understand him or I did try to understand him. I don’t even know why I love him when all he did was break my heart. I’m 5 months pregnant know and I’m just taking care of it myself without his help and even support which I told him so. He is the most ungrateful man I ever know but why do I still love him despite of that. It is so frustrating because I ended up stalking his facebook and stuff like that and when he texted me I just got excited and have my hopes up again even though I know it will just end up me hurting myself. I’m so stressed and depressed by this already and the only thing that keeps me going is the child that I’m bearing . I don’t really know what to do know or I’ll say I know what to do but it is so hard for me to do it. 🙁

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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