It might be impossible to think that someone who has broken your heart has helped you in your journey — but in their own way, they have.

There is a reason some of the most beautiful songs and pieces of poetry are written in times of heartbreak, and why so many people write their most inner thoughts while dealing with the loss of a relationship. Heartbreak is life altering. Breakups open your soul, split you in two, and leave you in a state of overwhelming nothingness. Voluminous vacancy. Deafening silence.

Breakups are physically and emotionally devastating because love is all-consuming. It can’t not be  —  it’s love. Breakups mark the end of an era. They signify that the life you once knew is no more. And it’s agonizing. When it happens, you feel like there is nothing else to live for  —  at least, that’s how I’ve felt when I’ve had my heart broken.

Heartbreak is not just a state of mind. When coping with a breakup, people may experience physical symptoms like a change in appetite, headaches, body pains, and an overall sense of unwell, Jennifer Kelman, licensed clinical social worker, told Healthline.

So how are the physical side effects of a broken heart possible? A 2011 study conducted by neuroscientist Edward Smith (and colleagues) at Columbia University explains the heartbreak phenomenon. By using fMRI scans of participants who had ended a relationship within the last six months, results demonstrated that physical pain and the end of romantic relationships are related when it comes to how the brain perceives them. When participants were shown a picture of their former partner, scans of the brain showed activity in the same area that lights up when we are in physical pain.

Knowing this, it makes perfect sense that a broken heart can put us in defense mode. The brain is, after all, telling us that the pain we feel after a breakup is not just in our heads. It is absolutely warranted, which proves the point even more that we must be gracious and patient with ourselves when trying to cope with the end of a romantic relationship.

While in the deepest and lowest points of heartbreak, I’ve tried to read motivational quotes and inspirational stories about “moving on after a breakup,” and I haven’t been able to see the silver lining  —  not while the wound is still fresh.

In 1850, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” It’s a popular piece of poetry for a reason, and it raises the question among the heartbroken: Is it really better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all?

To a heartbroken person, I think the answer is a resounding no

Ask anyone with a raw broken heart and they’d tell you they’d much rather erase their memories and go back  to a time when they didn’t know the other person existed.

Why? Because the pain is still pounding in their ears, thumping in their hearts, digging a hole in their chest, and they don’t want to feel broken anymore. Erasing that person seems like the simplest, yet most dramatic, solution.

Time is the only remedy for a broken heart

Time is what heals a person after a breakup, which is ironic because time never seems to go on when you’re feeling the crushing weight of losing someone. But once time has begun its healing powers, only then can we begin to see the silver lining of a former relationship. 

While there is no definite answer as to how much time it takes to move on after a breakup, any time spent on ourselves is helpful. Distracting ourselves with our work, our friends and family, our usual hobbies, and even trying new ones all can aid us in healing. While the first day after a breakup may have us convinced that we’ll never enjoy a romantic comedy or beautiful sunrise again, as time goes on and our priorities shift from a relationship to other things, we start to feel hopeful again. For happiness, for fulfillment, perhaps a new romantic relationship in the future. 

And when time has passed and the heart has mended, a heartbroken person can see hope in this new chapter of their life. For a newly single person, hope is the most valuable thing. After finding hope, we can finally reflect and explore the significance our former relationship had on our life journey. 

After journaling through all of my serious breakups, I compiled a list of questions that were helpful in self-reflection. By asking myself the following set of questions, I was able to take a step back and view my former romantic partner from a different point of view. Instead of seeing them as just my ex, now they were someone who was put in my life for a reason. And the goal of my post-breakup journaling was to find what that reason was.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to help you reflect on failed relationships and friendships.

Who were you at the start of your relationship versus at the end?

Did you grow as a person while with them? If not, then why? What did you learn about the way you dealt with conflict? Did you strengthen your communication skills while you were with this person? Did you discover your love language? What did you learn about the way you navigated a serious relationship with someone else?

Were there things you could have done better?

Without blaming yourself or dwelling on past mistakes, are there things you’ve learned that you can use in future relationships to make you a better partner?

If you had to choose three things you learned from this person, what would they be?

Did this person push you to be better? Did this person build up your confidence? Did they teach you to believe in yourself so you one day can be that person for someone else? Did this person teach you to let go of the little things?

Did they make you a better person, and if so, how will you continue those habits without them?

Nothing is certain. Not even a marriage of over 50 years is immune to separation. It’s crucial to take every bit of information we learn from a relationship and use it to better ourselves. We need to learn to be independent individuals who can continue to grow — with or without our romantic partners. 

Our partners are here to make our lives happier and more fulfilled, but they are not here to complete us or make us whole. That is up to us. And through reflection on lessons learned, we can work on being those complete individuals, no matter if there’s heartbreak in our future. 

My past relationships have in one way or another shaped who I am as a person  —  and I am thankful for every single one of my former partners. I am grateful for every single time my heart has split in two. And for time, that heals all wounds, I am forever blessed because not all of us are lucky enough to have the time to heal.

This article was originally published on Business Insider.

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