There’s no doubt you’ve heard about the five stages of grief sometimes talked about in pop culture and the media. It’s called the Kubler-Ross Model, and was actually meant to describe a dying person’s way of coping with death (think terminally ill patients), but was commonly used to instead explain how people grieve over loved ones that have already passed. All the research that Kubler-Ross conducted was on the dying, so there’s no actual research that backs the five stages of grief as they refer to grieving a loved one. That being said, take these five stages with a grain of salt. Grieving is not a one-size-fits-all model, and these stages aren’t linear. You can jump from one to another, but you don’t have to experience all of them. How often you think about the loss is a larger predictor of what stage you are in than the passing of time.
After a breakup, you may be grieving too. You may not have permanently lost someone, but in a way, you kind of did. Here’s how the five stages of grief relate to heartbreak.
This is where you pretend the breakup didn’t happen, that it’s more of a break than a breakup, or that it can still be worked through. In this stage, you will continue to talk to your ex and check up on them on social media. You will still expect them to care for you and meet your needs. You will still fall into old routines and traditions you had together (like continuing to read the book you were reading together, and dog-earing pages you want to talk to them about). This helps you temporarily cope with the loss that you are denying.
When you reach this stage, you can’t believe how little your ex cares, or you may start to doubt the relationship entirely, or you feel guilty over things you’ve done or didn’t do and get mad at yourself. You can be angry at your ex, yourself, God, destiny, the universe, whatever you think is responsible for this. Maybe you hear news you would have rather not heard and get frustrated by it. This anger is just a release of all the pain you are feeling. This is likely where you’ll start thinking about the “should haves,” “what ifs,” and “if onlys.”
It’s also worth noting that acute grief, which is the most difficult part of grieving, is when you experience physiological symptoms like not being able to fall asleep or not wanting to eat. This generally only lasts 3-6 months.
This is where you try to strike a deal to get back what you lost. This may look like trying to find “closure” by talking to your ex and convincing them you should get back together. This could also mean using the Law of Attraction to try to get your ex back, or praying to be reunited.
When the reality of the breakup sinks in, you just get really, really depressed. You realize that you really did lose this person, and will not be getting them back. It hits hard and can come with loneliness and/or hopelessness.
After theoretically going through the previous stages, your pain becomes more familiar. It may not necessarily be gone, but you have learned to live with it. You accept the loss of your ex as a part of your life and work towards rebuilding a life without them.
There are so many factors that have an effect on how someone grieves when heartbroken, such as the nature of the breakup, personality, and other stressors or life transitions. Don’t worry if you aren’t grieving in this exact order. Understanding that these various stages exist and happen for some people may help you understand your feelings and your own grieving process.