When we’re talking about the stages of a breakup, what we’re really discussing are grief phases.
Grief is misunderstood by many. The first thing to know about it is that it doesn’t happen in stages, as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the father of grief stages, insists, but rather in phases.
Typically, you will cycle back-and-forth through them several times before you reach acceptance, the final phase.
For example, you don’t go from one phase to the next and never revert to any previous entireties. You shift between them for a distinct amount of time that varies from person to person before you ever fully settle into one.
In practicality, this process translates dating and having a blast one week and missing your ex, crying, and gobbling down buckets of ice cream the next. These shifts in-between emotions/grief phases can happen every few weeks, days, or even hours.
Here’s a visual representation of what I mean.
The second thing you should know about grief is that its phases don’t necessarily follow the conventional order:
- 1. Denial
- 2. Anger
- 3. Bargaining
- 4. Depression
- 5. Acceptance
In fact, this order or model, coined the Kübler-Ross model, has been under heavy critique since its birth. Scientists say that it lacks empirical research and empirical evidence to prove its validity. Professor Robert J. Kastenbaum even went on to assert that Kubbler’s grief stages are inexistent. (1)(2)(3)
So, if the conventional stages are off the menu, what data can we rely on when examining the topic? While there are platitudes of studies done on these stages, I’m personally going to go with the research of George Bonanno and Susan J. Elliott.
They essentially have a consensus on a) that the stages of grief lean towards fluid-like phases than stairsteps and b) that the number of these stages actually shift between many variants. In our case, for simplicity’s sake, let’s review eight that I deem most pronounced.
Below, I’ll go over each of these stages in turn, examine their anatomy, and give you tailored advice on how to handle each.
This knowledge will allow you to understand the entire mental and emotional process you (or your ex) go through in each stage and heal faster.
Breakup stage (phase) #1: Shock, disbelief, and denial
At first, you may feel shocked and in disbelief in regards to what just happened. You may start thinking things like:
- “How could have this happened.”
- “It was crushing”
- “Was I blind?”
- “It was the furthest thing from my mind.”
- “My world has collapsed”
- “How could she/he fucking do this?!”
- “Did I really just leave?”
- “Did they really just dumped me?”
- “Am I living in a dream?”
- “Is this even real?”
- “This isn’t happening…”
The next thing, you know, denial joins the chat. According to psychology, denial is a person’s choice to deny reality as a way to avoid a psychologically uncomfortable truth — in your case, a breakup. You know you’re hurting, but you still try to suppress, ignore or deny the reality.
- “They probably didn’t mean it.”
- “They’ll be back, I know it.”
- “I didn’t mean to leave.”
- “My ex just overreacted”
- “They just need time to cool down, and everything will be back to normal.”
Some people can pull this off, but you’re better off just acknowledging and accepting your loss for the most part. It’s a much healthier way of dealing with your breakup.
If your breakup happened suddenly, and with you taking on the dumpee role, you may also be accompanied by three scary chaps: Rejection, Embarrassment, and Shame.
If that’s the case, acknowledging your feelings will get much harder, primarily because shame and rejection spike your overall shock levels, but don’t fret. The whole thing can still be surmounted.
Are you in the Shock, Disbelief, And Denial stage? If you answer most of the below questions with a “Yes,” then you probably are:
- Do you think you’ve overreacted? Do you think your ex overreacted?
- Are you ignoring reality, or at least trying to ignore it?
- Are you still waiting for things to turn around?
- Do you have a hard time admitting that your relationship is over?
Breakup stage (phase) #2: Rumination
“I sure miss having him by my side when I wake up. I wonder what he’s doing right now… We still haven’t assembled that new Lego set we bought. I wonder if he still likes to play with Legos, despite his age. I wonder if I can learn to cook as well as him. I hope he’s not cooking anything for some other woman right now. I hope he’s thinking of me… Maybe I should reach out. Geez, why can’t I stop thinking of him? Stop it! Stop thinking of your boyfriend. This is hopeless…”
Thinking about your ex in excruciating details can make you go mad, but nevertheless, it’s still a stage of recovery and a crucial one.
Yes, you do go over your breakup — the best and worst moments — one scene at a time, probably on repeat, reliving each breath. Yes, it’s like torture. No… it’s worse than torture…
However, amid all that shit hides a silver lining: going over your old relationship, the problems it had, and the overall breakup helps you discover why things unfolded the way they did.
Put differently, obsessive thinking gives you insights into why your relationship didn’t work out and what you can do in the next to avoid the same conclusion.
