It was a dark period of my life. The warning signs were there. I’d internalized the myth of romantic love. The idea of The One infiltrated the work I’d done on self-empowerment.

I felt I’d arrived; that this relationship was the destination. I didn’t realize I was placing my worth and emotional needs in the hands of someone else.

Then the relationship crumbled — and I crumbled too

It was a dark period, but a necessary one. This particular breakup led me on a humbling journey of self-discovery, fuelled by the question: why do I feel this bad?

It wasn’t my first breakup, and wouldn’t be my last. But I was lost.

Losing the relationship felt like losing a part of me

By the time this relationship ended, some years ago, I already had an established meditation practice. I was aware and working on taking full responsibility for my emotions, to avoid the egoic trap of seeking fulfilment in the external. But we all have blindspots, and mine was romance.

I came face-to-face with my lost identity

This was a powerful moment in my understanding of my ego and self-image. I needed to reach this point to come face-to-face with the feeling of lost identity. Through meditation and self-enquiry, I leaned into the sadness, the sense of loss. My “healthy” grief was accompanied by a sense of worthlessness.

As I reflected, it became clear I’d always looked to romance for validation. In basic terms, this translated to:

I’m worthy and loveable because my partner loves me.

I compensated for a lack of self-love by placing my sense of worth in the hands of someone else’s love. In addition, I found feelings of codependency had formed. Heart in hand, I gave responsibility for my happiness to someone else.

It doesn’t take the Dalai Lama to tell you this is a recipe for disaster

Awareness and acceptance is the first step in change. Once I’d clearly seen these traits and started to understand why I felt so bad, I was ready to transform. The journey to rediscovering identity is long, difficult, and ultimately never ends. All journeys begin with a single step.

Here are 4 steps to rediscovering identity post-breakup:

1. The honest assessment of your inner world

The very first step is an honest assessment. I needed to explore my inner-world with compassion and non-judgement; this wasn’t a time to ignite the self-critic, but time to curiously enquire. Questions I asked myself included:

  • Where am I giving my power away?
  • What expectations did I hold about emotional fulfilment in this relationship?
  • Where am I seeking fulfilment in the external?

These questions revealed that I handed responsibility for my happiness to my partner, that my self-worth was filtered through the prism of romantic relationships. Ultimately, it highlighted a painful truth: I lacked trust in my ability to love myself.

2. The honest assessment of the outer world

Emotional dependency may be invisible. It manifests in emotional and mental realms, like expectations, entitlement, or feelings of resentment, bitterness or anxiety.

Once I gained clarity on my inner world, I turned to the external. What behavioral traits and activities were powered by my loss of identity? How had I given my identity away in the physical world?

I discovered two areas: life balance and goal setting

The way I was investing my time was imbalanced. I prioritized my relationship over my interests, activities, and friendships. I’d defaulted to seeing my ex — free time in my schedule was automatically spent with my beloved.

My goals were sacrificed too. I realized I’d disconnected from what I wanted from life, and from my inherent values. What I saw as an act of love was a way of neglecting my own dreams and desires. I put my partner first. I forgot myself.

3. Who am I?

Once I had clarity on the emotional, mental, and material, I looked into the spiritual aspect. I explored the areas in life I was not taking responsibility for self-fulfilment, self-love, and self-care. Then I asked: who am I?

This led me down the rabbit hole of unlearning beliefs I’d developed about my identity. I explored my spiritual nature beyond ego. I made a vow to myself to remain conscious and aware of the way my ego-identity forms. I reconnected with the part of me beyond all concepts. I started to feel my own power.

4. Rebuilding the relationship with your self

Understanding that my identity was not attached to the external allowed me to rebuild my image authentically. I connected with my values and cultivated self-compassion.

I took a curious attitude towards myself. I learned about my needs and authentic desires. I wanted to know myself away from all definitions, all relationships, all labels. I took this time to prioritize my relationship with myself.

Practically, this meant time alone. To flourish in future relationships, I became aware that I needed to feel whole. If placing my needs on someone else was a cause of suffering, I needed to work on caring for myself.

This didn’t mean isolating myself — I still turned to friends and family for support — but it did mean making a life-long commitment to support myself, too.

From the darkness to the light

Because I’d gone from relationship to relationship, it was important for me to detox from being a couple through this period of learning and growth. I developed a sense of self-compassion and self-love.

What started as a period of darkness has given me true independence.

Better still, taking responsibility for my emotional needs has freed me to love more authentically. It’s erased a sense of neediness. That’s not to say old habits don’t return at times. Do I slip into codependent traits? Occasionally.

But what is important is the awareness and the willingness to avoid mistaking my identity for anything that can be lost.

More proof you can get through your breakup: