Overcoming Setbacks to Healing After a Breakup

Discouraging – often painful – setbacks are part of the healing process after a physical illness, injury, or surgery. Overcoming setbacks is a difficult but necessary part of the healing process. It’s the same with healing a broken heart after a loss; the setbacks are inevitable…but healing is still happening despite the paint.

“Grief is not a mountain that you climb, go over the top, and then climb back down the other side so that you’re at the same ground level as when you started,” writes Ashley Davis Bush in Transcending Loss. “The spiral nature of grief is more like a journey in which you scale the mountain by going around and around the mountain, gradually moving your way up to new heights, but once you finally make it to the top, you’re not going back down. You can never go back down.

It’s the same with your broken heart, whether you’re overcoming the shock of a sudden breakup or healing after a difficult marriage that took years to end. You are healing, even if it doesn’t feel like it! My prayer is that the tips below help you overcome the setbacks to healing your broken heart and continue climbing the mountain to wholeness, beauty, and joy.

It’s normal for your emotions to swing back and forth after a breakup or loss. Some days – and some hours – you’ll feel fine, almost normal. Still ginger and vulnerable, but stronger. Other days (and hours!) you feel like you just want to die. You’re exhausted, drained, unmotivated, sad, lonely and heartbroken. How do you overcome setbacks that make you feel like your heart will never heal?

That wasn’t a rhetorical question: I really am asking you for tips on overcoming setbacks to healing. Your broken heart is yours alone; your experience can only be felt and known by you. This means that your healing journey must be experienced and felt by you. What helps you overcome the setbacks? Who do you turn to, where do you go, how long do you stay in the healthy place? Knowing this about yourself will help you grow forward into a new season of life.

5 Ways to Overcome Setbacks to Healing

Healing is a natural process that requires little effort. Wouldn’t that be good if it were true? Well, maybe it is. Maybe we just need to look at and experience loss and breakups differently. Maybe we need to adopt a long view of the healing process, and see setbacks as ways to get stronger.

The Parable of the Lumberjack is my favorite story about overcoming setbacks that impede the healing of a broken heart. We’re shocked and confused when our lives – the trees in which we live – get shaken. We don’t know why our tree has crashed to the ground or what will happen to us in the future. But the lumberjack knows. He cares. He is overseeing the whole process.

1. Spirit Blossoms – Find a Heavenly source of power and strength

I used the Parable of the Lumberjack (which you’ll read in “Soul Blossoms” below) in my book, Growing Forward When You Can’t Go Back. My lumberjack is God. I trust that when my life gets shaken or when I lose something important — even a loved one — I can rely on Him to give me strength and courage to keep going. I don’t believe God caused my loss or even wanted it to happen…but I do believe He gives me strength to overcome painful setbacks when my broken heart is healing.

How’s your relationship with God? If you can tap into a source of powerful healing, love and inspiration then you’ll find it a little easier to cope with your broken heart. Setbacks will still be painful, but they won’t overwhelm you. You’ll find a deeper sense of hope for healing your broken heart if you rely on a bigger source of strength, love, and power.

2. Heart Blossoms – Trust the healing process

The only way to heal is slowly, by fits and starts. There are no hacks to healing, no instant tips or quick fixes to your broken heart. Band-aids don’t work; the only way to heal is to trust the healing process. Go slow, accept the setbacks to healing, and know you’re still moving forward — even when it feels like you’ve taken a step back.

Remember that setbacks happen; setbacks are normal in the healing process. Broken hearts don’t magically regenerate overnight, and there is no magic healing wand. Your growth is deep, steady, and true. Trust that your heart will be stronger and steadier than ever before. You’re growing roots that can never be shaken. There is a purpose to these painful setbacks, and they will help your broken heart heal in ways that a quick Band-Aid never could.

3. Soul Blossoms – The parable of The Lumberjack

Once upon a time, a lumberjack walking through the forest saw Mama Bird building her nest at the top of a tall tree. He knew the tree would be felled soon. She would lose her home and babies. So, the lumberjack pounded the trunk with the back of his ax. Mama Bird was disrupted and broken-hearted, and had to find a new place to build her nest. She chose another tree and started to rebuild.

But that tree, too, was slated for a fall. Again the lumberjack shook the tree so hard Mama Bird — getting annoyed — was forced to fly away. She landed on a third tree. The lumberjack returned and it happened again! She lost her nest. Confused and cross, Mama Bird built her nest atop a high rock, sheltered from the sun, rain and wind. She was finally safe, never to be shaken.

