Author: Amy Chan
Amy Chan is the Founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp, a retreat that takes a scientific and spiritual approach to healing the heart. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Heart Hackers Club – an online magazine that focuses on the psychology behind love, lust and desire. The Observer calls her “A relationship expert whose work is like that of a scientific Carrie Bradshaw” and her company has been featured across national media including Good Morning America, Vogue, Glamour, Nightline and the front page of The New York Times. Her book, Breakup Bootcamp – The Science of Rewiring Your Heart, published by Harper Collins, is available at all bookstores now.
1. Can you tell us about Renew Breakup Bootcamp and how it came to be?
Several years ago I was dating someone who I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. I thought life was perfect. I had the job, the status, and the boyfriend. I was training to be the perfect CEO’s girlfriend so that eventually I’d be the perfect CEO’s wife. Living the dream, at that time, was being someone’s plus one, getting married and eventually being a stay-at-home-mom. It’s the only dream I ever knew. But one day, that dream fell apart.
The man I thought was going to be happily ever after cheated on me, and when the relationship fell apart, I fell apart. I had also lost my job a few months prior, and moved out of my apartment to live with him. I felt like my entire world came crashing down and found myself jobless, boyfriend-less and without a place to call my home. I stopped eating, I spiraled into depression, I had suicidal thoughts.
After I hit rock bottom, I realized that I couldn’t continue the way I was. I picked myself back up, and tried to heal. I tried everything - therapy, reiki, meditation, yoga retreats, you name it, I tried it. Eventually the steps added up and I started to feel like the dark haze was being lifted.
I immersed myself into learning everything I could about heartbreak. I researched, I wrote, I experimented on myself and sought the guidance of experts from the scientific to the metaphysical. I realized that during my heartbreak there was no one place where I could go to heal, and learn about myself and my patterns so that I wouldn’t repeat the same heartbreak all over again. Throughout my journey I was blogging about my experience.
After receiving countless emails from people feeling hopeless in heartbreak, I learned that there’s so many people struggling, and that it’s a very scary place to be when you feel like you have no hope. I was fortunate to have a support system and to learn the tools to heal, but what about the people who didn’t have such support?
I knew I had to be the one to create a safe space for people mourning heartbreak, and to leave differently from how they came in. Alas, the idea for Breakup Bootcamp was born.
When someone breaks their leg, it’s not even a question that you go to the doctor, get medical help, and take care of yourself so that the leg can heal. But when it comes to matters of the heart, people do not seem to realize that the heart too, needs gentle care, support, time and tenderness. There’s this mentality in North America to ‘’just get over it’ when our feelings are hurt, but this can be toxic and dangerous.
A broken heart is like a weapon. If you do not heal it, you continue to hurt yourself and the people that cross your path. Think about anyone in your past who has hurt your heart - chances are, they too had some old wounds that were never healed. The old saying goes, "hurt people hurt people", and it’s true. The opposite is also true, "healed people heal people".
My intention is to help people look at their own patterns and beliefs and realize what old wounds need to be addressed. If we do not heal the past, we keep repeating the same emotional experience over and over again, just with different people. It’s never just about the ex, it’s recycled pain.
Healing the heart is complicated. There’s no magic bullet that can fast forward the pain to pass. It requires a holistic approach - the heart, the mind, the body and the spirit - because it’s all interconnected. Talk therapy is great, but a lot of the women who come to Renew have tried years of traditional therapy and have hit a wall. My hope is that by taking a holistic approach, the subconscious and the conscious, the heart and the mind can align.
3. What is your best advice for the broken-hearted?
If you’re still blaming your ex, vilifying your ex, psychoanalyzing your ex - you are still in a relationship with your ex! When you blame, you are shackled to the person who hurt you, giving that person the keys to your emotional freedom. Blaming keeps you dependent on the action of another person - something you ultimately cannot control. This powerlessness keeps you in a state of suffering.
Also, remember, you are not going crazy - you are going through withdrawal!
