The kubler-ross cycle of grief is very well documented in relationship breakups, especially if you were the one to be dumped (but not exclusively). Outlining the stages is both very simple, and very complex, because falling “back down the ladder”, from — say — sadness (stage four) to bargaining (stage two) occurs frequently, and can cause the cycle to repeat itself indefinitely.
In this guide I will focus on explaining the five chronological stages, from denial to acceptance, and everything in between. If you’re more interested in how best to deal with rejection and breakup, I suggest also reading other articles of mine such as getting over being dumped and dealing with rejection.
Stage One – Denial
Almost every form of traumatic event begins with a sheen of numbness and disbelief which is both conscious and unconscious. For instance, the most common thought which dumpees experience after a breakup is that somehow the breakup, no matter how terminally clear, is only a temporary affliction. A mere suspension of reality.
Ironically, denial serves as a buffer to curb pessimism and your mood may not suffer as badly as you’d expect (pictured right). This is primarily because your brain has yet to digest the shattering of your comfort zone. As time passes, and your brain is starved of its addiction (relationship elements of dependency, comfort, and of course also love) the illusion is shattered, propelling you unwillingly into the second of the five stages.
Stage Two – Anger
There is a thin line between love and hatred — in that they stem from need. If your ability to vent love is withdrawn or withheld, anger becomes the only emotional vent available. Not only is anger an attempt to channel brimming emotion, it is also often a last-ditch effort to salvage our self-esteem, optimism and confidence by discrediting our ex partner (thereby temporarily saving ourselves from the misery of our own judgment).
Despite being viewed from away by others as manic and counter-productive, it is important to realize that it is an entirely natural stage of trauma. By guilt-tripping yourself for your outbursts of anger, you will only deepen the trench of self-pity and hasten depression. It is important (in my opinion) to accept anger as is, as a temporary and important step in the healing process, and not to let it define you.
Stage Three – Bargaining
The third stage marks the painful transition from denial to the beginning of acceptance. Once the anger has passed we are left with the realization that the breakup was not a transitional illusion, but a very real and often terrifying possibility.
Trauma often catalyzes dumpees in this stage of the cycle to seek for unrealistic bargains and make unlikely promises. I’ll be whatever you want me to be, I’ll do as you ask unconditionally — etcetera. These false compromises unfortunately hurt the parties involved because they are fear-induced, trauma-borne promises that are unlikely to be kept, and are also often demeaning to the compromising party, worsening the blow to self-esteem when they are turned down.
Stage Four – Depression
By now, we’ve hit rock-bottom, but instead of marking the end of all things, the tail-end of this stage marks the beginning of our long-term recovery. Keeping an objective view (often with the help of friends and family) is imperative to transition from depression to productivity as swiftly as possible.
A depressed individual will often let go, and succumb to the void in their emotional soul. Irregular sleeping patterns, panic attacks, weight gain/loss, fatigue, lack of motivation, lack of self-confidence and self-pity and simple yet stark examples of where a mild depression can lead. If this stage lasts longer than a few months, it can become a real health concern and thus depressed individuals should not shy away from help. This too is natural.
Be wary of indulging in false-hopes such as over-analyzing text messages or contact, because they could throw you back to stage two of this model. My personal advice would be to make sure contact is absent or limited, dealing with certainties is painful, but clean, and hastens recovery.
Stage Five – Acceptance
Acceptance begins when an individual can finally begin to envision a life without their partner, even if it makes them sick to their stomach. Eventually you find that you have digested so much pain, that the recurrence of painful memories don’t hurt as much as they used to — in fact, they are manageable, they may even make you begin to smile!
The willingness to build, and fight despair outweigh the urge to give in. Finally, the world turns from a grey wasteland into a world of infinite possibilities and color. You are able to lasso pain and self-control re-establishes itself. The prospect of real dating (as opposed to rebound relationships) may once again become palatable and fun.
If your love and affection was particularly felt, acceptance as a stage never ends. But that isn’t a bad thing — at all! Once anger dissipates into respect and care, your memories stop haunting you, and become an integral part of your new-found strength, and you might one-day thank the person for having contributed to making you stronger, more valuable and more at peace. For that is the prize that awaits you, both in your own eyes and in that of others. Best of luck!