Every setback you face is the lumberjack shaking your tree, telling you to move to a higher, better, safer place. Instead of dwelling on the pain and discouragement of facing a setback, stay focused on the signs your broken heart is healing.

4. Body Blossoms – Breathe through the setback

Overcoming Setbacks to Healing Your Broken Heart
Overcoming Setbacks to Healing Your Broken Heart

I love walking/jogging, and yet most mornings I have to force myself out on my daily walk/jog. I don’t know why it’s such a struggle every single day, when I love it so much! This is one of the best tips on how to overcome a painful setback to healing a broken heart: remember how good it feels to move. Learn how to breathe through the setback.

Walk slow, but keep your head up. Take a deep breath, and look at something. Anything. Get your head out of your broken heart, your focus off how bad the breakup makes you feel. Think about something else — how your body is alive, what your lungs need, how your back and shoulders feel. Eat broccoli, or a kale smoothie. The healthier you are physically, the quicker you’ll rebound from this setback. It’s not just your broken heart that needs healing, your body needs healing after a breakup, too.

5. Brainy Blossoms – Focus on a new project

What was the last thing that fired up your brain? Besides your ex-boyfriend or dead husband, that is. Not crossword puzzles or learning a new language; those aren’t the best tips on how to overcome a setback to healing your broken heart.

When was the last time you were truly excited about your life? When you do feel alive, what could you do for hours without even noticing the time go by? Who are you, and what are your passions? What fires up your intellect, what could you talk about for hours?

Do something interesting. If nothing comes to mind, write the story of your breakup in the comments section below. Write it as a story that happened to someone else. Pretend it’s the main character of your story who is searching for tips for overcoming setbacks to healing her broken heart. Write her into the most painful, heartbreaking breakup of her life…and write her back out again.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome below. You may find it helpful to share how you feel; writing can bring clarity and insight.


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2 thoughts on “Overcoming Setbacks to Healing After a Breakup”

  1. You wrote to leave my story and after thinking about it I hope to bring a little bit of peace to someone who is struggling right now after someone they loved either betrayed them or left them or both!

    To go way back before my story to give you some background. I dated someone on and off for 8 years who was abusive. After being single for two years I met the father of my son. We were together for 4 years. Then for 4 years I was in many short not so nice “relationships” and part of that is because I had an addiction and the types of people I was connecting with were simply just that an aid to my addiction.

    Now to talk about my heartbreak. I’ve been in relationships as you can see from above but the feeling when it ended was not sadness. Did I cry? Yes. Was I sad? Yes. But to be honest it never took long because I would just start dating again so the pain would go away, or would it?

    Before I met Christopher (this is my heartbreak) I had really just started my journey to sobriety and healing from past trauma. I had stayed away from all the parties , dating and I focused 3 months to the gym and counselling it helped me so much that I started to date again. He was supportive and motivating and handsome, very attentive and communicated well and made me laugh so much. I had a bit of doubts though because he told me he loved me on our second date. He was so Into me it was a bit overwhelming to be honest I wasn’t sure if I cared about him the same way he did me. We dated for about 9 months before I decided to call it quits. I was using again and I had terrible family support who were constantly influencing me against the relationship.

    After one week of being apart from from him I couldn’t stop thinking about him and that I had made a horrible mistake and I wanted him back. He met someone two days after we broke up, told her he loved her within a week, introduced her to his parents and children. He told me he loved her and to leave him alone.

    I was absolutely devistated. I have never begged anyone or cried so hard for someone to give me another chance. I fell to my knees on the ground outside his house crying I couldn’t breathe and he just watched me. He told me he had to give her a fair chance that I had my opportunity.

    27 days went by without him. I left him alone. I hadn’t slept well, I cried every single day I could barely eat. People at work were hugging me every 30 minutes just so I wouldn’t break down in the back room. I wanted to die, I tried to cut myself foolishly thinking if I told him I was hurting myself he would come back to me. Nope he didn’t.

    27 days and he shows up at my work, says my name and I looked over and it was him. He looked so sad. I went outside with him, we hugged, we cried, we were vibrating it was truly amazing I missed him so much. But then it kicked in, I had slept with and ex bf once and he had a full on girlfriend for two weeks we faught so passionately but I think we needed that to heal.

