No matter how much time has passed since your breakup, getting over your anger at an ex can be difficult. Even if your animosity toward them is totally valid, stewing in post-breakup bitterness sucks. And unfortunately, it can often be more damaging to you and your mental health than to the person it's directed at.
It's not all bad — anger can sometimes be useful. Keri Ann Long, a marriage and family therapist, tells Elite Daily anger is healthy "when we use it to change something about our situation that isn’t working for us. When anger motivates us to take a healthy action — like setting a boundary, having a difficult conversation, or changing something about our situation — it serves a positive purpose."
But if your anger is unproductive, holding onto it will probably only hurt you in the end. "Without processing your feelings, you may try to find ways to hang on to the relationship, [or] have resentments or grudges toward your ex," Dr. Natalie Jones, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Elite Daily. "You may act out in ways that are retaliatory, and most importantly, you may miss out on what your experience in the relationship taught you."
If you're looking to release your negative feelings toward your ex and find inner peace, here are five tips on how to move forward.
Find The Root Of Your Anger
In the weeks or months after your breakup, don't be afraid to hold space for all of your emotions. But that being said, seek to understand them in a deeper way. Discerning why you're angry, Long says, will help you figure out how to best move on. For example, maybe you're angry because you're actually hurt that your ex broke up with you. Or maybe you're angry at the way they did it, or don't agree with the reasons behind it. Just remember: "If being angry at a person feels like a way of punishing them, it’s worth asking if it’s actually having that desired effect," Long says. Maybe you'll find that your anger is actually only punishing you.
Reach Out To Your Ex (With Caution)
If you feel like you need to reach out to your ex to find closure, only do so if you believe it'll be productive. But keep in mind: The effectiveness of this conversation will depend on whether your ex is emotionally mature enough to handle it, and what your expectations are. Try not to go into it expecting to get all the answers. You can only control your side of the conversation, so it's helpful to go in with a plan for what you want to say.
"If you want to have that conversation [about how they hurt you], it’s helpful to speak from your own experience, and share your own feelings without attacking or blaming," Long says.
Long's biggest tip here is to lead with "I" statements. For example, you might say, "I felt really [insert adjective here] when [insert comment or behavior here] happened." By using these types of statements, you reduce the chance of a defensive argument and "increase the chance that they will be able to respond in a way that actually feels good to us," Long says.
Process Your Feelings With Someone You Trust
If a conversation with your ex is out of the question, pivot to your support system. "You are probably better off processing this on your own or with someone you really trust," Long says. A grounded best friend or a sage family member can really help change your perspective.
"Talking about a painful process can be difficult, but it can also be healing when you have those who are there to support you and find constructive feedback," Jones explains. Just be sure to ask the other person's consent to avoid emotional dumping (aka: unloading your emotions without considering the toll that might take on them).
You might have questions your friends or family aren't experienced or knowledgeable enough to answer. In that case, it might be worth seeking out therapy.
Make A Fresh Mental Start
One of the best ways to let go of anger is by releasing it on paper. Long suggests working through your anger by journaling. "You can even write a letter that says all the things you would love to be able to say to [your ex], but not send it," Long suggests. "Some people like to burn the letter or tear it up as a way of letting go."
When it comes to moving on after a split, Jones says to be "mindful about scheduling other appropriate activities after your breakup, to help you channel and release your anger." Along with journaling, Jones also recommends throwing your ex's stuff away and exercising to release negative energy.
Find A Healthy Physical Outlet
Just as moderate anger can help you connect with your feelings, it can also help you connect with your body. "Anger, just as a fight-or-flight mechanism, with stress and anxiety is meant to be physiologically beneficial,” Dr. Cynthia Thaik, a cardiologist, told U.S. News & World Report. In intense, adrenaline-worthy situations, your fight-or-flight response (increased blood flow to your heart, your muscles, and nervous system) can spur you to action. In some cases, your physiological response to anger can be a good thing.
But existing in constant anger can lead to chronic insomnia, fatigue, anxiety, and a weakened immune system. "If you have built up angry energy in your body, it can be helpful to have a healthy and safe release for that anger," Long says.
She recommends physical activities like punching pillows, running, and signing up for a kickboxing class. "Or any other healthy and safe activity that allows you to release that energy," she says.
Simmering in resentment toward your ex can be easier than working through it, and confronting someone who hurt you or spilling your guts to a therapist can be terrifying. But take it from the experts: The short-term discomfort of working through your anger is worth the long-term inner peace in the end.
Dr. Natalie Jones, Psy.D., LPCC, a licensed psychotherapist
Keri Ann Long, licensed marriage and family therapist
Dr. Cynthia Thaik, cardiologist and holistic health practitioner