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The Gut-Wrenching Aftermath of Breakup


When an epic relationship ends, one of the most tormenting aspects of the loss is that you can think you’re ok, that you’ve weathered the storm. Then, seemingly out of the blue, you plunge right back into confusion, disgust, and fear, all over again. Chances are, the more tumultuous the relationship was while you were in it, the more tumultuous your response in the aftermath of breakup will be.

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After Breakup, Understanding Your Identity as an Un-Partnered Person

Up till now being in a relationship may have been a determining factor in how you view yourself and how comfortable you feel in the world. It may be hard to know or trust who you are without a relationship. Therefore, even when you have said your goodbyes, it can feel like the only way you will get through to the next minute is to hear your ex’s voice: Like they are anchor that brings you back to who you are, or who you understand yourself to be. But, at the same time, you know that indulging that connection feels awful because you don’t want to keep depending on it.

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After Breakup, Who Says Your Feelings Have to Make Sense?

When your relationship first ended, you may have been far clearer about why the relationship didn’t work, and why your ex was wrong for you. However, you now find yourself having uncomfortable thoughts about the ex—longing, melancholy, and memories of the good times are seeping back into your psyche. Your once-clear perspective becomes more cloudy: what you are feeling right now doesn’t line up with what actually happened between you and your ex. Yet you miss the relationship; you miss that partner who was so wrong for you. It just doesn’t make sense:

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Does Fear of the Unknown Keep You Trapped in Your Relationship?

If you’ve been miserable in your relationship for far too long, the logical thing to do is leave. But if there’s been trauma, betrayal, chaos in your life, you fear the unknown. Of course you do. Therefore, how can you leave an unhappy relationship when your distrust in the world compels you to stay put, regardless of of how unhappy you are in the relationship. And it seems like any alternative would be even worse.

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How To Break a Cycle of Relationship Rejection

Does it seem like you’re in a cycle of rejection—like every relationship ends in being dumped? The cycle of rejection is ugly, painful and humbling. It decimates you self-esteem, and gives you ample opportunity to say to anyone who will listen, “See, I told you so: I am damaged goods, an unlovable loser.”

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The Wrenching Heartbreak of Being Left for Another

Being dumped for someone else is a double punch: not only do you feel abandoned but also replaced. It’s a biological imperative to guard your mate – and now he or she is with someone else and you’re stuck with the harrowing, awful, alone feeling of knowing that the person you love is loving another. Being left for someone else can also bring feelings of great shame: you may feel inadequate or unable to “keep” your partner. You may feel expendable. And, whatever the characteristics of the new man or woman in your ex-partner’s life, you feel less special, less interesting, less attractive. The experience can feel like it has emotionally leveled you.

There are a number of ways you can be left for another, and while all are wrenching, some are more so than others. The following is a list of a few of the scenarios:

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The 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup No. 9: Hope

Here, I’m exploring the 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup. I encourage you to start at the beginning of the series with the entry describing the first stage, Shock. In previous days, I have also written about the stages of  Denial, Desperate for Answers, External Bargaining, Internal Bargaining, Relapse, Initial Acceptance and Anger. Today we are exploring the final stage of grieving a breakup, Hope.

9. Hope

Hope or lack thereof about yourself, your relationship, and your future is a defining factor of your grieving process. Not only has your relationship been severed, but so has your access to hope about what could have been and what will be. When you lose access to hope, your first inclination is to try to salvage hope by funneling or redirecting it into reviving the relationship any way you can.

Why? Because being without hope is a profoundly desperate feeling. In fact, it is one of the most devastating feelings a human can experience. Hope is a life force, a basic survival need. In reality, the only time you literally lose all the hope in your reserves is when you give in to death. Otherwise, what you are losing is not hope itself, but your access to hopeful feelings. As long as you’re alive and breathing, it remains in your reserves whether you have access to it or not.

As you begin to accept that reconciliation it is not an option, you shift from the hope that the relationship can be saved, to the possibility that you just might be ok without it. For now, hope lies in small accomplishments, all of which lead toward greater hope that you will be okay and there will be new reasons to be hopeful in the future.

