The 6 Not-So-Pretty (But Totally Normal) Stages Of A Breakup

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Heartbreak

A breakup can leave the lovelorn rattled for weeks, months and sometimes, even years. But the stages of a breakup are not unlike those involved the process of grieving after a death or any other kind of loss.

In the model created by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, grief can be categorized into five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Kübler-Ross came to this conclusion after observing terminally ill patients, adapting it to include the experiences of those heartbroken by death and loss.

Another popular theory tjhat expands on her model is known as the seven stages of grief — shock, denial, guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — takes into account a broader range of emotions people may experience during the grieving process.

Whichever theory speaks to you most, it’s important to remember that these stages are not definitive. You may experience them in a different order, You may experience some stages more than once and there may be some stages you skip entirely.

As psychoanalyst Sandra E. Cohen, Ph.D. shared with us, “One of the most important things in breakup grief is not to judge what you think you should or shouldn't be feeling. There's really no one way to experience loss. It’s very hard to lose someone you love. You'll feel many different things at many different times. In grief, these stages come and go. Try to allow yourself whatever feelings you have or don’t have, and grieve for as long as you need.”

RELATED: How To Get Over Someone You Love And Move On

The upside is of allowing yourself to go through each stage of the healing process, even when it feels too painful to bear, is that one day you will realize you have moved on.

There’s no correct way to grieve, but knowing what to expect along the way can help you understand your emotions and how to cope with them during each phase of your breakup recovery.

The 6 Stages Of A Breakup

1. Denial

Right after a breakup, you enter the stage of denial, refusing to accept reality. It can feel like a nightmare.

When you’ve given your all to one person, it feels like your world is ending, and accepting it is impossible. It’s unrealistic, sure, but you may even remain hopeful that you and your ex can get back together eventually.

Why we go through this stage: As with most matters of the heart, we have nothing but biology to blame for the magnetic pull that drags us to an ex's front doorstep immediately after a breakup.

"Initially, there is often shock," says therapist Ian Kerner, Ph.D.. "When you've gotten used to routines and patterns, those routines are hardwired and hardcoded in our brains. There's a sense of wanting to resume them."

2. Distraction

The second stage od a breakup is a confusing one during which you experience intense feelings of regret, euphoria, and guilt, all of which you seek to distract your yourself from.

"People do a lot of crazy things during this stage," says Kerner. "I always tell women to watch out for casual hook-ups because it's easier for men to compartmentalize a one-nighter or something casual. For women, it's more difficult. You immediately want to bond with who you are physical with."

Why we go through this stage: As reality filters in, you find yourself wildly grasping for relief. You're injected with complicated emotions and invigorating energy as your brain works to keep you afloat in the sea of emotional turmoil.

Rather than giving into actions you may regret later, it’s important to stay busy, in positive ways — going skydiving, taking an acting class, or doing another activity that challenges you. Distract yourself with something that helps, not hinders.

3. Anger

At this stage of grief, your anger darkens to a much deeper form of passion. You may find yourself writing scathing letters or texts to your ex, or even feeling angry with yourself, scared and angry about your current situation.

“To deal with your anger, it's important to surround yourself with friends and family who are empathetic,” says Kerner. “Someone who will judge you for being angry is the wrong person.”

Why we go through this stage: While it may seem scarier than the first two stages, anger is a healthy way of reclaiming your independence and rebuilding your self-worth. After all, you shouldn't pine after someone who doesn't want you, right?

In fact, Amy Spencer, author of "Meeting Your Half-Orange: An Utterly Upbeat Guide to Using Dating Optimism to Find Your Perfect Match", suggests having fun with the anger since it can be “directed anywhere you want.”

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That means you can turn your anger into something positive rather than destructive (like breaking into your ex’s apartment or exacting revenge). Painting, writing, kickboxing — pick any kind of medium that's as extreme as you very well please, but without hurting yourself or anyone else.

RELATED: 5 Ways To Get Through Post-Breakup Grief & Come Out Stronger On The Other Side

4. Bargaining

Though you may still have lingering anger, the bargaining stage involves racking your brain for ways you can get your ex back. Maybe you can change the way you look, or how you respond in arguments, or even being more submissive. The problem is that you’re essentially blaming yourself for the breakup, when that isn’t the case.

Why we go through this stage: You stay hopeful that by taking drastic measures, possibly even promising to change who you are as a person, there’s a chance of reconciliation, and you’re more than willing to do anything possible to get them back, no matter the cost.

Relationship expert Deborah Roth explains, " In the bargaining stage, you might beat yourself up with 'if only’s' — 'If only I’d been a more patient, loving partner,' or, 'If only I hadn’t gone away that weekend.' Which can propel you to desperately reach out to your ex with all kinds of big promises to be or do better... of course, the reality is that you both were responsible for the success or failure of your relationship."

5. Sadness

At this stage, you feel intense sadness. You may cry every day for a certain amount of time, wallowing in your feelings and lingering on the moments you shared together.

Expressing your sadness is a good thing, as long as you don't allow yourself to remain there for too long.

Why we go through this stage: Says Spencer, "To be healthy emotionally means we go through the highs and the lows of life. Feelings are good for us, all of them. Those deep feelings are a part of the path of life, and are proof that you’re healthy and emotionally advanced.”

Beware of getting stuck in this stage, since it’s dangerous to linger too long in sadness or depression.

Adds Cohen, “If you find yourself overwhelmed or stuck in your feelings, that’s the time to get professional help. Many breakups bring back early trauma, other significant losses, and fantasies about yourself or your loved one. You might believe he's the only one you’ll ever love or question if you're good enough or even loveable. You can sort this out in therapy, to find love and hope again.”

6. Acceptance

Acceptance comes all at once. After nights of forcing yourself to go out, you finally start to have fun. After a few mediocre dates, you finally have a good one.

And on that day you stumble upon a picture of your ex, you don’t feel much. It may seem strange, but it will start feeling good, like a weight is lifting off your shoulders.

Why we go through this stage: Reaching the stage of acceptance is a sign that you’re beginning to make peace with the situation.

“Most people who find themselves dwelling in the past don’t get over it until they meet someone new,” Kerner says. “And until you can do that, you have to suffer through the purgatory. Much like lying in bed with the flu, you’re ‘healing’ as you go through the stages.”

In this stage, you’ll thank your lucky stars for the breakup, disguised as a true gift. And when the day comes that your future self is cuddled up and happy as a clam beside the person who is much more right for you, you’ll be happy the relationship with your ex didn’t work out.

"And above all," adds Roth, "take extra good care of yourself during this tender time. The stronger you are on every level, the sooner the fog will begin to lift and you’ll start to feel grounded again, maybe even hopeful about the possibilities that lie ahead."

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Melissa Noble is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Brooklyn. Her work has been featured on MSN, Bustle, Reader's Digest, The JAMA Network, Heidelberger Leader, Hume Leader, and more. Visit her website.