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The emotional responses to a thorny breakup can resemble the responses to the death of a loved one. You feel weighed down by the memories, the longing, the wistful tears, the chest pain and the aching throughout the whole body. Or you are so outraged that you are lucky not to have a semi-automatic weapon. Or you are ready to go on a secret mission aimed at reversing the terrible outcome.
It’s no coincidence that breakups can resemble the death of a loved one. When a loved one dies, you grieve. But death is not the only trigger of grief. Grief can occur after any kind of loss: the loss of a job, a limb, a breast, a home, a relationship.
According to the Kübler-Ross model of grief, also known as “The Five Stages of Grief,” first introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, grief involves five stages: Denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance.
After the loss of a loved one, you may first deny that the person is gone, simply refuse to believe it. Once the truth dawns on you, you may feel outraged and attempt to convince the beloved to come back or beg God or the universe’s spirits to reverse their decision. Once you realize things are not going to change, sadness sets in. Over time you may finally accept what happened.
These stages need not occur in this order, and each stage may occur several times. The different emotions can also overlap. You may be angry and in a bargaining mode at the same time, or deny what happened and still feel sad.
While losing a loved ones to death can cause very intense grief, for some it may be even harder to get through grief following a breakup. The beloved is still out there, roaming the earth, which makes it easier to get stuck in the denial phase of the grieving process. It is tempting to think that the breakup didn’t really happen, and that it is just a matter of time before you will be back together again.
This is a dangerous thought process. It may feel comforting at first but it will likely make you stuck in the very first stage of the grieving process (denial), preventing you from healing. It may even make you embark on a long futile bargaining process, where you unsuccessfully try to convince your beloved that the breakup was a mistake.
If a real breakup has actually occurred, it is best not even visualizing the possibility that it could be reversed. In fact, it is best not spending too much time thinking about the relationship and the breakup. Avoid overthinking what went wrong or how you might be able to make your ex-partner fall in love with you again. Leave all thoughts about the relationship and the breakup for some time in the future when you can truly say that you have healed emotionally.
Meanwhile allow yourself to recover by truly feeling the pain, anger and sadness inside you. Pay full attention to the gradual fading of these emotions as the days go by. Allot certain periods of time each day where you can concentrate on your sorrowful emotions. Cry, scream, kick or punch a pillow in the comfort of your own home, for example, after your workday is over.
Much later—once you can truly say that you have accepted the situation—you can devote some thoughts to what went wrong in your relationship but only in order to avoid making the same mistakes in future relationships or avoid ending up with a partner with the same flaws as the old one might have had.