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Ask A Therapist: How do I cope with isolation after a breakup?

If you’ve lost a part of your support system, here’s how to cope with relationship loss and find hope.

Has a relationship ended in your life? Are you feeling extra isolated because of your queer identities and experiences? In this month’s Ask a Therapist, I’ll be answering a reader-submitted question. Please note that responses are not therapy, medical advice, or crisis management on our blog segment called "Ask A Therapist."

A reader reached out with a question that a number of my clients have asked me before:

"In the last one year I have lost most of my close friends to distance, ideologies, lifestyle, and more. I also got out of my first serious relationship. As a queer trans person, I already feel isolated and lack a support system and now I'm constantly losing people. How do I cope with all the losses and find hope again?"

Your question describes a season of life that we’ll all have to live through at least once: relationship loss and grief. And, yet, nothing prepares us for the emotional fallout. Here are my insights that may help you navigate this extremely vulnerable time:

Dear Reader,

Relationships ending and fading away is a part of the human experience, but this reality doesn’t change the fact that it’s painful–especially for those experiencing vulnerabilities in other areas beyond relationship loss.

The end of any relationship is challenging, especially when it wasn’t our preference or choice. The loneliness and confusion of these endings can be even more life-altering for folks, like yourself, who already experience isolation because of marginalization.

If you’re existing in an environment that doesn’t accept and celebrate your identities—your race, gender, socioeconomic status, neurodivergence, physical ability, and more—your sense of belonging can be threatened. It can make your relationships feel even more meaningful and necessary. And losing those relationships can feel that much more devastating.

Allow yourself to grieve. You can take your time.

Grieving isn't just related to death, it also occurs when relationships end. And it is something that cannot be rushed or ignored—it's a natural and necessary process that takes time. Reader, I can imagine the grief you must be going through right now. Be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to experience these emotions fully, without judgment. Healing is not a linear path, and it's okay to take the time you need to process these changes in your life.

As you’re navigating life without your support system, you may feel like you need to hold it together and not grieve. But I would love for you to find a comfortable space to let it out. Because grief is a necessary part of loss, and pushing it away may cause you to feel worse. There isn’t one "right" way to grieve and there are many avenues that you can explore. Here are some ways we can process and express our sadness and grief:

  • Cry: Easier said than done, sometimes…the rest of this list may help get those tears flowing!
  • Talk: Sharing feelings with a trusted friend, family member, teacher, or therapist can provide comfort and validation. Chat/text/call lines like The Trevor Project, BlackLine, and Warmlines are a place where you can talk out your feelings confidentially with a trained and trusted person. Maybe you can also find an in-person or virtual support/therapy group for people who have similar identities and/or experiences to you.
  • Tell stories: Sharing stories and memories with others can keep the memory alive and strengthen your bond with others. This can even be shared in the chat/text/call lines that I listed above!
  • Write: You can journal about your struggles, write memoir-style short stories, and write letters to the people that you miss. (Sending these letters isn’t necessary if you value your privacy or don’t want to actually contact this person!)
  • Listen: Music that lets you feel your feelings can be helpful. Some folks also like to listen to podcasts that validate and educate them about their experience. Some of my favorites are All My Relations, Multiamory, Therapy for Black Girls, and Just Break Up.
  • Gather keepsakes: Creating or keeping mementos that remind you of the person you lost can feel comforting. Even if you never look at these keepsakes again, it may help you find some closure. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of a relationship because we fear we’ll lose our joyful memories. Having keepsakes and mementos that you can refer back to in the future can help lessen this worry.

Find and create moments of joy.

Now that we’ve covered grief together, I would love for you to find a moment for joy. This may seem unattainable when you’re facing overwhelming feelings of loneliness and grief, but you may be surprised by your ability to find joy in the midst of it all. Try jumpstarting joy by allowing yourself to be fully immersed in an activity, even if it’s for a short moment. My go-to suggestions are:

  • Having creative outlets: Art, music, dance, poetry, and cooking can give you a place to move and feel at the same time. Zentangles are a type of coloring that some people find especially calming and helpful. You can pair this with another activity, like watching your favorite show or movie.
  • Engaging the senses: Light a candle…wear vibrant colors…close your eyes and truly taste your chocolate and warm tea. These short-lived and mindful moments can give us an energetic boost.
  • Joining social groups: Joining social groups can connect you with others who have similar hobbies and experiences. Now that so many events are virtual, where you live is less of a barrier. Groups like this sapphic book club are available to you, no matter your zip code!
  • Exploring & noticing nature: Spending time in nature (even going outside for 30 seconds…baby steps!) can be soothing and provide a sense of peace and perspective. Plants, dirt, bugs, and the sun are our friends!
  • Volunteering & advocacy: Channeling grief into advocacy for causes related to your loss and your identities can create a sense of meaning and positive impact. And helping others through volunteer work can provide a sense of purpose and connection.
  • Listening to your inner child: When you were a child, what made you smile? “Building puzzles…” “Playing dress up…” “Writing fanfiction…” These are some of the things I’ve heard clients say. I’d love for you to ask yourself the same question. I can guarantee that little-you would creatively comfort themselves. You can lean into that by asking yourself what your younger-you enjoyed doing. Your answer will give insight to what may be helpful for you during this time of isolation and relationship loss.
  • Finding gratitude: What are three things that you’re grateful for today? Sorry if that sounds like toxic positivity! I’m going to pretend that you didn’t roll your eyes at that one! Seriously, though…gratitude is powerful. We can notice our gratitude while still acknowledging our struggles (both deserve our attention!). There are remarkable and uplifting things in our lives that often go unnoticed and unacknowledged. I am grateful for hot showers, today’s sunny and breezy weather, and my colored pencils. What are some things you’re grateful for today, no matter how “small”?

Reader, I am so impressed that you asked me your initial question, it shows that you’re taking care of yourself. That is not easy to do when you’re lonely and in grief. Remember to keep nurturing yourself through this moment because you are so worthy of love, connection, joy, and healing. But I have no trouble imagining that you will keep trying because you reached out to me, after all. This too shall pass.

If you need more guidance through this season of life, I encourage you to connect with one of our therapists or coaches using our intake form. In addition, check back regularly for support group openings where you can be in community while healing. All of our offerings are queer-centered and support trans identities.

Have questions for a therapist? Want to see it answered in our Ask A Therapist column? Submit your question here!

Photo Credit: Portrait of a Lady on Fire