Dealing with grief after a breakup

By Elliot Sewell, LPCC, NCC, CCMHC

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After a long-term relationship ends, it’s very common to suffer a long period of grief, as if a loved one had died.

So that I can give you some hope about grief, let me briefly list the seven stages so you know what you can expect, and so that you better understand what you must go through, and so that you realize that this is a process.

1. Shock and Denial – You may react with numbing disbelief, feeling disoriented, possibly guilty about what you did or could have done to prevent it. Trying to dull your pain with alcohol (or other drugs) is definitely the wrong way to go and will DELAY the resolution of this process.

2. Pain and Guilt - As the shock begins to wear off, a period of great pain and sadness will follow and it will include remorse about things that you imagined you did. Life will feel chaotic and perhaps a bit frightening, but you must endure it and feel the full force of the pain. Contacting the person (in vain) is just a way of avoiding the pain, but you are not letting yourself go through the healing process of grief if you are still thinking this way.

3. Anger and Bargaining - You may lash out others (friends and family) and blame them, or lash out at your former friend for their weakness or unfaithfulness or lack of character, because you need to find an outlet for your pent-up emotions. You may be angry at "fate" or the higher powers.

4. Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness - Others might think that it is time for you to "come around" and get on with your life, but you may continue to feel despair, and reflect on the past and what might have been. You might even withdraw from friends for a while. This is normal. Don't let them talk you out of this process. You must see it through.

5. The Upward Turn - As you start to adjust to life without your ex, it will become calmer and more organized, and you will not feel the physical strain of depression and sadness.

6. Reconstruction and Working Through - As you begin to function normally, your thought processes become more normal, and you start to think through life independent of your past relationship. You will begin to solve current social and financial needs.

7. Acceptance and Hope - This is the final stage in this model of grief. You will learn to accept reality and deal with it effectively. You may not find the same level of happiness before, at least not right away, and may be a bit of a sadder but wiser person, but you will now move forward with your life.

You will look back at this period of your life, and from the view of the future it will seem much smaller in the scheme of things. Go through the process. Don't seek depression medication (as this only delays the healing). Know in your heart that these dark days will pass.


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