Remember that your progression through these stages won’t be linear. You won’t necessarily start with Shock and progress through the stages in order until reaching Hope. Hopefully you now have a better understanding of where you are in your process, which can feel comforting in its own right. And hopefully I have provided you with language and a way of understanding your experience so that you can communicate about it and feel less alone as you go through your grief.

The 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup No. 8: Anger

Here, I’m exploring the 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup. I encourage you to start at the beginning of the series with the entry describing the first stage, Shock. In previous days, I have also written about the stages of  Denial, Desperate for Answers, External Bargaining, Internal Bargaining, Relapse and Initial Acceptance. Today we are exploring the eighth stage of grieving a breakup, Anger.

8. Anger

Anger takes many forms in-breakup. There are earlier, more primal forms, and later more developed ones. In the beginning, anger can take the shape of self-blame. It’s most tempting to look for answers in your own shortcomings. You’re angry at yourself for what you see as messing up the relationship, and you say to yourself, “I got what I deserve.” This kind of anger also takes the shape of self-disgust; you’re “not good enough” – you’re “ugly,” “stupid,” “fat,” “old,” “useless, “undeserving.” Blame is an unproductive and immobilizing form of anger. It’s a long way out of that hole you’re digging yourself into.

When you’re angry at yourself or even at your ex for the demise of your relationship, that’s you trying to make sense of what happened by determining whose “fault” it is, who to blame. But no matter who’s at fault, blaming yourself, your ex, or anyone else you believe is implicated can’t and won’t change the outcome.

Progress comes when you recognize that you’re most angry about the breakup itself. It is unfair and unjust, but it is reality. When you are responsible for your own anger, you begin to re-unify the pieces of you that were shattered by breakup, the faulty dynamics of the relationship, and the misunderstandings that occurred as a result. This kind of anger gives you the power to move forward.

9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup No. 7: Initial Acceptance

Here, I am exploring the 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup. Please see posts on earlier stages Shock, Denial, Desperate for Answers, External Bargaining, Internal Bargaining and Relapse. Today we are exploring the seventh stage of grieving a breakup, Initial Acceptance.

7. Initial Acceptance

Initial acceptance happens repeatedly during your process of grief. It is a stage you are likely to visit again and again. Between the waves of agonizing rediscovery of your loss, you will experience moments of clarity. During those moments, you may be able or even willing to accept the inevitability of breakup, and will resolve to keep away from your ex to the best of your ability. You will find that you go in and out of having the to recognize that the relationship is no longer viable, and will have the self-control to hold onto that concept, at least briefly.

At these times, no matter how fleeting they are, you will make a conscious effort to exercise restraint when the urge to contact your ex descends on you. Over time, initial acceptance and the strategies you used to sustain it become more substantive and consistent. You will build on it, and continue to put boundaries in place that you make the breakup stick, because you know it has to, you don’t have a choice.

But for now, know that it’s okay when the moments of clarity and the realization that you’ll be okay are submerged more often than experienced. Your shift in perspective will come with time.

9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup No. 5: Internal Bargaining

For nine days, I am exploring the 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup. Earlier in the week, I wrote about the first four stages, Shock, Denial, Desperate for Answers and External Bargaining. Today we are exploring the fifth stage of grieving a breakup, Internal Bargaining.

5. Internal Bargaining

There’s another insidious form that bargaining takes: the “if onlies”. In this stage, you replay moments, scenarios, decisions, actions and inactions that occurred within the relationship. You obsess about what you should have done differently to prevent the breakup.  If only you had picked him up at the airport that day; if only you didn’t complain about your job so much. Why didn’t you go on that camping trip? Why didn’t you tell her you loved her more often? If only you were a different person who did different things in a different way! You’re bargaining with your past self, hoping to alter how time has already unfolded. It’s a seductive loop to get stuck in, because what you imagine is so much less painful than what you have to face.

Maybe it’s true: maybe you could very well have changed the outcome by altering behaviors in your past. Meanwhile, back in real life, we have no idea if your theories are true. More importantly, the likelihood that you possess the ability to go back in time to redo stuff that went awry is pretty slim. If you actually had that power, there are probably many things you would go back and do differently. So would I.