During this period, it’s tempting to try and bottle up your thoughts, attach weights to that bottle, and throw the bitch to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. But please, don’t do it. I’ve done it. I’ve kept doing it. And things just grew worse.
What we repress will persist. Meaning, the more you’ll avoid thinking or obsessing about your ex, the more thoughts your brain will serve you about those your ex.
When you’re at this phase, journaling and meditation are your best friends (I’ve described both activities in detail here), but above all, just let the thoughts happen. They will subside in time.
Are you in the Rumination stage? If you answer most of the below questions with a “Yes,” then you probably are:
- Do you keep reminiscing about your past relationship?
- Do you keep thinking about your ex — the best, happiest, or worst moments?
- Do you see your partner everyone you go, yet know it’s not them (e.i, in the faces of other people.)
- Do you keep starring at your phone, waiting for that text, that one call that could change everything?
- Do you keep checking up on your ex via social media, wondering what they’re doing, with who they’re going out, and what’s new in their life?
Breakup stage (phase) #3: Disorganization and Confusion
When you’re in this stage, you’ll have days when you oversleep, days when you undersleep, days when you lack appetite, days when you overeat, days when you’re hyper-productive, days when you’re sluggish, unmotivated, and overwhelmed. But encompassing all of those emotional ups and downs, you’ll feel like you’re going crazy.
Relax. This feeling is normal. It’s all part of the healing process.
Grief continually calls attention to itself, and being in a state of disarray is just one way it gets your attention. It’s also a result of your mind’s way of trying to re-structure the world because the one it knew, the one it was structured around, is now gone.
When you’re locked in this phase, be sure to write your thoughts down, and don’t shy away from asking others to remind you. This practice will help you make sense of your thinking and also propel you into creating the habit of making to-do lists, calendars, reminders, and so forth.
And don’t give me the excuse about being a naturally unorganized person. Your memory, as well as your productivity, is not in good condition, and it will only get worse.
So, grab a journal or notebook as soon as possible and start to write things down. Make sense out of your experience. Reclaim your focus. Take back your mind.
Are you in the Disorganization and Confusion stage? If you answer most of the below questions with a “Yes,” then you probably are:
- Do you find it difficult to focus on work or just about any other meaningful task throughout the days, weeks, or months?
- Do you suffer from any kinds of sleeping problems, like Insomnia?
- Do you have moments where you feel overly lethargic, sluggish, and your brain foggy?
- Are you overeating/undereating all of a sudden?
Breakup stage (phase) #4: The Emotional Mess
This is the stage of a breakup where there is the most variation. Meaning, there are many different, often contrasting, theories on what emotions you’re going to feel while staying stuck here.
The reason for this is because everyone reacts to their breakup differently, so there’s no easy way to pinpoint exactly how this phase will pan out from person to person or what emotions they’ll feel. But we can make assumptions. Here’s mine. Below, I’ll go over five on the most common emotions breakup survivors feel at this stage.
Whether your breakup was sudden, a slow-burn, toxicity-ridden, or anything in between, the reality is always the same. You don’t have a partner anymore. You lost a part of who you were. It’s all but normal to feel devastated.
Still, devastation is not the biggest problem, even though it seems that way. The fact that it locks people into a victim mentality is the biggest problem.
Playing the victim is not an alien reaction to heartbreak – many people commit to it and start thinking, “I don’t deserve this hurt!” or “I deserve to be happy!” or “Life’s not fair – it shouldn’t be this way! I shouldn’t feel like this!”
When you begin to see yourself in this way, you give up the power to take any responsibility. Thus, you lose your ability to control your behaviors and reactions.
But why do people fall prey to this psychologically destructive attitude?
Well, because it feels good.
I’m not gonna lie; blaming someone else for your fuckups is always awfully freeing. Yet, most people overlook the fact that this attitude only leads to misery in the long term, even though it feels good at first.
So, how can you overcome the victim mentality if you get trapped into it?
A good start would be by accepting the uncomfortable truth that you don’t deserve to feel a certain way. Likewise, the world doesn’t owe you anything.
Sure, maybe your breakup was not your fault, at least not entirely. But you can still take responsibility for it and stop blaming the other person. Your ex is not always a bitch, an asshole, or a toxic fruitloop for hurting you.
Sometimes, you’re the one who fucked up. If so, just admit it. Then forgive yourself, and you’ll be able to move on faster. And by the way, if that’s not the case – if your ex-partner actually is entirely to blame, forgive them.
