Sometimes feelings of deep longing for someone who is no longer in your life creep up when you least expect it. Maybe it’s because a song comes on your Spotify playlist they totally loved. Maybe it’s because Netflix just announced the third season of a show you used to watch together. Or maybe you’re home alone and can’t help but reminisce on all the fun times you used to have together. Whatever the reason, it always totally sucks.
“There’s no one answer about what to do when you miss someone—it really depends on the situation,” says psychologist Gregory Kushnick, PsyD. To his point, grappling with feeling of missing an ex versus a friend who moved away or a loved one who has passed away are all completely different scenarios. Fortunately, he has experience helping clients through these hard times, and he’s sharing his tips here too.
Keep reading for expert tips from a psychologist about what to do when you miss someone.
1. If you miss someone who lives far away
It can really suck when your partner-in-crime is no longer just a text away from being able to meet up for happy hour or a spin class. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have long distance, virtual dates. “It helps to have set times planned to talk on the phone,” Dr. Kushnick says. “That way, it gives you both something to look forward to and a time to catch up on each other’s lives.” He emphasizes that relying solely on social media to stay filled in on what the other person is up to just won’t work. “That gives a false sense of closeness, and you’re not actually connecting,” he says.
If it’s in your budget, Dr. Kushnick says it can also help to plan trips to visit each other. Like the phone calls, this gives something to look forward to and a way to keep the relationship strong.
He also says it’s important to be around others IRL, too. “If your friend who was your favorite person to be social with moved away, there are other people who can meet that need too,” he says. Yes, your BFF who now lives across the country was your go-to for checking out new fitness classes, but you should give other people a chance for those kinds of social activities. You’re not replacing your old friend; you’re making space for a new one.
2. If you miss an ex
Even if you broke up for a good reason, even it was your choice, even if your ex was a total jerk…it’s still completely normal to miss them. But unless your breakup was the extremely rare kind where it ended mutually with no hard feelings, Dr. Kushnick recommends unfollowing your ex on social media. (And that includes borrowing your friend’s phone to just “check real quick.”) “It prolongs the suffering,” he says.
Rather than wallowing in the rosy-tinted memory lane of Instagram, Dr. Kushnick suggests reminding yourself of reasons why the relationship didn’t work to put things in perspective. (Now is the perfect time to fixate on how they forgot your birthday, or was always a jerk about your friends). He suggests actively reminding yourself about your best qualities, and that you will find someone else who appreciates those qualities. Translation: Time to gas yourself up.
Dr. Kushnick says if you’re still struggling to cope with the breakup, it can help to talk about it with a therapist. “When you miss someone, you need to process it,” he says. “It can be really helpful finding people who have the depth to talk about what you’re going though.” If you don’t have access to a therapist, he says even talking about it with a few non-judgmental friends can be crucial to helping you process what you’re going through.
In the meantime, lean on your support network. If you’re home missing your former S.O., go to yoga with a friend or call your mom; the key is connecting with people who appreciate you. Ex, who?
3. If you miss a friend you lost touch with
Maybe Facebook Timehop resurfaced an old photo from freshman year that made you think about your former roommate. Or you find yourself visiting a city someone you know from high school moved to a few years ago. Should you reach out to these people you haven’t spoken to in years? Or would that just be really awkward? “You have to assess the risks of actually getting in contact with that person,” Dr. Kushnick says. “For example, if you Facebook message your friend but don’t hear back, will you be OK with that? What are you hoping to get out of the exchange?” If you feel like you’re in a good place in your life now but want to open communication back up, he says to go ahead and send that message, saying that you were thinking about them. It could be the start of a renewed friendship.
However, he says it’s worth it to figure out if it’s the actual person you miss, or if you miss the function of the friendship. “Maybe you miss that college buddy you used to hit the bars with. That could be an indicator that you need a social outlet,” he says. It’s possible you’re missing the idea of that friend—and who they used to be to you—rather than the person themselves.
Dr. Kushnick says it’s also natural for friendships to change over time, which can contribute to a fizzling out. If your “going out” friend becomes a new mom, for example, you likely won’t be hanging out in the same way anymore—and that’s totally normal. “You have to realize that the context of your relationship will change,” he says. You’ll both still care about what’s going on in each other’s lives—that won’t necessarily change—but the ways you spend time together and the things you talk about likely will change. This means you’ll often have to be a bit more flexible, like offering to hang out at her house instead of hitting the bar. Being accepting and accommodating of these changes will help you bridge the gap with these friends.
4. If you miss someone who passed away
This, of course, is the hardest scenario. For some people, talking about their lost loved one helps tremendously. For others, they might not be ready to do that yet. While Dr. Kushnick says therapy can help someone process grief, he also suggests gentle experimenting to see what works for you. If you look at a photo and it gives you comfort, lean into that. If it makes you feel worse, it’s okay to put the photos away for now.
Connecting with other people, whether it’s with others who knew the person who passed away or in a grief support group, can help too. “A group setting is very powerful, it just requires some patience to be able to hear other people’s stories as well,” Dr. Kushnick says. But again, he says that it’s not for everyone. “Sometimes people feel like they’re not ready to do that, that it’s hard to open up,” he says.
“What does typically help is a combination of finding a place to process the loss and talking about it,” he says. Therapy is something he says checks both of those boxes for virtually anyone. “Often, it gives people a way to think about how they want to preserve their memories and pass on their loved one’s legacy,” Dr. Kushnick says—with the guided support of a professional, no less.
If you’re not ready to talk about your loved one yet, Dr. Kushnick says don’t try to rush it. Instead, focus on spending your time doing things that make you happy, whether it’s a creative outlet, spending time with friends, or pouring your energy into a new project.
When it comes to missing someone, though the circumstances vary, it’s something virtually everyone experiences at some point in their life. The key is processing your emotions and acting accordingly. And, as with any hard emotion, self-care, self-care, self-care.
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