Written by therapist Sarah Heinss
There’s a reason why, “I Will Always Love You,” by Whitney Houston is one of the most iconic songs of all time. In her anthemic declaration, she belted a line that resonated with the human race. And it’s not just Whitney; there are countless others that reminisce on the nature of love. Music often expresses what words cannot, the same way the phrase “break up” doesn’t quite capture the experience of love lost. I liken a break up closer to the feeling of floating into the depths of the ocean, only to miraculously find you can breathe underwater, like a tragic little mermaid. To the naked eye, you are simply sitting there at your desk at work, walking through a park, or at a gathering with friends, but when you’re grieving, part of you is physically there and the other part of you is floating downward into the ocean, barely breathing.
Grief is universal, in that we all experience it, but it is also unique, in that we are all made differently and experience relationships with differing levels of breadth and depth. The 5 stages of grief provide a window into the different levels of grief, though everyone will experience these stages differently, and grief is not linear. Let the below give you some bumpers for the pain that feels unexplainable; structure for the unknown. Here are the 5 stages of grief for your breakup.
The first stage is denial. It’s how we cope, adjust, and pace those feelings of overwhelming grief and loss. We tell ourselves the break up didn’t really happen, it was just a bad fight, that this is temporary. Or, we tell ourselves they are coming back, or you’ll want them back, or they’ll change and one day you’ll be back together. Back, back, back; all we want is them back. In this stage of grief, the reality of the break up is just too hard to look at straight in the face, so we deflect it with the only coping mechanism within our grasp: denial.
Anger is the next stage. It’s normal to be mad, even livid, at your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend. It’s common to relive the worst moments of your relationship, blame them, and resent the pain they caused. Often, the anger is even directed at yourself. This is the stage where we send rage emails and texts, or burn everything they ever gave us. In other instances, we can turn a break up into holistic belief statements about ourselves such as, “this always happens to me,” or “this is my fault” or “I’ll never find anyone else.” No matter where the anger is directed, it’s there and it’s ready to fight.
Pro tip: allow yourself to feel your feelings. Utilize healthy coping mechanisms to process, such as journaling, going for walks, or calling a friend.
The bargaining phase can get messy. You bargain with yourself, you bargain with your ex, you bargain with God. You keep thinking, “if they will just change this or that, we can be back together.” You even consider friendship: “I can’t just delete someone with so much history out of my life. We’ll be friends!”
Pro tip: trying to befriend an ex too soon after a break up will only make it worse. The romantic feelings don’t just go away because you or the other person made a choice to end the relationship.
You are doing okay, making it through the first few weeks with pretend realities, rage emails, and empty promises, but then it hits. The sadness. A torrent. A black hole. The reality of what happened sets in. You wake up in the morning and there’s no “good morning” text. The weekends feel empty and the one person you’d usually talk to about your sadness is the one breaking your heart. This is the stage where it’s tempting to feel like we will never recover, you’re eating ice cream all the time, and having trouble getting out of bed. This is the stage where it is most important to lean on your social network. Call a friend, go to things you’re invited to even if you don’t feel like it, and get some new memories under your belt.
Acceptance doesn’t happen all at once. It’s the slow moving forward with your life. With every event, conversation, grocery store run, or accomplishment, you are slowly making a new life for yourself, and it doesn’t have your ex in it. And then one day, you will wake up and they will not be the first thing on your mind. The, “when will I feel normal again,” happens as your life slowly moves on. You experience something strange…happiness? You think.
The 5 stages of grief happen at a different pace for everyone, and skip around. Denial might last 1 day or 3 months. Acceptance might last 2 weeks or 5 years. Grief is not linear. Everyone’s timeline is different. And every relationship carries a different kind of weight. It’s easy to get stuck comparing. It seems there is a certain societal timeline for how long is “normal” for getting over an ex, but there are some people you never “get over.” They simply become part of you, and there is a special kind of honor for that kind of grief as well. In the words of Whitney, we might even say, “I hope life treats you kind. I hope you have all you’ve dreamed of. I’m wishing you joy and happiness and but above all this, I wish you love.”
Are you grieving a breakup, or are stuck in one of these stages? It would be an honor to walk with you through the loss of love as you slowly start to put the pieces back together and pull yourself out of the ocean. Give us a call and schedule an appointment today!