Grabbing your ex by the throat and drowning them in a tub full of goat blood is somewhat of an appropriate reaction after a breakup. In other words, it’s good to be angry when you’re heartbroken. It means you’re nearing full recovery.
So, don’t stop or restrain your anger, or else it will just manifest itself in other ways. And while you’re at it, refrain from labeling it “wrong,” “inappropriate,” or “unacceptable,” too. This is just another form of anger suppression. Instead, let yourself feel your anger; it will dissipate eventually.
(Remember: what you suppress will persist.)
However, don’t get me wrong: feeling your anger is healthy; acting out on your anger is unhealthy.
Meaning, you can think about drowning your ex in goat blood while you’re punching a sack of potatoes, but actually going out, prepping the goats, the knives, the tub, and the music (Beethoven’s 5th Symphony) is something you shouldn’t do. (duh)
Getting back to the point, the way you overcome or learn how to manage anger boils down to two approaches — let it out or calm it down.
The former consists of activities like therapy, consulting, talking with a friend, punching babies, screaming in your car, rigorous exercise, etc. The latter approach to anger management consists of activities like meditation, journaling, qi-gong, yoga, Calming music, etc.
Ultimately, when managing anger, you can use a mishmash of both approaches or stick to only one. The choice is yours. Do whatever resonates the most with you.
Anger and sadness are actually two sides of the same coin. It wasn’t long ago I saw this quote:
“Depression is anger turned inward, sadness is anger turned outward.” — By Susan J. Elliott.
If you’re having difficulties with sadness amid your breakup, anger will probably help you express more of it.
Ever saw those movies where a chick started beating the shit out of her man and then suddenly broke down and started crying while the guy held her in his arms. That’s what I’m talking about.
You can also try this yourself. Grab a punching bag and start beating the shit out if when you’re angry. Chances are, you’re going to break up down at some point and begin to cry uncontrollably.
This is an exhausting exercise, but it will help you rid yourself of many stuck negative emotions, and consequently, you’ll heal faster.
Guilt is nothing more than an incapability to accept your situation. And everyone prone to feeling it. If you feel bad for the things that you’ve done or haven’t done, the things that you said, or haven’t said, just know it’s normal.
No matter the type of your breakup, you’ll always find yourself with just a few more things you’d want to tell your ex, a few more things to set things right, get closure, and feel better.
Don’t linger on this desire for long. You don’t need to “make things right,” admit your mistakes or get closure. The relationship ending and your ex being unwilling to work things out is by itself a form of closure.
What has happened, has happened and it couldn’t happen any other way.
This phase often comes as a surprise. We expect others to be sad, angry or frustrated, and confused after a breakup, but anxious? That’s just weird? Nevertheless, it happens. And I see it times and times again.
In this phase, you often become overly sensitive to your surroundings, meaning your anxiety becomes physical: you start to feel agitated and disturbed by noises, wind, and general movement.
You may also start to feel shaky, your palms may get sweaty, your heartbeat may speed up drastically, you begin to develop sleep problems, and on and on, it goes.
If you can feel your anxiety is getting out of control, seek professional attention pronto. But if your mood is somewhat manageable, you can try getting a hold of it through calming and relaxing activities, like heading to a spa or engaging in therapy.
Are you in the Emotional Mess Stage? If you answer most of the below questions with a “Yes,” then you probably are:
- Do you want your ex to suffer?
- Do you fester hate toward your ex and blame them for the breakup?
- Do you find enjoyment in your exes suffering?
- Are you furious with yourself?
- Do you feel hopeless and lost?
- Do you want to stay in bed the whole day?
- Do you feel miserable?
- Do you want to die?
- Do you feel unloved, worthless, abandoned, or inadequate?
- Do you feel like your life lost meaning?
- Do you feel overwhelmed to the point of crippling anxiety and an utter lack of motivation?
- Do you bounce from being angry and sad to content and at peace and back on the regular?
Breakup stage (phase) #5: Wanting your ex back
This is the stage where your emotions, your grief specifically, are at their peak. It’s when you start searching for content like how to get an ex back, the odds of getting an ex back, signs your ex will take you back, etc.
This is to be expected. Attachment to something familiar makes us feel safe and secure even if the attachment is unhealthy or destructive. When we lose our previous relationship, our first instinct is to try and get it back, try to get our old life, our old identity back.
This stage also marks the spot where most fall prey to the many scammers in the get-your-ex-back industry that try to sell shoddy products, full of manipulative bullshit on getting your ex back. It’s a disgusting way to handle the issue.
