To be human is to experience a wide range of emotions. Yet just because we live our lives through a series of feelings does not mean that they become any easier to comprehend. Perhaps one of the most intense emotions that one can feel, aside from love, is grief. Experiencing grief, whether it’s due to the death of a loved one or a breakup, is one of the most difficult things that we have to go through. It’s essentially a unique experience every time because you rarely grieve the same thing twice, and even if you do, it’s never under the same circumstances.
This is especially true when grieving a breakup. No matter how many relationships one may have had, each breakup is its own story carrying its own grief that can sometimes take a lot of work to overcome. Understanding your grief and the process of grieving is one of the most important steps when dealing with loss. However, in order to do this, one must familiarize themselves with the stages of grief and how it can affect every aspect of your life, including your physical health. Comprehending the impact of grief on both you and your ex-partner is one of the best ways to accept it and carry on. To further help you navigate this experience, we have answered some of the most pressing questions relating to grief that will help you feel more in control and confident about overcoming it.
Are there 5 or 7 stages of grief?
The process of getting over a breakup is different for everyone. Yet, there are several theories of grief that detail the various stages of loss which tend to be universal and helpful when trying to understand the overall grieving period. Perhaps the most popular theory of grief are the five basic stages that one could potentially experience when going through a breakup or suffering any other type of loss. However, there is another theory that includes 7 stages of grief, going into greater detail about the multitude of feelings that one may experience when navigating a difficult and complicated breakup.
Here are the five basic stages of grief:
- Denial: In this stage, one may have a difficult time accepting their reality. The most common action during this phase is refusing to believe what is happening. You might tell yourself that your spouse is not actually breaking up with you. Most overcome this stage by taking the time to process the situation, no matter how long it takes or how difficult it may seem.
- Anger: The anger stage is a feeling that one may experience during tough breakups. You might feel angry at your spouse, yourself, or you might even project that anger onto others around you, although they might have nothing to do with the breakup. However, most people find that once taking the time to experience these feelings of anger, they can let them go and continue with their journey of healing.
- Bargaining: This stage, for many, is a way to regain a sense of control or hope. After a breakup, you might turn to a higher power, such as God, and pray for your partner to come back. You might even think of all the things you could’ve done and how that might’ve produced a different outcome. Yet, the bargaining stage usually entails thoughts that can’t be put into action because the past cannot be changed.
- Depression: For many, this stage might be difficult to identify and even more difficult to overcome. Depression is different from anger in the sense that you are probably feeling a wide range of emotions that can leave you drained, tired, and even confused. Depression can feel empty and it can feel overwhelming. However, most people find that seeking professional help or support makes it more manageable to overcome this stage.
- Acceptance: Normally, acceptance is the final stage of grief. Acceptance can be as simple as confirming your reality, such as coming to terms with the fact that you and your ex-partner are over. However, acceptance can also be the process of gaining a deeper understanding of yourself, your past relationship, and even your ex-spouse to recognize how your break-up has affected you. Some may constantly come back to this stage, reminding themselves that this is their reality now, which is completely normal.
The seven stages of grief include the stages above along with some other common emotions that one may feel when grieving a relationship. Below are examples of what one may feel throughout the several stages of grief when going through a breakup.
- Shock & Denial: “This can’t be happening. We can’t be breaking up.”
- Pain & Guilt: “What did I do to deserve this? Why would they do this to me? Could I have been a better partner?”
- Anger & Bargaining: “I can’t believe they did this to me. They’ll change their mind, they’ll come to their senses, and once they do, it’ll all be different.”
- Depression: “I’ll never love again. I’ll never find somebody like them. I am not a good partner.”
- Upward Turn: “Some days are tough, but perhaps there’s a way I can put this behind me.”
- Reconstruction: “There are some things that I’ve learned from my past relationship that can potentially help me better navigate future relationships.”
- Acceptance & Hope: “I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I want in a relationship. I know the type of partner I need and the type of partner I can be.”
How long do the 7 stages of grief last?
