Why Some People Take Breakups Harder Than Others by L. Howe
This is one very long article. I am not going to paste all of it here, so you will have to use the link if you want to see the whole thing. It’s on The Atlantic’s site.
- Part of it depends on whether they believe personality is fixed or constantly changing.
It’s a question that often plagues people after a painful break-up:
What went wrong? As they work to figure out the answer, people typically create new relationship stories, analyzing the events leading up to the breakup and using them to build a cohesive narrative.
In some cases, this type of storytelling can be positive, helping people to make sense of—and come to terms with—painful things that happen to them. Other times, though, the storytelling process can be a negative one, compounding pain rather than easing it.
My colleague Carol Dweck and I research why some people are haunted by the ghosts of their romantic past, while others seem to move on from failed relationships with minimal difficulty. Over the course of our research, I’ve read hundreds of personal stories about the end of relationships, and these stories offer some clues as to what pushes a person into one group or the other.
- …. After a breakup, it can be healthy for people to reflect on what they’ve learned from the past relationship and what they want to improve in the next one. A healthy behavior can become an unhealthy one, though, when people take it too far and begin to question their own basic worth.
But the loss of a partner can make it easy to fall into the self-deprecation trap. Research by the psychologist Arthur Aron and his colleagues shows that when people are in close relationships, their self becomes intertwined with their partner’s self.
In other words, we begin to think of a romantic partner as a part of ourselves—confusing our traits with their traits, our memories with their memories, and our identity with their identity.
- ….In our research, people reported the most prolonged distress after a romantic rejection when it caused their self-image to change for the worse. People who agreed that the rejection made them question who they really were also reported more often that they were still upset when they thought about the person who had rejected them.
- Pain lingered from rejections that had occurred even years before. Writing about what they took away from the rejection, one study participant said: “Lots of emotional pain. Sometimes it keeps me awake at night … It’s been 10 years and the pain hasn’t gone away.” If rejection seems to reveal a new, negative truth about a person, it becomes a heavier, more painful burden.
- When rejection is intimately liked to self-concept, people are also more likely to experience a fear of it. People reported becoming more guarded with new partners and “putting up walls.”
- One study participant wrote: “I feel like I constantly withhold myself in possible future relationships in fear of being rejected again.”
- The belief that rejection revealed a flaw prompted people to worry that this defect would resurface in other relationships. They worried that future relationships would continue to fail, voicing fears that no matter how hard they tried, they would not be able to find someone new to love them.
- ….So what makes for a healthy breakup, one in which the person moves on with minimal emotional damage?
- In our study, some people drew much weaker connections between rejection and the self, describing rejection as an arbitrary and unpredictable force rather than the result of some personal flaw.
- One person wrote, “Sometimes girls are not interested. It’s nothing to do with yourself, it’s just that they’re not interested.”
- Another noted how rejection wasn’t a reflection of worth: “I learned that two people can both be quality individuals, but that doesn’t mean they belong together.”
- Other people saw the rejection as a universal experience: “Everyone gets rejected. It’s just part of life.”
- ….So separating rejection from the self tends to make breakups easier, and linking the two tends to make them more difficult. But what makes people more likely to do one or the other?
- Past research by Dweck and others shows that people tend to hold one of two views about their own personal qualities: that they are fixed over the lifespan, or that they are malleable and can be developed at any point.
- These beliefs impact how people respond to setbacks. For example, when people consider intelligence to be something fixed, they’re less likely to persist in the face of failure than people who believe that intelligence can be developed.
And when we asked people to reflect on their past rejections, we found a link between those who believed personality was fixed and those who believed that rejection exposed their true selves.
If someone believes that their traits are unchanging, the discovery of a negative one is akin to a life sentence with that new knowledge. Believing in the potential for change, however, might meant that the discovery of a negative quality instead prompts personal growth.
- (( click here to read the whole article ))