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All About Heartbreak, the Stages of Heartbreak, and How to Overcome It

You made every effort to save the relationship, and yet it has ended. It’s almost unbelievable. Yes, it wasn’t working out, but is it really over? You realized it was time to give up. Still, you’re anything but happy. The reality of the loss hits you like a ton of bricks. It’s painful, even unbearable, and some time needs to pass before you feel like you can even begin to think about recovering.

Stages of Falling Hard and Heartbreak

You fell hard for them, and now it’s over. It’s not like you didn’t know it was coming. The despair, loss, and fear without them in your life are just as strong as the joy you felt when you were falling for then. These emotions are on two extreme and opposite ends and they are quite painful to experience. We understand. Here is a bit more about the stages of heartbreak. People do survive it. All is not lost, believe us. You’ll see.

All About the 5 Stages of Heartbreak

The stages of heartbreak are denial, bargaining, relapse, rage, and newfound hope. They’re a bit similar to the five stages of accepting death, although nowhere near as deep and profound. We’ll go into them now.

1. Denial

At the beginning, we’re consumed by the drive to understand why this happened. It’s hard to accept that it did. You think about things your ex said and it seems like these things are counterintuitive to the break up. Yes, it’s not without its moments of clarity, but generally, you swing like a pendulum, back and forth between the realization of the loss, foggy disbelief, and rediscovery of the fact that it is over – for ever and ever. The confusion, pain, and disorientation can become all you talk and even think about. At first, you keep trying to grasp what happened. You talk to – and argue with – coworkers, relatives, friends, even acquaintances. You might even debate with strangers, justifying to them why you should still be together. Sometimes, it’s like you’re trying to convince your ex.

The relationship was your life and your world. You invested so much in it. This just can’t be true. It’s no wonder denial is the longest of the stages of heartbreak. It’s also the most painful to experience and the most difficult to overcome. You put off the need to grieve because of that. In its place, you put the unrealistic hope that the relationship can still be saved.

2. Bargaining

We lapse into the second stage quite unwittingly. Anything is better than simply accepting it’s gone. You will be a better listener. You’ll be more caring, more attentive. You’ll make all the wrongs right. You must win your ex back at any cost. This will make the pain go away. It will do away with the loneliness hanging over your head like a sword, consuming you. To keep yourself from losing someone you’re so used to being with, like a former spouse or long-time domestic partner, you cling to any hope you can.

At this stage, you’re blaming yourself for what happened. Even that is easier than accepting it wasn’t meant to be. You promise to fix everything, effectively placing the whole burden of sustaining and maintaining a relationship on yourself. They had their share too. They have at least some of the responsibility. At this stage, make every effort to remember they too drove the relationship into the ground.

Just like denial, bargaining is a defense mechanism, and a primitive one at that. It succeeds in distracting you from the loss and emptiness only briefly. Inevitably, reality does what it does best: come crashing down with a bang.

3. Relapse

A lot of people will tell you the next stage is anger or grief, but it’s relapse more often than not. This is the last attempt to regain what you lost. It is the last of three ineffective, but enduring defenses. You might start calling your ex and asking them to get back together. This relieves the agony of withdrawal, but only temporarily. You can’t carry the relationship by yourself despite your best efforts. If you give in to the urge, you will only break up again, and then you’re back where you started. If that doesn’t convince you it’s over, we don’t know what will!

Relapse is similar to acceptance in that it feels like surrendering. Eventually, you realize that you or your ex must maintain boundaries in order to remain apart. You finally understand there’s no point in trying anymore.

4. Rage

Once you’re past relapse, there’s good old healthy anger to reckon with. What was gloom, doom, and despair is now wrath. When you let go of fear, anger takes over. This is a very empowering experience because you realize your feelings are important – and justified – too. You know you deserved more. The rage could be directed at your ex depending on your unique circumstances and your specific family and life experiences. When you access anger, it can make you feel alive in a world that loss has deadened. It can give you direction and remind you that you should be getting more from a relationship. Even self-directed anger, as self-defeating and debilitating as it may be, is part of experiencing grief. Being on the trajectory of grief signals that you are working through the breakup. It shows you’re experiencing enough internal discomfort to see what the relationship was really like and make proactive modifications to your judgments.

5. Hope

Finally, the reawakening of hope! Letting go was hard, mainly because it destroyed your hopes for a brighter future. As you accept the breakup, you redirect feelings of hope because you have to. After all, we must all move on. At the beginning, you were sure you could singlehandedly salvage the lost relationship. Now, it seems like life without that person might just be possible! Embrace the opportunity to redirect hope. Step away from the abyss of the unknown. As you put more and more distance between your ex and yourself, you reconnect with hope ever more forcefully. You realize it was never lost.

Stages of Healing a Heartbreak: What Does the Science Say?

Some people say the pain from their breakups was almost physical. In fact, that’s not far from the truth. Studies indicate that our brains may perceive and process heartbreak and the emotional pain associated with it similarly to how they process physical pain. This is the reason it’s so painful! When we’re emotionally attached to someone, we release high amounts of oxytocin and dopamine around them. The longer we are with them, the more of these “happiness” hormones we release. This explains why it’s so hard to break up with someone we’ve been together with long. Heartbreak causes these hormones to plummet. It’s a double whammy. First, we suffer from withdrawal. Second, we experience elevated levels of cortisol, the most important stress hormone. This leads to neuroticism and increased anxiety, which can become unbearable.

Experts say physical withdrawal symptoms are not unlike early alcohol and drug withdrawal symptoms. It starts with a feeling of unease that escalates. Often, these symptoms will start to improve and eventually go away by themselves. Don’t let them deepen: they could lead to negative health consequences.

Some people describe disturbed eating or sleeping patterns. Others even talk about pain they feel physically, in their stomach or in the heart. Heartbreak should not be taken lightly. It’s important to analyze coping mechanisms. Some people will turn to alcohol or drugs to numb the pain, while others will experience sustained appetite loss.

Healing the Last Stages of Heartbreak

Heartbreak needs to run its course. Most people will go through the 5 stages described above. However, there are things you can do to alleviate the pain. This is one of those wounds that time does heal. While different people recover differently, it always helps to have compassion even – and especially – if those around you don’t show it. Eat as well as you can, get enough sleep, and treat yourself to something nice. Go back to basics. Ask yourself if you’re getting enough R&R and eating right.

Be honest with yourself and acknowledge your feelings. Give yourself time to feel like a basket case. There is no shame in feeling miserable. It might help to write down how you feel. Don’t bottle them up and pretend everything’s perfect; that brave face will be quick to shatter. Your feelings won’t go away and by pretending to be strong, you’re stressing yourself further.

Surround yourself with positive things and people. Your best friend might be the melancholy artist type and you might love being around them, but when you’re experiencing true sadness, it’s best to stay away from them. Spend time with people who have your best interests at heart. These are people who will leave you alone or rally around you as you want.

Don’t try to get back together no matter what. Unfriend them on social media so you’re not reminded of them. Stay away from them. Finally, you might go through the last stage only to come full circle back to denial. Don’t dwell – distract yourself!

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