Greaving is an inevitable part of life that can cause immense suffering. We experience it during many stages of our life. For example, our first encounter may come in the early years with the death of a grandparent or a pet. Many studies have been conducted on the matter, with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (psychiatrist and a pioneer in near-death studies) outlining five stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
We tend to carry compassion for those who experience death as a form of loss. Yet fall short of extending the same courtesy to those experiencing loss through divorce or separation. Grieving for someone that still lives, for a dream that will not be or for something that has not yet occurred, like the birth of more children, can be just as shattering.
Everyone experiences grief differently, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. The process’s order can vary from person to person and will not always follow a linear direction. Some may experience relief and joy as part of their journey. Some want to be alone, while others seek out social connections. Responses to grief vary widely from culture to culture and person to person.
Acknowledging the different stages and finding practical ways to manage each is essential to moving on with your life. In each process, remember that there are strategies that can help you move forward and create a positive future for yourself. In “A Practical Way To Deal with Separation Grief”, we’ll explore those strategies in more depth.
For now, let’s look at how the stages of grief relate to the end of your relationship.
Stages of Grief: ~ DENIAL/SHOCK
It is a natural defence mechanism where when faced with loss, many try to convince themselves that the loss isn’t real or hasn’t really happened. This can be a conscious or unconscious response, often involving ignoring or denying the reality of the situation.
Women who have been cheated on or betrayed by their partners tend to feel this process more intensely. However, that is not to say that a woman leaving a relationship through her choice will not feel the shock and denial towards her changing circumstances.
It may feel like being in a state of numbness or disbelief. In grappling with the truth, you may say things like, “This can’t be happening”, “How could this happen to me?” or “It’s not really over”. You may have difficulty concentrating or making decisions. You may feel like you are in a fog and struggling to make sense of what has happened. You may find yourself unable to express your feelings to others.
Denial allows people to process the situation at their own pace. However, it can become problematic if they refuse to accept reality. This can result in failing to take action to move forward. Therefore, no matter how painful, we must acknowledge the loss and allow ourselves to feel the emotions that come with it.
The second stage of separation grief is often anger. During this stage, individuals may feel a range of emotions from frustration to resentment and irritation. You might blame yourself or your ex-partner for what happened. You may hold grudges and grievances or feel outright rage towards your ex and the world.
You may feel like you can’t control your emotions and may find that you say things you don’t mean and lash out at those around you. Often the loss is perceived as unfair, and you may wonder why it had to happen. Although it can be absolutely consuming and blinding, many women hold onto anger for years, despite the action taking a toll on their health and other relationships.
Yes, anger is a natural response to loss; we must allow ourselves to feel it. However, it’s essential to note that feeling anger does not mean irrationally acting in anger towards others. Instead, we must explore ways to let it go. At this stage, I strongly recommend you seek support from a mental health professional.
We must be most mindful of our children during this phase. They are the innocent bystanders in this life-changing situation, often confused and self-blaming. They need you to help them through this time and are also looking to you to learn how to manage overwhelming emotions.
You will inevitably lose it in front of them, which is ok. After all, you are a human being; you will make mistakes. However, having someone non-invested in your corner will help you minimise the negative impact of your behaviour. It will also demonstrate that seeking support in time of need is ok.
Bargaining is the third stage of grief, where we try to find a way to avoid or reverse the situation. It is characterised by a frantic desire to negotiate with ourselves, others, or even higher power.
We might feel guilty or regretful and wish things could have been different. We become overwhelmed by the desperate need to change the circumstances we find ourselves in.
We might say, “If only I had done this differently,” or “Please, just give me one more chance.” You might try negotiating with your ex-partner during this stage or devise ways to salvage the relationship. Such negotiations can be our attempt to reclaim control when helplessness sets in.
Although bargaining is a normal part of the grief process, we need to recognise that some situations can’t be changed; and that sometimes that is for the best, even if we can’t see it yet.
Depression is the fourth stage of separation grief and can be one of the most difficult to navigate. During this phase, overwhelming sadness and hopelessness may take over. In addition, feelings of worthlessness and loathing may lead to suicidal thoughts.
You may utterly blame yourself for the relationship breakdown, saying, “No wonder he didn’t want me. I’m such a screw-up.” Or “I’m so stupid for letting him go.” You may feel like withdrawing from life and everyday activities and not being able to find joy in anything at all.
While this is a typical process, it’s critical to seek professional help if these feelings persist or if they affect how you mother. Therapy, medication or a combination of both are often very effective treatments for depression.
Please remember that you are NOT weak in seeking help; it takes strength and courage to confront these emotions head-on. However, with time and support, you will start to feel like yourself again. Here at Single Mama Way, I specialise in helping you find your way forward.
The final stage of separation grief is acceptance. This stage signals a turning point where you start coming to terms with your loss, taking tentative steps toward a new sense of normal.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you forget or stop feeling sadness. Instead, it means that you have adapted to the changes in your life and can establish new routines and relationships. We may still feel sorrow, but we can find peace and hope for the future.
There is no timeline for when you should reach acceptance. Instead, gift yourself with compassion and be patient with the process. It is important to reiterate that everyone grieves differently.
You may not travel neatly through these five stages, experiencing them all one after another. The feelings can rush you in a day or week or drag you over the years. They may come in a jumbled order and resurface again once dealt with. You might even skip some stages altogether.
This is normal. You are ‘normal’. While the grieving process can be complex, it’s important to remember that you will eventually find a way forward and that healing is possible.