Healing after Heartbreak – Stages of a Breakup

The path to healing after a heartbreak starts with recognizing the stages of a breakup and learning how to cope with each one. Read this empathetic guide on how to heal after a breakup.

Navigating a post-breakup landscape can feel like a rollercoaster of emotions. It might seem like you’re ping-ponging from confusion to anger to sadness and then back again. All of these emotions are part of the stages of a breakup, and learning about them is important for the healing process. 

Here, we delve into what each stage is like, then later, we discuss how to cope with each stage, offering empathetic insights and advice along the way.

The 5 Stages of a Breakup

Generally speaking, there are five stages of a breakup: shock, denial, anger, grief, and acceptance. Keep in mind that people’s experiences with and progression through these stages largely depends on the type of relationship they had and the nature of the breakup. 

1. Shock

When you hear the words, “I think we should break up,” it can feel like the world stops. It’s as if things are moving in slow motion, but your brain still can’t keep up. You think to yourself, “Wait, what’s happening?” You’re in a state of shock, the first stage of a breakup, where you feel confused or panicked (or both). 

But shock can also present itself physically. Maybe your body tenses, your hands feel clammy, or your stomach does somersaults. While not a comfortable thing to go through, shock is your body’s protective mechanism when something unexpected happens or you experience a loss. And a breakup is definitely a loss.

2. Denial

Think about a time when you’ve received bad news: You probably thought, “No, that can’t be right.” That’s a form of denial, which is typically the second stage of a breakup. 

When the shock and confusion wear off, denial sets in. Your thoughts run wild, from “There’s no way they meant to do this” to “They’ll text me any time now.” Perhaps you refuse to believe that you’ve been broken up with or that this is your reality now, or maybe you fantasize about them coming back to you. All of these thoughts are part of the stages of a breakup.

3. Anger

When the numbness of shock and denial wear off, most people move into the anger territory. At this point, vision clears and you’re able to see what really happened: that your loved one broke up with you. Anger sets in for a handful of potential reasons: how they broke up with you, that you didn’t see any signs, hurtful things they might have said during the breakup, and so on. You might even feel angry toward yourself for not having the right response or leaving something unsaid. Just remember that anger is a normal part of the healing process.

4. Grief

As with many of the stages listed here, the anger and grief stages of a breakup might overlap, where you feel resentment and sadness simultaneously. Sadness manifests itself in different ways for different types of people. It could look like isolating yourself, sensing that you’re just “going through the motions” throughout the day, feeling hopeless about the future, not sleeping or eating well, feeling lonely or alone, and so on.

The grief stage is marked by an overwhelming sense of loss—not only the loss of the person themself but also the loss of a partner in your everyday life. 

5. Acceptance

After you’ve felt your feelings of shock, denial, anger, and grief, you gradually get to a point of acceptance. There’s no doubt that you probably still miss your ex and might even have moments of anger, but you’re generally in an emotional place to move on. You have accepted the fact that the relationship is over and even have renewed hope for the future, ready to find your person again.

How to Heal from a Breakup

Now that you understand all the phases of a breakup, how do you cope with each one and find healthy ways to move on? Follow this advice for how to heal from a breakup.

Don’t Go It Alone

Life isn’t meant to be lived alone. Your joys, accomplishments, and heartbreaks should be shared with others. So when you’re moving through the stages of a breakup, lean on friends, family, or even a therapist for support. 

Avoiding Contacting Your Ex

As hard as it is to stop all contact, doing so is the best thing for your healing. Every fiber of your being wants to text your ex, but try not to. Here are a couple of reasons why: 

  • You might develop false hope every time they respond.
  • It could lead to even more rejection if they don’t respond or if they confirm their decision to break up.
  • Continued communication will keep you from giving yourself space to move on. 

Ground Yourself in Reality

The denial stage can be full of what-ifs: what if I run into them at the grocery store, what if they see my selfie and reach back out, and the list goes on. Of course getting back with an ex is possible, but dreaming about what might happen or envisioning future meetups isn’t healthy because it takes you out of the present and keeps you from accepting their choice and the situation. A big dose of reality can pave the way to navigating the remaining stages of a breakup.

Date Yourself

Amid the twists and turns of your romantic journey, heartbreak included, it’s important to date yourself. That could look like taking a solo vacation, exploring hobbies, and doing the things that make you love yourself more. Perhaps dating yourself could even include taking a break from dating.

Reflect on the Relationship

When you’re ready, reflect on the positive and negative aspects of the partnership. What was good? What could’ve used some work? How would you like your next relationship to look?

Asking yourself these and similar questions can help you take off the rose-colored glasses and look at your past relationship with an objective perspective.

Let It Go 

You’ll hear people tell you to forgive and forget, but these actions can take awhile depending on the scope of the relationship and the breakup. While eventually you’ll want to forgive past hurts, try to focus more on letting them go and letting your ex go. This will free up mental and emotional space that you can then use to focus on more fulfilling activities, like learning how to be happily single and eventually optimizing your dating profile and getting back out there.

Do People Experience Breakups Differently? 

Most people move through similar breakup phases, but where things might differ is the length of each stage. For example, the stages of a breakup for a woman can be shorter than the stages of a breakup for a man. Women tend to be more comfortable with feeling and expressing their emotions and leaning on others for support, while men often feel pressure to keep their emotions bottled up, perhaps not even letting themselves feel anything at all (at least for a while). For men, this can lengthen the timeline of the stages of a breakup. 

But it’s not just differences between men and women—the length of time to move on also depends on the type of relationship. For example, learning how to move on after a long-term relationship will likely be more difficult, given the amount of time you’ve spent weaving into each other’s lives.

Remember this: Healing will take time and isn’t necessarily a linear process. Don’t rush it, and give yourself grace.

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