In some cases, it might be easy to identify the stage of grief that you are in, however, most of the time, it can be difficult to distinguish where you are in your journey of overcoming grief. Almost always, it is practically impossible to say how long grief will last. The reason being is because you may experience these stages completely out of order or find yourself returning to certain stages that you thought you’d already past.
For example, depending on the circumstances of the breakup, a person may feel anger at first, whether it’s at their partner or themselves, only to later experience guilt or denial, and then anger again. In this case, the seven stages of grief can seem never-ending because just when you think that you’ve accepted your breakup, you’re back to feeling hurt or betrayed.
Grieving a relationship can last for months or even years. Yet, this is totally normal and is nothing to be ashamed of. It is important to remember that grief is not linear, it’s a dynamic process that is distinct for everyone. The fact that the seven stages of grief cannot be measured might cause some people to feel hopeless, however it is crucial to believe in yourself and understand that you are strong enough to overcome anything.
On the other hand, you may find yourself experiencing grief during your actual relationship, even before you and your spouse breakup. When this happens, you might experience the seven stages of grief much differently. For example, both partners may feel as though the relationship just isn’t working out even though they try to make an attempt to salvage it.
People around you may notice that something about you is off. You might seem irritated, like one may feel in the anger stage, or you might seem exhausted, like in the depression stage. In the end, both you and your partner decide that it’s best to part ways, accepting the reality that your relationship is not working anymore.
At that point, you may already be in the acceptance stage in where you allow yourself to let go of that relationship and move on. Therefore, one might say that the couple was able to overcome their breakup and process their grief quickly. Overall, every breakup is different, inevitably causing everyone to experience grief uniquely and at their own pace.
What does grief do to your body?
Grieving a breakup can affect every aspect of your life, including your physical health. Licensed psychologist, Seth J. Gillihan, writes that “one common, but often unrecognized, grief response is feelings of tremendous anxiety” that can come “from the stress on our minds and bodies, which leads to a state of high alert as our fight-or-flight system is stuck in the ‘on’ position.” Anxiety that is related to grief can cause a person to be physically tired as they may have significant sleeping troubles. When a person has difficulties falling or staying asleep, it can detrimentally affect their physical and mental health in the long run. Medical expert, Alexey Portnov, writes that “if lack of sleep becomes permanent, then the person is already threatened with more serious consequences: isolation, apathy and even depression,” demonstrating that grief-related anxiety can disrupt your sleeping habits.
Moreover, when grieving a breakup, you might not have the energy nor the will to do the things you once used to do. Perhaps you find yourself not going to the gym as often. You may notice your body start to react to the lack of exercise. Sometimes, people may notice that their appetite has changed, feeling less hungry, or in some cases, hungrier than they normally would be. Whatever physical changes that your body may go through because of grief, it is important to be aware of them and to seek help if those changes threaten your health. It is normal for grief to affect an individual both physically and mentally, but it is important to be mindful of your health and ask for support if need be. Setting small goals for yourself such as taking a brisk walk for 15 minutes once a day, grabbing a light snack, or talking to your doctor about your sleeping troubles could allow you to feel physically better and mentally stronger, letting you continue your journey in a healthy manner.
What is the hardest stage of grief?
As mentioned previously, grief is distinct for everyone and no experience is ever the same. For some, the hardest stage of grief might be the first stage of overcoming the shock. For others, the hardest stage might be the reconstruction phase in where you are trying to heal and work on yourself. At the same time, it is common for the depression stage to be the most difficult because an individual can feel unmotivated and even lost, failing to recognize that they might benefit from outside help and support. Furthermore, the acceptance stage can be one of the hardest because it could require continuous effort to remind yourself that you have overcome your breakup. Since grief is fluid and an ever-changing process, you may find yourself easily surpassing stages only to experience those feelings once again. This is normal. You must be aware that you’ll have good and bad days, and that experiencing feelings that you might have once overcome does not mean that you are moving backwards. In fact, continuously working through those feelings and the different stages of grief is a sign that you are overcoming your breakup.
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