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.

The 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup No. 6: Relapse

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

6. Relapse

Because the pain is unbearable, you are relentless in your pursuit of reconciliation, and are actually able to convince your ex to try again. (This may not be your first or even second time around with this person.) By reconciling, you relieve the agony of withdrawal, at least temporarily. Although not without some discomfort and insecurity, due to the tenuous nature of the relationship now.

Relapsing, that is, giving in to withdrawal, is another way to avoid the fear of the unknown, namely life without your ex. It’s your way of staving off the pain of acknowledging that the relationship is no longer viable. You are doing everything in your power to buy time now so you don’t have to face the pain.


9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup No. 4: External Bargaining

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

If your ex would just take you back, you’ll be a better, more attentive partner. Everything that’s been wrong, you’ll make right. If you can convince your ex that the relationship will be better this time, you can make your pain go away. At this stage in your grieving process, your capacity for reason and judgment are significantly impaired, making you prone to offering bargains you can’t and don’t want to keep (you probably shouldn’t be operating heavy machinery either). Do you really want to be responsible for fixing all the relationship’s problems? Do you really want to put the entire burden of repairing, maintaining, and sustaining it on you?

Any relief you get by cajoling your partner into consenting to another try is usually fleeting—you can’t seal every crack or compensate for every problem the two of you had, especially after taking the breakup blow and having your trust in this person damaged in the process. As much as you might believe you can singlehandedly fix everything that’s been wrong, it’s impossible to maintain the level it would take to do that, and you just can’t be responsible for everything.

If your ex relents, it may initially rekindle the relationship. However, the amount of pressure that’s now on you to keep the relationship afloat is unrealistic, and it becomes too exhausting and unrewarding to sustain.

The 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup, #1: Shock

The 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup, #1: Shock

About six months ago, I wrote about The 7 Stages of Grieving a Breakup. Many of you responded, offering comments here and also on my Facebook page. As I’ve been writing about breakup a lot lately, I have expanded my consideration of these stages even more. The 7 Stages were a good start, but there’s more to it. For example, there’s different kinds of bargaining and different kinds of anger in the aftermath of breakup.

In the coming weeks, I am going to introduce some of my expanded impression of these stages. Now there are nine. These stages aren’t a linear progression. They don’t necessarily present “in order,” nor is it apparent when one stage ends and another begins. Your stages will switch around often. They may occur all at once, cross over each other, or morph into indistinguishable emotional blobs. You may have no idea what stage you’re in. You may feel stuck for months in one stage. You may cycle forward and backward through stages at warp speed…while in slow motion. You may repeat them many times in many forms along the way. You’ll have moments of hopefulness between the waves before you’re submerged again by fear, shame, unworthiness, and despair.

My goal is to help you get your bearings and offer you a rough roadmap through the rocky, unpredictable in-breakup terrain. While you may not be able to see through your pain right now, know that a path forward does exist. Here is the first of the 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup. Shock. Tomorrow you can look forward to denial…

 1. Shock

“Huh? What do you mean, it’s over?” This new information overloads your brain. The concept that you have become disposable, replaceable, and irrelevant shoots through you in spasms. It’s as if your identity was just stolen and you don’t know where to go or what to do with yourself to retrieve it. Not only have you lost track of yourself, but you feel lost and un-tracked in the world. You are overwhelmed by the dread of having to exist without your ex’s continued investment in your whereabouts and your security, without knowledge about your ex’s emotions and everyday life. It’s as if you are plunging endlessly into an endless abyss of anonymity.

Shock is a primal response to a sophisticated loss. It’s the result of being inundated on all levels – all five of your senses overload while questions you can’t answer rain down on you, to the point at which you just short-circuit. There’s the logistical, like “How will I pull it together for work tomorrow?” To the existential: “What’s the point? Maybe it’s all in vain…” Yet, despite the shock, there are immediate decisions to be made and real world obligations to manage. You feel numb, and spacey, and unfocused, so your autopilot function takes over to help you get through what you have to get through.

After Breakup, This Is Your Process

There are things you know you should do: eat well, exercise, be civil with telemarketers. But then there are other things—things that are more challenging, like finally ending a failing relationship or letting go of your ex. Most of us have been to both these places. In a dissatisfying relationship, you know it’s not working, it hasn’t been for a while, yet you keep hanging on and hanging on. In trying to let go of someone who has already let go of you, your ex may be ready to move on, but you may not be. In both situations, you’ve hung on so long that your friends wonder what you could possibly be thinking.

Read more