POST-BREAKUP LOSS IS NOT GARDEN-VARIETY GRIEF
You’re going about your day and all of a sudden you remember something nice about your ex and you get a flood of troubling emotion. Your head starts spinning, heart racing, and you say ‘WTF, this person is not in my life anymore! Why am I feeling this way?’. Sound familiar? This is one of the many ways GRIEF can still run your life, long after your ex is gone….and its not healthy. What to do about it? Read on.
I’ve see these waves of emotion happen often with clients who are in the post-breakup period. It can show up weeks, months, or even years later. What do you do about post breakup grief? Just move on, expecting it to pass?
This article will help you:
- Understand how the grief you experience after a breakup is different from what most people think of as grief
- Examples of what this kind of loss might look like (I’ll share a personal story)
- Learn some guiding principles to approach post-breakup grief
WHEN WE THINK GRIEF, WE THINK OF SOMEONE DYING
Grief is natural during the transition out of a relationship. You may have though you were depressed and not realized that there was grief. Or maybe you made the same mistake I did of thinking that you were not mentally strong.
When I’ve experienced post-breakup grief in the past, I made the mistake of thinking that having emotions about the breakup was equal to admitting that I was too weak to get ‘over him’. So I’d hide the emotions as well as I could and hope nobody noticed how weak I was. It was much later that I understood what had been feeling was grief and it would have been much easier to give myself some space (and grace) to let it work its course instead of suppressing it.
I knew about grief as the stuff you experience when someone dies. I didn’t even consider that there might be other types of grief. Which is why I didn’t recognize the post-breakup grief I’d experienced. When you are in a breakup, the grief you face is less straightforward than grief of a loved one that dies. In a breakup, the relationship ends, but your ex goes on living, and sometimes the ex even remains in your life in some way. There is a different name for this kind of grief; it’s got a category of its own.
“In a breakup, the relationship ends,
but your ex goes on living, and sometimes
your ex even remains in your life in some way.
There’s a different name for this kind of grief.”
BREAKUP GRIEF IS AN AMBIGUOUS LOSS
The term used for grief where you lose someone, but that person is still around, is ambiguous loss. It feels like living a paradox. You lose the person and yet they go on living life without you.
Ambiguous loss happens in situations such as divorce, breakup, getting ghosted. It can also happen in other kinds of relationships, or when we lose a part of our life. Examples of other candidates for ambiguous loss are losing your home to fire, or a parent who forgets you because of Alzheimer’s, etc.
It’s a loss where you lack physical evidence that you’d see if the person passed away. Closure feels a lot harder in this case.
IT’S POSSIBLE TO SUCCESSFULLY NAVIGATE POST-BREAKUP LOSS
I learned to navigate ambiguous loss in my own life. In my case, the biggest one wasn’t a breakup but instead it was about experiencing my mom’s dementia. Mom had been declining with dementia for a more than a decade. Over years, I was faced with one ambiguous loss after another. She’d have stretches where she was stable, and then she’d suddenly experience a drop in functioning and cognition and I’d have to come to terms with the new reality. With each decline, I lost another part of the woman I knew and experienced fresh grief. She continued to be there physically, but was no longer able to connect as the person she’d been before. This experience created personal journey of finding my footing with ambiguous loss.
“By the time my mom passed away, I’d been letting
go of this person being present in the way I knew them,
even though they were still physically present.”
When my mom actually passed away, I had expected to be weighed down with conventional grief from my mom passing. Instead, I felt bolstered by emotional processing I’d already done. I understood and had made peace with where I felt guilt in the past, and I could appreciate the life lessons that would help me in moving forward.
In a romantic relationship, grief processing usually happens after the relationship ends. I do have clients that start working on grief about bad relationship before it ends. However, most of us will do this exploration after breakup. This was true for me in my own breakups. In fact, a lot of the grief post-breakup I chose to work through happened years later because I realized that I still felt emotional about things I knew I didn’t need to be emotional about. Once I understood that I had suppressed grief, I went back and revisited the emotions that were there and got to a much better place with those memories.
I want you to benefit from knowing about ambiguous loss, because I know it would have been a game changer for me to use it sooner.
KNOWING ABOUT AMBIGUOUS LOSS IS A SPRINGBOARD TO POST-BREAKUP RECOVERY
Simply knowing that post breakup grief is an actual thing, that it’s a form of ambiguous loss, is a great start. You deserve relief from it. Deeper relief comes from getting to a place where you no longer feel wounded.
This takes examining the emotional underpinnings of why you feel your grief. I happen to have specialized training and on examining emotional underpinnings of challenges such as grief, but anyone can do this work.
The key to the transformation I achieved was using Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). This is a process that can be guided by an expert like me, or that you can do for yourself as a self-help tool. It’s easy to learn the basics in a few minutes <get my short guide> that will get you going with basic EFT.
Grief is a tender thing and I’ve got more articles that will help you be ready to work through breakup grief. There are <6 keys you can use to get over your ex>. You can learn from my experience and how it helped me. I’ve written about <5 huge payoffs I benefitted from when working through my own grief>. These 3 articles work together to give you a foundation of what grief work involves.
Ready to deep dive into this work? In addition to these articles, be sure to also grab my <downloadable guide> that gives you a framework for planning out areas to explore.
Know that it is a journey and that a lot of our losses are related to how we perceive our sense of security within ourselves and our world. Exploring our relationship history can be particularly challenging, and it may be worth getting guidance with an expert. Feel free to book a free consult to explore goals for your own work, and see if it would be valuable get some support in your journey.