Heartbroken? According to stress expert Andrew Bernstein, you're actually "thoughtbroken," and you can fix everything by filling out a simple worksheet. Except this is the most depressing worksheet ever.
Bernstein's advice — for some reason excerpted in the Times of London — may not be as bad as cutting your ex's face, but it definitely deserves a place in the breakup tip hall of shame. He calls his program ActivInsight, which sounds like yogurt — and like yogurt, it appears to be mainly marketed to women. He offers the following case study:
After a very messy break-up, Sabrina couldn't stop crying. In her words, she "felt like somebody threw a fishing hook down my throat, ripped out my heart, and left a shell".
Sounds like Sabrina's real problem is mixed metaphors, but sorrow can do strange things to the brain. Luckily, ActivInsight can help! Step 1 is to simply write down something that stresses you out. Bernstein claims ActivInsight actually works on all stress, because "stress always works in the same way," but his example has to do with Sabrina and her breakup. Sabrina writes, "I want him back." Step 2 is to rate how strongly you believe your stressful thought, but first you're supposed to make yourself feel as bad as possible. Bernstein's suggestion: "Listen to a song about heartbreak." This is sounding really great so far!
Steps 3a and 3b involve circling words like "desperate" and "obsess" — a multiple-choice test of misery. Then you write down the opposite of your statement from Step 1. Sabrina wrote, "In reality, I don't want him/her back at this time." She didn't believe it at all, but that's okay because "the only way to have an insight is to explore something that's been hidden from you." Now here comes the fun part. Step 5 is writing down a bunch of justifications for the statement you don't believe. Here are some of Sabrina's:
In reality, I don't want him back at this time because I know that he doesn't really belong to me now.
Your ex never really "belonged" to you, of course, but right after a breakup isn't necessarily the time to remind oneself of this. "If you love someone, set them free" rings pretty hollow when you're miserable.
In reality, I don't want him back at this time because I want to be with someone who really wants to be with me.
This is a pretty good one for when the pain and starts abating a bit and you can take the long view of your life. But immediately after the breakup, do you really want to be reminding yourself of how your ex didn't want you anymore? In my experience, this is a direct path to self-loathing.
In reality, I don't want him back at this time because he's already dating another woman.
Oh, right. The fact that your ex is dating someone else — who's probably way hotter and cooler than undateable you — is going to make you feel totally better.
Steps 6 and 7 basically involve discovering how great you feel now that ActivInsight has done its work. Bernstein claims that his technique "can be applied to any issue because stress always indicates a lack of insight" — but sometimes we're stressed because we know exactly what's going on. And what we really need is a little revisionist — or at least well-curated — history. Thomas Bartlett of The Chronicle of Higher Education's Percolator blog reports that in one study, "people who indicated strong negative feelings about their ex in the immediate aftermath of the breakup were less likely to be depressed. The subjects were re-tested a month later, and those whose feelings had grown more negative also generally felt better." So don't bother being all high-minded about how your ex "doesn't belong to you anymore." Just hate the asshole, and enlist your friends to help. Bartlett quotes the study authors:
Given the importance of negative evaluations in post-break-up adjustment, future work should explore whether friends and family members might help people adjust to a recent break-up by drawing attention to the negative aspects of the former relationship.
Based on this research, I've decided to create my own post-breakup program to compete with Bernstein's. I call it ActivHate.
Image via SeDmi/Shutterstock.com.