Nobody tells us how to do these things. We get advice, encouragement and assistance when it comes to entering romantic relationships, but when it comes to splitting up, we're on our own — literally. Sure, we have condolences murmured to us by anxious-eyed friends and family for a few weeks, and it's generally accepted that unusual ice cream-eating behavior combined with a drastic haircut or ill-considered tattoo might be in order, but otherwise, we're given free reign to melt down in the manner of our choosing. After a while, though, people start rolling their eyes: "Why does she still look like she's going to a Morrisey concert?" they ask each other. "Why can't he stop texting her at midnight apologizing for not having unloaded the dishwasher more often?"
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do
The truth is, breakups are personal. The sudden dissolution of a relationship with the person we're emotionally closest to can cause the sensation of life collapsing in on itself.
"A breakup or divorce is a loss that needs to be grieved and it often affects self-esteem and identity, and sometimes even a sense of safety in the physical world," says Suzanne Morgan, a relationship counselor at Counseling Associates for Wellbeing in Athens, Georgia. "It can mean the loss of the significant other and the relationship, but also the death of the dream one had for a life imagined or planned with that person."
It's a big deal, and emotional healing takes a little time. But if you don't have time, these days there's always breakup boot camp. In an age of spa retreats and clean-living seminars, breakup boot camps have sprung up to fill a need: to make the brokenhearted feel as if they're doing something besides wallowing in their own psychological pain, in addition to giving them concrete steps for moving forward with their lives.
It's Big Business
The Renew Breakup Bootcamp, for instance, which runs retreats out of New York and California, touts on their website "a scientific and spiritual approach to healing the heart." You can participate in one of their weekend getaways, communing with psychologists, life coaches, energy healers and tantric yoga instructors, in addition to others struggling with the aftermath of a big breakup, for between $1,295 and $2,495. If that's a little rich for your blood, you can sign up for texts from a "relationship guru" for $9 per month or take a 30-day email course for $149.
Amy Chan, relationship columnist and founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp, invokes the combined powers of neuroscience, psychology, yoga, meditation and energy healing to cover all your post-breakup bases. But it seems like that's the kind of firepower required for the tall order she's promising to fill.
According to her website, "Renew provides a safe space for women to heal past wounds, rewire unhealthy patterns and limiting narratives and enter the next phase of life with inspiration and empowerment." All over the course of a long weekend.
Other breakup bootcamps claim to have hit on similarly effective formulas for ushering the trauma-addled lovelorn through the healing process. One such program claims a three-step program is the way to go: Acknowledge your own role in what happened, admit you're better off without that person and accept that the relationship is over.
Can't You Just Get Over It Already?
But is all this kerfuffle needed for something the vast majority of us will go through at least once in our lives? On the spectrum of trauma a person can experience, how bad can it be?
"People are dealing with all kinds of things during breakups," says Anna Belle Wood of Many Colors Counseling, who specializes in psychotherapy for women and the LGBTQ community. "Psychological trauma is a subjective experience — meaning, it is defined by you — and it is characterized by feeling extremely helpless and overwhelmed. The loss of a close relationship, especially depending upon the details of your situation, can absolutely make you feel this way. I help clients deal with this by restoring a sense of control over their lives, making meaning from the past, and restoring hope in the future."
So, maybe the need for things like breakup boot camps have more to do with our need for extra help in all areas of our lives that we're constantly holding together until the end of an important relationship brings it all crashing into our laps. And although eating delicious meals, doing yoga, talking to neuroscientists, life coaches and others who have recently been through breakups can definitely help, healing unhealthy relationship patterns can take a lifetime — not just a weekend.
"I personally think the boot camp idea sounds fine, but I would look at it more as a retreat and way to get support, or jumpstart the healing process," says Morgan. "I would caution someone planning to attend that they shouldn't expect a quick fix. Breakups can bring up long-held, painful wounds and negative beliefs, but they're actually a good opportunity to change the narrative. This doesn't happen overnight and requires some work. A breakup can actually be a positive sign of growth — that one is changing a pattern or not willing to accept unacceptable behavior anymore."