Let’s face facts here. Breakups are devastating and heart-breaking. The more meaningful the relationship, the more painful its end. No matter what caused the breakup or how long the relationship lasted, whether you were the dumper or the dumpee, you will grieve the moment the relationship ends.
And you know what?
It’s perfectly fine to grieve.
When a relationship ends, it’s only natural for you, or anyone, to go through these 5 stages of grief after a breakup.
What are the 5 stages of grief?
Dr. Elizabeth Kuhbler-Ross created these 5 stages of grief in order to help her patients deal with grief and loss. More importantly, the 5 stages allow us to understand the different responses to grief and loss.
The five stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – are built on a framework that helps us in our learning to live with the one we lost. The tools in these 5 stages allow us to identify what we are feeling.
But the stages are not in a linear timeline. There’s no exact period of time that will dictate how long a person will spend in each stage because we all go through grief and loss differently. Although the 5 stages of grief are centered on the aspect of death or permanent loss, the loss or death of a relationship can still force us to exhibit these 5 stages.
Freud considered denial as a primary defense mechanism of the individual whenever he or she is presented with stressful situations. Denial works by soothing the pain through the inability to accept the current idea or thought.
In the case of a break-up, denial happens when an individual goes through a period of disbelief.
When a person goes through the denial stage, he or she will DENY the idea of the breakup. He or she will then soothe the pain by trying to make sense of the breakup from a different angle.
This is where you’ll hear the following lines:
- “Maybe this is just a phase we’re going through as a couple”
- “Maybe she just needs some time apart”
- “I will get her back. I just need to give her some space”
Denial does not provide anyone with long-term relief. When we are stuck in this stage, we feel numb and we are surrounded by the idea of meaninglessness and everything is just overwhelming.
But denial has a moment of grace as it allows us to pace our feelings. As much as you want to understand the reality of the breakup, you are just getting started on the healing phase. Once you start to become stronger, the denial phase fades.
The moment you’re no longer in denial, feelings that you’ve denied over time will start to surface, leading you to the next 4 stages.
I feel that this is a necessary stage of the healing process. When you feel your anger, it may look and feel endless, but the more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to fade and the more you will heal.
Emotions are buried underneath anger and thus, you will need to get to them IN TIME. Anger, however, is the emotion we are used to managing and it has no limits. It extends to your family, friends, and even the people you meet every day.
And you know what? It’s fine to be angry.
The loss of a relationship cannot really make up for the efforts that you’ve put in to make the relationship work. For you, there’s no justification whatsoever in the breakup or the events that led to the breakup.
He abused you.
She never knew your worth.
He never really cared about you.
When you think real hard about it, the anger that you’re showing is just a reflection of how much you’ve loved that person. The anger turns into a structure of healing as you are now focused on being angry towards one person – your ex. It’s this connection that allows you to make sense of the other emotions that have been buried underneath anger.
As these feelings emerge and anger fades, the pain becomes less intense. Then you move on to the next stage.
Remember the emotions buried underneath anger? It just so happens that guilt is often one of them, and thus accompanies bargaining.
Bargaining is that phase when you want to think of things like “I’d do anything to get the relationship back”. Most people would deem this as a petty attempt to make sense of what used to be.
The “what-ifs” and “shoulda-woulda-coulda’s” often give way to introspection and we are forced to find the fault in ourselves and what we think we could’ve done so things would’ve ended differently.
We even want to bargain with the pain. We want to do anything or give anything to avoid this pain.
The thing with bargaining is that it keeps us in the past and we try to negotiate our way out of the hurt. I’d like to believe that this stage can last for weeks or months, and most people often forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for a minute or an hour as we continue to flip in and out of one and into the other.
Bargaining keeps us in a cycle and we will often go back to the other stages – denial and anger.
Bargaining keeps us in the past, with no indication of how long we can stay there. Once we move past this stage, we now move on to being trapped in another timeline – the present. Accompanied by the present time is depression.
This is where feelings of emptiness arise and our grief takes us on a deeper level of understanding of the events that have unfolded. Depression feels like it’s going to last forever but this is not something that’s going to trigger mental illness.
Depression, according to Kuhbler-Ross, simply equates to intense moments of sadness and frequent thoughts of loneliness. Depression withdraws us from life and we are left to wallow in sadness.
The loss of a loved one in a breakup is depressing and depression is a normal response. To not experience depression is unusual. When the loss fully settles in, the realization that the relationship did not get better this time and you will not get them back is completely depressing.
Grief is a process of healing and depression is just one of the many steps along the way.
Acceptance is often confused with “being OK” or “all right” with what just transpired. This is not the case.
Most people will never feel OK or all right after a breakup. This stage is primarily centred on accepting the reality of the loss, that the relationship is gone and that we need to begin accepting a new permanent reality.
We may not like the reality or try not to make it OK but we eventually accept it. We learn to live with it. This is the new norm by which we have to live. We now try to live without that person in our lives.
As we begin to move on to live and enjoy life, we often feel that we betrayed our beloved. We can never replace what was lost, but we can make new connections and form new meaningful relationships.
Rather than denying our feelings, we listen to our needs and we move on, we change, we grow, and we evolve.
We start to reach out to others and we become involved in their lives. We now invest in friendships and relationship with ourselves. Overtime, we begin to live again.
The five stages of grief after a breakup are normal responses to loss. We cannot deny the fact that we go through these five stages or a variation of it, and the recovery period cannot be estimated nor calculated. Some people recover after a breakup in a week while others take almost a year or more to recover.
What Dr. Elizabeth Kuhbler-Ross pointed out is that the five stages are meant to help you identify your feelings during grief and loss, and are not meant to help you pack your feelings in neat little packets for your convenience.