But it doesn’t stop there. At this stage, people also get into the habit of stalking their ex, showing up at their doorstep, calling or texting them in the middle of the night, etc.
The best way to tackle these challenges is by performing no contact and coupling the whole thing with a solid social media detox. But if you insist on pursuing your ex, just be sure it’s the right choice for you.
Are you in the Wanting Your Ex Back Stage? If you answer most of the below questions with a “Yes,” then you probably are:
- Are you typing “How to get an ex back” into Google?
- Are you digesting the manipulative BS of Chris Seiter, Brad Browning, Chris Canwell, Dan Bacon, WMXA, and so forth?
- Are you spamming your exes phone? Do you want to?
- Are you looking for signs that your ex still loves you?
- Are you looking for signs they never want to see you again?
- Are you planning on breaking the no-contact rule?
Breakup stage (phase) #6: Ambivalence
You probably haven’t heard of ambivalence before, but you’ve definitely felt it.
It’s when you love and hate someone at the same time. It’s when you have so many conflicting feelings about your breakup that you don’t know how to feel about it in the first place. It’s when you feel distraught about the breakup, yet you still deep down know you’re better off alone.
Sometimes ambivalence grabs you by the neck, and you have no control over it. Other times you can quickly calm yourself and get a more realistic grasp on your situation.
These shifts in moods, emotions, and feelings are also sporadic and random. One minute you may feel one way, the next another way.
Don’t try to force yourself to lean to one way of your feelings, instead just observe them, let them be there, and accept them. They’ll go away in time. Like with most stages I described till now, mediation and journaling go a hell of a long way.
Are you in the Ambivalence Stage? If you answer most of the below questions with a “Yes,” then you probably are:
- Are you confused about how you feel towards your ex?
- Does hearing your exes name unleash a frenzy on overwhelming emotions?
- Are you pissed off at them one day and content about the breakup the next?
- Do you think you’re switching the opinion of your ex a bit too quickly to assume natural?
Breakup stage (phase) #7: Acceptance
Acccpetance is the final stage of the grieving process. However, it doesn’t relate to happiness, as many assume. It more so means that you’re starting to find peace after your breakup.
This stage is about accepting two possible outcomes: reconciling or moving on.
If you and your ex didn’t rekindle things, moving on becomes inevitable — it becomes your only choice. But if you did reconcile, serious work will have to be done to make your relationship work long-term.
For starters, both partners will have to be willing to work on themselves and focus on critical things in their relationship — their insecurities, boundaries, compatibility, etc. That’s the only way to establish a fulfilling, healthy and lasting relationship and prevent future heartbreak.
Are you in the Acceptance Stage? If you answer most of the below questions with a “Yes,” then you probably are:
- Have you made peace with the fact that your breakup happened?
- Do you feel like you’ve finally made it? Almost as if a weight was lifted from your shoulders. Are you sure you can go on and live life on your own?
- Are you over the idea of reconciliation?
- Does dating or simply meeting other people seem exciting now?
- Do you feel like you’ve got some of your mojo/confidence/spark back?
Breakup stage (phase) #8: Beyond Acceptance
Some call it uncoupling or disengagement, and others letting go or moving on. It’s the stage where you feel little to no anger towards your ex or just about any negative emotion around your breakup. You can accept it for what it is and that it happened. You’re looking forward, not backward anymore.
Surprisingly, in this stage, the people who opted for getting an ex back have the highest chance of reconciliation. Primarily, because they’re not enveloped by neediness, fear, and desperation as much as in prior stages, and because getting to this stage takes a long time in which a person has sufficient time to fix their flaws and thus make reconciliation possible.
Dumper stages Vs. Dumpee stages
There’s a question that keeps popping up across countless breakup recovery forums and groups.
Is it mostly dumpees (the people who’ve been dumped) who go through breakup stages or phases, or do dumpers (the people who’ve done the dumping) get the same treatment?
It’s an interesting question that boggles many breakup survivors, but it has a straightforward answer.
Yes, both the dumpee and the dumper go through the exact same breakup stages. Both suffer. Both ponder and reflect on their lost relationship. Both grieve.
From what I’ve seen, the only difference is that dumpers get through their stages quicker than dumpees. This is because the dumper actually fell out of love weeks, months, or even years before they actually did the deed.
But if that’s what you’re worried about — that you’re going to be suffering longer than your rival-in-pain ex, you’re fucked. It’s not about them anymore, so revert your focus to yourself. How can you recover? How can you get better? How can you avoid a future breakup? How the fuck can you create a love life, or life in general, that you’re proud of.
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