If you’re going through a breakup, it’s important to understand that you’re in a process of detaching and your body is in shock. The part of the brain that is activated after a separation is the same part of the brain as a cocaine user feening for their next fix. You’re literally in withdrawal. Understand that it takes time for your brain and the old neural pathways associated with your ex to prune away. You’re not going crazy—it’s just a process, and that process takes time.
I’ve observed through my work that the emotional intensity starts to subside between the 6-8 week mark. But time does not heal all wounds. Time helps minimize the intensity of the pain. But the only way to heal your wounds is to do the work to heal them. That means to process the emotions, learn about your subconscious beliefs, get support if needed, and make changes so that the same patterns do not repeat.
It’s never just about the ex, it’s recycled pain. If you don’t work on healing the wounds beneath the surface, the same emotional experience might just repeat in the future.
4. What’s a 3-step cheat sheet for someone to heal their broken heart? What would your tips be?
Give yourself permission to grieve - There are different stages of separation that mirror the stages of grief. Different strategies apply depending on which stage you’re at. In the beginning, you’re in a state of shock. The new reality without your partner hasn’t quite set in yet and you might feel numb and confused. During this stage you need to grieve. It’s okay to cry, to scream, to feel all the feels. You can even ask your friends and family to ‘hold space’ for you. That means they listen without judgement, without advice giving, and provide a safe space for you to feel your emotions and process them.
Detox from your ex - Your body is used to getting it’s doses of feel good chemicals from the relationship, and even though on a cognitive level you know it’s over, your body doesn’t. You’re in withdrawal and you may rationalize that you should contact your ex, or stare at old photos and texts. Don’t do it! By doing so you only strengthen the old neural pathways that keep you attached. Delete them off social media, remove physical and digital reminders of your ex. You’ll have intense cravings, but this is a natural part of the process.
Find other sources of dopamine - Your relationship likely satisfied a lot of needs - connection, play, adventure and physical touch to name a few. You need to create a proactive strategy of how you're going to get your needs met - in healthy ways that do not involve your ex. Write a list of all the needs you use to get fulfilled in your relationship and brainstorm alternative, healthy ways to get that need met. For connection perhaps you volunteer at a charity, or set a weekly friends’ night. For adventure, perhaps you take that course you’ve always wanted to take, or go on that mountain climbing excursion that’s been on your bucket list. Don’t just wait for the boredom of a clear schedule to kick in. Be proactive and fill your schedule with things that light you up.
5. What is your favorite piece of advice in the book?
You may not be able to change the events of your history, but you can choose to change the story you attach to those events.
That perspective is a game changer. I still think about it whenever I go through something challenging. It’s the basis of reframing, one of the most important life skills you can have.
Our greatest lesson in this lifetime is to practice opening our hearts, even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.
It’s because I took my own advice that I’m in a happy, healthy relationship now. Before I met my partner, I was devastated from another relationship that didn’t work out. I recall this moment where I was crying, and asked God, the universe, anyone up there who was listening - why me? Why is life so unfair? I didn’t understand how as someone who spends her time helping people with their hearts, I was heartbroken… again.
It was at that moment I remembered this piece of advice I gave to the participants at Renew. I got back up and decided that I wasn’t going to let the disappointment make me close up my heart. I felt this surge of empowerment come over me, and inspiration. I got on a dating app. I met my partner that week.
6. Overall, what was your writing process like for this book?
I started blogging about relationships 12 years ago. I think that’s really when it started - I just didn’t know the destination back then. The actual process of the book took 8 proposals, 2 agents and over a dozen drafts. Then promoting the book was a full-time job for 4 months.
7. What would your advice be to early twentysomethings dating in this social media world?
Your 20s are meant for experience and exploring. This is when you go through your first big heartbreak and that’s character-forming. I wouldn’t take away that experience because it’s so valuable. My advice would be to see each relationship as a bridge, each bridge you cross is taking you closer to your destination. And the secret is, the destination actually isn’t about another person. It’s about your own self-love.
8. What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?
Just write, even if it seems like gibberish. Write, and edit later. It’s more about the editing than your draft.
9. What’s the best book you have read this year so far?
One of my favourite books is Untamed by Glennon Doyle.
10. What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?
Happiness is not the goal. Acceptance is.
11. Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
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