Experiencing grief from a breakup is definitely a possibility. Breaking up is a hard process to go through, and comes with many questions, doubts, and emotions. Many individuals experience grief during this time, which allows them to process their loss, reflect on it, and attempt to understand what happened.
Is Grieving After a Breakup Normal?
Grief is a process an individual uses to reflect, grow, and move forward from an event; this is especially so for those experiencing grief after a breakup. In a recent study, college students identified a breakup as one of the most significant non-death related losses they had experienced.1 Grieving a breakup is an important process for people to go through, even if this type of grief is not openly discussed as commonly as typical grief.
How Are Breakup Grief & Other Forms of Bereavement Similar?
Grief from a breakup shares some similarities with the grief felt after a loved one dies. Most people will process their grief in stages such as denial, anger, depression and acceptance. Bargaining doesn’t always occur with everyone, but may happen with any type of grief.
Some key similarities between breakup grief and bereavement include:
- Feelings of shock after the news: For many, breaking up with or losing someone will come as a shock, and it might take time for the news to be processed.
- Co-occurring mood disorders: Conditions such as depression and bipolar can be exacerbated by grief.
- Development of anxiety disorders: The stress that a breakup or death causes can develop into an anxiety disorder, such as generalized anxiety.
- Questions of self-worth & self-doubt: Many begin to look internally after a loss, and this can affect someone’s self-worth.
- Denial: People may be in denial over any type of major loss.
- Feelings of anger: The process of grief can trigger anger towards the individual lost or displaced anger while feelings are being processed.
- Reflection: Grief provides an individual the space to think about a relationship more in depth—both the good and the bad aspects.
- Acceptance: In both cases, people will eventually understand and accept the loss.
- Growth: Both breakup grief and bereavement allow someone to learn from their experiences.
How Are Bereavement & Breakup Grief Different?
The major difference between bereavement and breakup grief is that the individual who lost a loved one will never see this person again. On the other hand, after a breakup, there is the potential of reuniting as a couple or initiating a relationship again. While the emotions between the two are similar, the depth of them might be different. Many can feel sad, depressed, angry, rejected, or betrayed over the loss to varying degrees.
Some key differences between breakup grief and bereavement include:
- Reconciliation is an option: There is a possibility that someone can come back to a relationship after a breakup.
- Complicated dynamics: This is evident in relationships in which there was domestic violence, and the person is grieving the loss of the abusive partner.
- The length of processing the loss: Bereavement may be a lifelong process that fluctuates. Those who have broken up with someone often move forward through the process of grief quicker.
- Feeling rejected: When a breakup occurs, many feel rejected; this rarely occurs after the passing of a loved one.
- Being able to predict a breakup: At times, a person may have an idea that a relationship will soon end.
- What moving on looks like: Moving on from a breakup can look differently than the loss of a loved one. Some people might jump into another relationship, or decide to work on themselves first.
- Family dynamics: This may look like family members staying friends with a person’s ex-partner, which can be complicating and confusing.
Does Breakup Grief Follow the Stages of Grief?
Experts have theorized that, like other forms of grief, breakup grief has stages:
- Denial: Denial is very common after being broken up with, as it’s hard for one to comprehend why a relationship has ended.
- Anger: Ending a relationship may also trigger increased anger.
- Bargaining: Bargaining does not always occur during a breakup. But when it does, it’s often considered the “negotiation” stage in which a person begins to wonder how they could have fixed the relationship.
- Depression: Furthermore, emotions are high when grieving. Thus, someone can fall into a depression while processing their loss.
- Acceptance: Finally, the acceptance of the loss is the last stage in which individuals are able to be “okay” and move forward.
Of course, these breakup stages of grief are not linear and can jump around from stage to stage. Also, the length of each step varies across individuals.
Why Is Processing Breakup Grief Important?
Breaking up with someone or being dumped is tough, as it creates sadness and pain. Dealing with this alone can be challenging for a number of reasons. Many dynamics in a person’s life will change suddenly. With any loss, social support can help someone adapt to new changes. This support can decrease the self-destructive behaviors that may arise when grieving. Additionally, there are instances in which grief can worsen a co-occurring mental illness.
Some reasons to address your breakup grief include:
- Avoiding risks of substance use disorder: Feeling too many negative emotions simultaneously can become overwhelming. At times, substance misuse may be used to alleviate these feelings. When someone ends a relationship, there is a higher probability that they will engage in substance use if no support is available.
