Stages of Grief
You will get through this, even if it doesn’t feel like that right now. Grief moves in stages – it has a beginning, middle, and an end phase. It might help to know where you are in the process.
In the beginning, you may feel in shock, denial, or numb. It may be hard for you to believe what has happened. It may be hard to make sense of it all. You may find yourself expecting to come home to your partner or for her/him to call at a regular time only to discover that’s not the case any longer. It may take awhile for you to fully comprehend that the relationship is over.
During this phase many people operate as if the relationship is still on even as they grieve the loss. For example, even though you may be really upset, you may not have fully accepted that the relationship is over. Deep down you may be waiting for her/him to come back. (People do this even after a death, it’s normal.) This period of disbelief or shock is the body’s natural protection against pain.
You may try to get back together even when you know it’s over. You may go over and over in your mind and with everyone you talk to what you think led to the break up or what might have made a difference and resulted in a different outcome. This is the “if only” stage – “if only I had…or, if only I hadn’t…” we might still be together. If you are doing this, you are likely trying to make sense of what has happened, trying to understand and take it in, and trying to change it too. It’s hard to take in that a break up is permanent. You’ll need time to fully absorb this reality.
At this stage, you may have trouble remembering things, focusing, and feeling a sense of purpose or direction in your life – you may feel as though you are drifting through the day. This is a natural initial reaction to loss.
The Second Stage of Grief
The second stage involves feeling fear, anger and depression. This stage often lasts the longest and can be filled with feelings of insecurity, panic, worry, crying, anger, and feelings of depression. Some people don’t allow themselves to feel, while others have trouble letting go of how they are feeling. Both are essential – feeling and eventually letting go.
Some people worry that if they let themselves feel that they’ll be overcome with emotion and never come out of it – they’ll drown in their feelings and not be able to function. Others feel their feelings but can’t seem to let go of them even after a lot of time has passed. Either way, it’s important to give yourself permission to feel and at some point to let go so that you can move on.
In the beginning, you may think that you will always feel this way, but you won’t. Your feelings will pass. You’ll discover that the time between down periods increases. Too often with break-ups we don’t feel that we have the right to feel upset much longer than a few weeks when the truth is it usually takes longer. I have found that grief tends to run a cycle of at least one year unless of course the relationship wasn’t very important, was short-term, or you were grieving before you actually left her/him. But, if you spent a number of years together, and the person was important to you, even if you’re the one doing the breaking up you can still be grieving for approximately one year. Of course with very long term relationships, it can take even longer to feel back on your feet but it is still possible to recover.
The Third Stage of Grief
This is the stage where you begin to accept that the relationship is over, and that you’re going to be okay. You realize that you haven’t thought about your ex-partner in awhile, and that without realizing it you are moving on. You’ve gained back some of your zest for life, and are beginning to see a future ahead of you.
Sometimes the process involves a little movement forward and a little back. This is okay and perfectly normal, afterall you need to get used to your forward steps and occasionally may need the comfort of what you were feeling before. Try not to be hard on yourself, change is not a linear path. It’s full of up’s and down’s. It’s okay to feel good and then feel hurt and angry again, especially if you see her/him in the community or dating someone else.
In the acceptance stage, you’ve done a lot of thinking about the relationship and the break-up and you realize things that you hadn’t before. You understand yourself better, and you aren’t as angry or hurt. You find yourself laughing more, and feeling hopeful. You begin to notice that you’re feeling better and that you are ready to trust again, or at least to try.
Try not to lose faith if you fall back into a funk – each time that you feel better will have an accumulative effect. Grief comes in waves – up and down.
Sometimes letting go just happens after you’ve let yourself grieve and rage and whatever else you need to do. Other times, people have to deliberately and consciously focus on letting go. It is tempting to hold on, and scary to let go. Saying to yourself that you are letting go of your ex-partner can be helpful. Interrupting yourself when you get stuck thinking or talking about her/him and redirecting your focus onto something else is all part of letting go.
Filling your life with activities that you enjoy – creative, playful, sociable, soulful activities – are all ways to nurture yourself back to health.
Breaking-up can feel unbearably hard and so permanent. Let yourself know that you won’t always feel this way and in the meantime let yourself grieve your losses fully. You will feel stronger and lighter for having done so.
Kali Munro, © 2001. The author of this article is Kali Munro, M.Ed., Psychotherapist. Visit her at www.KaliMunro.com