    We were together for about a year after that. Lots of fighting in between. Tons of broken promises by him and I was pulling away romantically. I stopped taking care of myself, I put on 30lbs I was crying all the time I couldn’t sleep me and him were fighting so much. But love, there was so much love. I felt it, but he didn’t.

    He said he was starting to resent me because I didn’t desire him the way he wanted. Because I didn’t compliment him as much as I should have. Because I argued with him when he didn’t pay his bills (he’s 39, I’m 33). I was a lazy lover and a shitty person is exactly what he told me.

    I cried, I begged, I pleaded. Nothing. He had a girlfriend within one week. He told her he loved her, introduced her to his family to his kids.

    Just wait the story gets better. If you don’t feel any remorse for me you will soon.

    36 days go by, without him. He rings my doorbell. I couldn’t help but just grab him and hold him. We cried, we kissed, we vibrates. We spent all night together. Talking, crying, making love. I know this sounds sappy but it’s what happened.

    We spent Halloween morning together. All day he keeps telling me how scared he is. He keeps asking me to please not hurt him. I spend hours comforting him, making love.

    He leaves my house at 2:00pm.

    He goes home, talks to his mother and sends me a text message telling me
    -he can’t do it
    -he changed his mind
    -he made a mistake
    -he was blocking me in 15 minutes

    If you’ve never felt a world fall down on you I can tell you that I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy. I have never felt so disrespected, I was ashamed of myself for letting it happen. I was ashamed of myself for taking all the blame for everything and comforting him for hours and he does this to me. He had basically spit in my face, picked me up, wipes my cheeks and then kicked me to the ground when I was at my weakest moment.

    Ladies, I had a 63 year old woman walk me through a forest with a blanket around me. She held onto my arm, had her other arm around my shoulder and guided me on a trail to get fresh air. I couldn’t see I was crying so hard. People were walking by us and the whole time I cried the biggest cry, and this woman just walked with me for what seemed a lifetime. I am so young and so strong and I was so destroyed to the point where I couldn’t even walk on my own a 63 year old woman had to guide me.

    That is just one small example of how I dealt with the trauma, to prove to you how heart broken I was.

    If I could go back in time a few weeks to that girl who was crying and mourning so hard like that. If I could tell her just a few things I would tell her….

    “Valeria, beautiful and courageous. You are going to f**k*n live girl!!!

    1-You are stronger then you think you are and you are going to be fine.

    2-It’s him that lost out on you!! You are the one who is going to succeed, you are the one that’s going to flourish.

    3-You are beautiful, he told you all the time and so someone else more deserving will tell you too.
    You felt love for this man so you will feel love for someone more deserving next time.

    4-You need to take time for yourself, keep going to the gym, focus all your energy on being healthy and take care of your body. The Gym is going to be your saving grace I promise just go as much as you can start slow and I promise you will feel so amazing. Your confidence will start to come back and you will feel pretty again. GO TO THE GYM!!!

    5-Journal, you think it’s stupid now but you will try it. You will make the effort and you will slowly do it more and you will use it to get all of your frustrations out. I know you think it’s wierd but you will get so good at it that your formats will start to get creative and the way you write about your feelings will evolve and it will help so MAKE SURE YOU JOURNAL

    6- You are going to smile again, you will soon learn to breathe and you will be able to relax again because you know that you are amazing


    1- create healthy boundaries
    2-love yourself

    Take time, don’t focus on men, don’t focus on THAT MAN. Focus on you!!! You are worth it, I promise you will see it soon enough”

    Thank you for reading this, I actually shed a little tear writing it I hope you got some peace reading it because I am healing and I will heal.

  2. Thank You for the short story of the Lumber Jack and the Mother Bird, I have been moving from tree to tree…My Faith has been tested for many years. I can’t stop thinking that Our Creator has more for this humble Soul, you see after all these years I have stayed in a Loveless Marriage, knowing that My husband is on the prowl…for my daughters sake, they need Us both and to have the many advantages this Marriage provides them at their young ages…The story is Long and heartbreaking…and at My age there is No instance of under the guise of My Husband returning to a happy Union…he has never left. Yet he has never stopped his ways, I turned 59 last Dec. 31st and have tried to put bitterness away and strengthen My Faith in Our Creator…going to another relationship is now past Me in this life…rather women, We must take a hard long look at those We Wed, their Families and Close Friends prior to latching onto what We “Feel” will be a nice Union…I plead with you…Talk to Your Creator First…and wait on a Answer!