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The Stages of Grief During a Breakup

Megan Mulroy, LPC

           Breaking up with a partner is never easy. Whether you were the person who ended it or not, the pain is still real and can often times be overwhelming and devastating. One of the hardest things about ending a relationship is that all of your hopes, dreams, and plans you built with your ex-partner are gone along with the relationship. That dog you talked about buying together. GONE! That apartment you were going to rent together? Not anymore!  Much of the pain in life comes from finding a life plan we fall in love with that does not work out. And what makes a breakup especially hard is that you are not only grieving a life that you loved at one point, but you are also grieving a person who is still very much alive.

Mourning the loss of someone is mostly talked about in terms of death; however, I see feelings of grief show up with a lot of my clients who have never experienced the loss of a loved one’s life.  In my personal and professional experience, grieving a living person is immensely painful, and very similar to mourning the life of a loved one. What makes this kind of grief so hard is that the person you are grieving may be very physically close, but emotionally removed. When we have social media at our fingertips, or you see your ex in social circles, it can make the grieving process even harder.

When looking at the 7 stages of grief, it is important to remember that grief looks different for everyone and it is normal to skip certain stages, stay longer/shorter in some, or move out of order. Often times, we see denial pop up first. In a breakup, it is very common to be in denial about the loss right after it happens. Being in denial can look like telling yourself everything is OK, overscheduling your self with errands to keep yourself busy, imagining getting back together, or simply denying that the breakup happened. It is very normal to feel as if you are in a bad dream, but denial is often a common defense mechanism that can dull the intensity of heartbreak.

The second stage of grief is anger. Anger can be a stage of grief that is covering up deeper and sadder feelings, which makes it a fan favorite in the stages of grief. It can be a lot easier for people to be angry at their exes instead of sitting with loneliness, depression, and the devasting pain of your lives together ending. Anger can look like charged texts to your ex or taking your anger out of friends or family when feeling triggered. Also, anger isn’t always a direct behavior and can often just be a feeling you’re sitting with.

After anger, bargaining usually comes next. It is very normal to feel helpless and hopeless after a breakup, so bargaining makes total sense.  Thoughts in this stage might sounds like, “If I hadn’t picked that fight, we’d still be together,” or “please, God, let this pain stop and I promise I’ll be better in my next relationship.” Bargaining can foster a sense of control when everything feels out of your hands. Bargaining also buys you time from one of the hardest phases of grief, which is depression.

In the depression stage, you have often exhausted all your options to run away from your feelings and you find yourself sitting with a lot of sadness. Feeling depressed can look different for everyone, but it can often look like isolation, fatigue, loss of interest in hobbies/activities, too much/not enough sleep, and teariness.  Depression can often feel like it will last forever, but it is important to remember that feelings are temporary, and it will pass. Try and avoid looking at photos of your ex or torturing yourself by looking at every text message or birthday card she sent you. Those things will be waiting for your you once you’ve reached the final stage of grief: acceptance.

Acceptance can feel like the light at the end of the tunnel after going through the other stages. It does not always mean you feel happy and light, but it does mean you have accepted the reality of the situation. There is room for every feeling in the acceptance stage. Throughout any stage of grief, taking to a therapist can help you make sense of your emotions and help you process your breakup. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to meet with one of our counselors that can help you during this grieving period.

Reference

Holland, K. (2018, September 25). What You Should Know About the Stages of Grief. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/stages-of-grief

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