Part of the healing process is experiencing and accepting the feelings that come with loss. The more we deny, block, or escape emotions associated with loss, the greater the negative impact of loss may increase. Common stages people may experience after a loss or breakup include:
Denial: This may include feelings of numbness, shock, and disbelief. Initially, this experience may help protect an individual from experiencing the intense emotions associated with the loss, while allowing time and energy to gather resources to cope. After a breakup this may include thinking that the breakup is not real and/or thinking “we didn't break up it's just a fight.” As time passes and the individual slowly acknowledges the impact, the initial denial will diminish.
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Bargaining: Thoughts about “what could have been done” or “how to fix things” after a loss, dominate this stage. Some may experience obsessive thinking about specific things they could have done differently to prevent the loss; which can lead to intense feelings of guilt or anger that can interfere with the healing process.
Depression: People begin to realize and feel the extent of the loss, characterized by symptoms of depression which include feelings of sadness, difficulty sleeping, poor appetite, lethargy, lack of motivation, and crying spells. At this stage it is common for people to experience a low self-esteem/self-doubt and feel lonely, isolated, and anxious.
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Anger: Many people feel angry when they cannot change a situation or experience regret associated with loss. This anger can be directed towards others or oneself. Anger may be due to feelings of abandonment, being angry at the world, or loss of a desired outcome. Some may only recognize feelings of anger, when sadness is truly the emotion underneath the anger.
Acceptance: Over time people can move to a place of acceptance as they can embrace the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors associated with the loss. Healing commonly occurs at this stage, as energy is no longer spent denying the loss, but accepting the reality to then move forward. Once an individual has integrated the loss into a life experience, one can move forward by learning from the experience, making meaning from the loss, or forgiving.
Remember, each individual's healing process will be different. Some may not go through each stage and others may jump around different stages in no particular order. There are no time limits or rules to grieving. Processing the loss and finding support can greatly reduce complications in the grieving process.