Psychology of Breaking Up: Grieving for Lost Love
I believe we have all heard of the cliched notion that “people come and go”. This is the essence of all human interactions, the tragic beauty of impermanence. People come and bond together, gave each other a life lesson and then inevitably, they leave, even if it is a romantic relationship. Despite the unchangeable and sad fact that there is an abundance of relationships that don’t last, couples are usually very confident that they will be the exception, while seemingly unaware of the perils that any small spark of conflict, or any minuscule errors that they make while being in a relationship might lead to its breakdown. Hence, some say that the scariest thing is that you never know when is the last time you will ever talk to someone.
However, one important aspect that we will talk about today is how to let go when you ought to leave a relationship that is damaged beyond repair. All who have experienced it will know, it is very hard to let go of someone, be it those who have left a beautiful mark in your life or those that you wish you can erase from your life forever (yes, you wish). Whichever it is, it is a heartbreaking process even when you know the right thing to do is to just turn around, walk away and never look back. So, why is it so hard to let go of a relationship when reconciliation seems impossible?
The five stages of grief and loss says that it is all just a process and it shall pass.
Breaking up somehow resembles the death and loss of a loved one. Breaking up signifies that you have lost the love of your life and grief is definitely part of the package. The theory of the five stages of grief and loss by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross could explain why you behave the way you do after a significant break up. The five stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Nevertheless, everyone walks their own journey idiosyncratically and will not go through all five stages in sequence (even if they go through all five stages). Some get stuck in one stage, refusing to move on. For instance, some get stuck in the denial stage, denying the reality of the breakup or the fact that their own fatal shortcoming is the main contributor of the breakup. It is not uncommon to see that they are soon in a new relationship repeating the same old mistake, creating the same havoc, and hurting themselves again. Some move back and forth between a few stages like a pendulum swing before reaching the last stage. We will now go through each individual stage and hopefully you would gain some insight which is relevant to your own experience.
Stage One of Breaking Up: Denial
For example, your partner cheated on you and you still find any kind of excuse to believe that he/she did not do it or did not do it intentionally (Hello? Isn’t it a bigger crime if it is intentional?). Your spouse is abusive but you convince yourself that he/she is just being possessive because he/she loves you truly, madly, deeply (Oh dear, seriously?). You go out to party even more after your break-up trying to convince your social circle that you are doing fine and enjoying life (but in reality, do you hide in your blanket and cry your lungs out every night?). We have all been through this phase.
“But… it is okay!”
It is okay to be in denial because some truths and emotions are too harsh and too painful to face. However, just remember to come out of your “denial cave” when you are ready. And when you move on, all emotions that you have been denying will surface, which leads to the second stage.
Stage Two of Breaking Up: Anger
Relationships are somehow closely intertwined with frustration. Feeling angry is also part of the healing process after a bad break up. For example, you feel angry at your partner for cheating on you, his friends for protecting him, your friends for hiding it from you or anyone who did not tell you about it and so on. You feel angry that your partner abandoned you instead of fighting for the relationship that belongs to the both of you.
“It is okay!”
It is okay to truly feel the frustration. Go on, get angry, and rant. Anger is part of the healing process, the more you feel it, the more it begins to disperse.
Stage Three of Breaking Up: Bargaining
This usually happens after you fight for something and it does not work. You would rather change as long as your partner stays. You bargain with your partner asking for a second chance, make promises that you will never ever going to yell at him/her again. You will do dishes after every dinner, walk the dog, anything that pleases him/ her. You also started to tell yourself “what if…”, “if only…”, and things could be different. You still live in the past. You wish you could turn back time.
“But…it is okay, too.”
After all, it is part of the process.
Stage Four of Breaking Up: Depression
After bargaining, your focus brings you back to the present moment, the emptiness and loneliness kick in more intensely. You feel utterly depressed that you have to let go of the love of your life regardless of the reasons. This intense sorrow slowly settles in, erodes your soul, and eventually leads you to the realization that your partner has left and is not coming back.
“It is okay.”
Pain and sorrow are meant to be felt. Intense emotions like this cannot be bypassed. You must go through it, not around, in order to come out stronger.
Stage Five of Breaking Up: Acceptance
When you are at this final stage, you have accepted the fact that your loss is permanent. You have accepted that you have fallen short. Your partner is never ever going to change his/ her mind to come back to you or you are never going back to the toxic relationship. Many confused this stage with them being okay, with them moving on and ready for a new life. Often time, many are still not okay or will never be. Their loss has left a permanent scar in their life, only they have accepted it and learnt to live with it.
In a nutshell, letting go of a loved one or a relationship you hold closely to your heart is a despairing and lonely process. Neither can it be predicted nor quantified. Only through bits and pieces of acceptance, through the passage of time, you slowly learn to let loose of your fist that is still holding onto the past.
You slowly learn to readjust yourself, recollect yourself, redirect yourself.
You learn to love yourself more, and lastly…
You begin to live again.
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