- Developing healthy coping mechanisms: Losing someone provides the opportunity for people to practice coping skills to help them manage stressful situations.
- Personal and relational growth: When you lose someone, there is healthy growth involved. You will learn what works in a relationship and what does not. This allows a person to avoid the same mistakes in the future.
- Reconnecting with yourself: Sometimes, those in a relationship can forget about their identities, or and become too much of a “we.” Having the space to reconnect with oneself is essential.
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9 Tips for How to Grieve a Breakup
Breakup grief can have severe impacts on someone’s mental health and daily functioning. Everyone will cope with breakup grief differently, but the most important thing is that a person takes the time needed to heal from it.
Here are nine tips for dealing with grief after a breakup:
1. Leave Your Ex Alone
To move on from a breakup, there needs to be space between you and your ex. Leaving this person alone is crucial, as to allow space to fully process the separation. Eliciting the support of family and friends can be beneficial if you are having a hard time doing so. Try giving your friends access to your social media so they can unfollow or block your ex. Or, try a new hobby to distract yourself from wanting to go back to this person.
2. Prioritize Self-Care
Self-care is important when you are processing your emotions. Being attuned to your needs and making sure to meet them is essential. Self-care varies from person to person. It may include physical activities, asking for help and support from others, resting, relaxing, or participating in enjoyable activities that rejuvenate you.
3. Reach Out to Your Support Team
Having support when going through a breakup is critical. Be transparent about the support you need, so your support network can understand exactly what to do to help. Let a friend know that you’d like to spend time with them, or talk to them about your feelings. This can also keep you distracted if all you can do is think about your ex.
4. Be Patient
Patience plays a vital role in grieving. This process can be overwhelming, and it’s common to want the process to go faster than it does. Remind yourself that this may take some time and that it is okay to grieve. This can help set realistic expectations.
5. Practice Mindfulness
Being able to manage your emotions will help you in the long-run. Practicing mindfulness can aid you in doing so. Making sure to choose a practice that best suits you. Meditation, yoga, or any other similar practice can be beneficial during this process.
Be honest and open about what happened in the relationship and how it made you feel. See things for what they were, instead of the “What if’s.” Reflection provides the space for people to learn and grow from their mistakes. This can be challenging, but it can provide insight into what you may need from future relationships–such as your particular needs, desired boundaries, and expectations.
7. Be Empathetic With Yourself
Don’t judge yourself as you explore your thoughts and feelings. Having an open mind as you do so can provide clarity. Be empathetic with yourself as you learn more about yourself and your needs.
A journal can be a space to write, draw, or express yourself freely without any judgment. Journaling helps you track growth through the breakup grief process. For example, you can look back on past entries and see how you have healed. Journaling can help you let go of the emotions that are connected to losing someone–almost like closing a chapter of your story.
9. Be Open to New Connection
After someone goes through a breakup, there may be some hesitation to form new connections. Letting your guard down after being hurt can seem impossible. However, being able to reconnect with others is essential in order to move forward.
How Counseling Can Help with Breakup Grief
For some individuals, having a space to discuss the grief they are feeling from a breakup can be helpful. At times, a grief or breakup specialist might be able to teach someone how to better address the loss of their relationship. This is the case when an individual feels stuck and can’t move forward. Regardless, therapy is never a bad option to consider.
Some therapy options for breakup grief include:
- Individual therapy: Individual therapy can provide some much needed space for an individual to share their own feelings about a relationship. It provides the one-on-one support that is sometimes needed for healing to begin.
- Grief counseling: This type of counseling focuses on processing the grief you are experiencing due to a loss. This is helpful when an individual might need a more focused approach to overcoming breakup grief.
- Group therapy: Group therapy is composed of individuals that gather together to discuss the same topic/theme. They are supportive in that they normalize the emotions and process of a loss.
- Online therapy options: There are many online therapy platforms that provide services to support the healing process.
Breaking up is hard, and brings with it deep feelings of grief. It can be difficult to manage on your own. But, having support throughout the healing process is important, whether it’s from family, friends, or professionals.
For Further Reading
- Check out these tips from therapists on how to stop loving someone.
- Here are ways to stop constantly thinking about someone.
- These are some of the Best Books to Read After a Breakup.
- Practicing grief rituals could be helpful.
Andrea Brognano, LMHC, LPC provides some great tips for coping with breakup grief in this video: