Why does separation hurt so much? The emotional stages and the healing process after a breakup.
If you are going though a breakup, separation or divorce, you might be feeling sad, distressed, angry, or perhaps numb, lost and confused. If the decision to end the relationship wasn’t yours, there might be feelings of rejection, insecurities, low self-esteem, low self-confidence and vulnerability.
Going through a breakup is experiencing real loss, and the bigger the love, the connection and the intimacy, the bigger the pain and suffering. This loss can take over your thoughts and emotions and you will most certainly experience grief. You lost a loved one and now there is a void in your life.
Many people try to ignore their suffering, trying to ‘get rid of the pain’ and move on as quickly as possible. However, it is very important to respect the natural development of the grief process and the feelings that come with it. By doing so, you allow yourself to acknowledge the loss and are more likely to achieve a better emotional state in the end and a better way of living.
The process following a separation happens in a similar way to most people. The stages I describe below are based on the ‘five stages of grief’, by the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, from her work with terminally ill patients and their relatives.
My focus here is on the healing process after a breakup. And it's important to note that, although called ‘stages’, they don’t necessarily occur in a linear way or strictly in that order. Each person can come in and out of the different emotions, until their life is established again and the healing is complete.
Suddenly, you lose your ground. You lose the stability and security you thought you had with that other person. That person who meant so much to you. You can’t quite believe that this is happening. You might try everything to bring the person back or you might go to the opposite extreme of denying that you are suffering, that ‘everything is fine’ and that you didn’t care much anyway. Denial is a way of surviving the loss, a way of numbing those painful feelings. It’s a way of coping with as much as you are able to at that moment. This is also the stage when life can lose its meaning for some, life doesn’t make sense and it feels overwhelming. You can’t imagine life without the other person and might refuse to believe that you separated.
In this stage, you might feel angry about the situation, towards the person you lost or to the people who are trying to support you. You may even be angry at yourself. Anger isn’t rational and you might not need a specific reason to feel it. On the other hand, the anger also helps you reconnect with life, you start allowing deep feelings return within you and you feel more alive. There might also be other feelings underneath the anger (such as fear, anguish, sadness, despair) and they will become more clear and distinct with time. Anger is an essential stage of the healing process. Try to feel it as much as you can, stay with it. The more you allow yourself to feel it, the lighter you will become on the long run.
This is the stage of ‘if only’ or ‘what if’. You might start questioning everything in the past. How things happened, what you could have done differently, what the other person could have done, ‘if that didn’t happen’. In a hope that those questions would lead to a different outcome, that you might still get things back to how they were. You replay different versions and options of the same story in your mind. Another aspect of bargaining is the negotiating your way out of the pain. ‘If I lose weight, I’ll feel better’ or ‘I’ll go on a long trip and forget about it’ or ‘I’ll start dating straight away and find someone better’. All your attempts have one thing in common, not to suffer anymore. However, if you rush and avoid those real hurtful feelings, you might be postponing the healing.
All your efforts to bargain and forget don’t give you the results you really wished for. And this is the moment that deep sadness sinks in. This isn’t a clinical depression, not a sign of mental illness. This depression is a very natural stage of loss and for very understandable reasons. You are now faced with your present, your new reality. There is a void and a different way of living, you don’t have that person with you. This is a moment when you might question the meaning of life and lose interest in events around you. Many people try to rush this stage and ‘snap out of it’. Friends might come to the rescue and try to distract you and push you forward. However, in order to go through the healing process, that intense sadness needs to be respected and felt. I know it might seem it will last forever, but try to trust the process and what the healing will eventually bring you.
Acceptance doesn’t mean ‘giving up’ or ‘forgetting’, or that suddenly ‘everything is ok’. Acceptance is some sort of inner strength and clarity, a way of seeing life as it really is, at this moment in time. Life has changed, there is no point trying to live it as it used to be. That other person isn’t there anymore, the routines, social life, personal interactions will be different. Acceptance happens with time, gradually, as you come across with new situations and events. You won’t replace what you’ve lost, but you might start opening up to new friendships, connections and new relationships. Instead of denying your feelings, you will start paying more attention to your own needs. You’ll start living your life fully again, but only by respecting the process of loss and true healing.
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About Adriana Gordon
Adriana is an experienced psychosynthesis counsellor, offering therapy to adults in Central London and online.
Sessions in Covent Garden and London Bridge.
Adriana is also a group facilitator in family constellations, offering workshops, talks and consultancy.
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