The loss cycle

Whatever the situation, you are likely to experience the following stages of loss. Please click on the stages of loss, in the cycle below, to read more about each one.

Image Map denial acceptance depression bargaining anger

Denial

  • A feeling that it isn’t happening.
  • Hiding things from your friends and family.
  • Fantasising and not dealing with reality.
Realising that your relationship has ended can leave you in a state of shock. You could become absent-minded and feel that this isn’t really happening to you. Fear of facing the future alone can be one factor that contributes to denial. Facing your fears can seem like too much to bear. You may feel a mix of emotions and have rapid mood changes. You could swing wildly from feeling numb and not being able to talk to feeling out of control emotionally and perhaps needing to scream and shout. You might also feel that your emotions are raw and that everyone thinks they know what’s going on. You may experience a feeling of detachment, of being in a daze, as though you are watching a movie. You could also have feelings of panic and anxiety, and a compulsion to do something. This can often take the form of throwing yourself into work or anything practical.

Anger

  • Overreacting and often acting in an irrational way.
  • Feeling like you’re out of control.
  • Being short-tempered and aggressive.
Anger can be explosive. You can move from feeling hatred and revenge to feeling sad and insecure. The depth of these feelings can often be frightening. If you have decided to leave the relationship, you might find it difficult to express your anger because you feel guilty. If you have been left, you might find it difficult to express anger for fear of pushing the other person further away. Anger often comes before the process of letting go. Trying to redirect your anger by doing practical things can help. It isn’t healthy to bottle anger up or express it aggressively. You can express anger in a healthy way by talking to friends or family, exercising or by talking to a counsellor. Keeping anger bottled up can lead to depression.

Bargaining

Thinking: Maybe we could have a second chance. If only he or she:
  • Would change.
  • Knew how much I cared.
  • Knew just what I’d done for the family.
You may find yourself wanting to strike a bargain with your ex-partner to try desperately to make things as they were before or to make the pain go away. This is not a good time to make deals. You may make impossible promises and make things even worse.

Depression

  • Crying uncontrollably.
  • Having no interest in anything.
  • Feeling like you have a ‘mental fog’.
  • Not sleeping well.
  • Feeling withdrawn and cut off from others.
Feelings of loneliness, sadness or depression are normal during this difficult time. The feelings of sorrow and loss of your relationship, and all that it means to you, can be difficult to bear. You might also have sleep problems and feel emotionally drained. Because our identities are tied up in relationships, it can be difficult to imagine yourself as a whole and separate person. Your self-esteem can be low, making it difficult to do everyday things. You might feel like crying most of the time. If the feelings of depression won’t go away, or they get worse, you may need to speak to your doctor or someone else who can help you.

Acceptance

  • Your emotions become more balanced – you can acknowledge both good and bad bits of your relationship.
  • You find yourself more able to manage strong emotions.
  • You have hope for the future.
For some people this stage can mark the beginning of a new life with new choices, for others it can be a bit of an anticlimax. Relationships between separated parents can settle down, although it is also possible that problems with children may sometimes arise. The feelings at each stage can be overwhelming, and you might feel like you are going crazy. But though it may not seem so at the time, we know from research on the grief process that it is better to acknowledge these feelings to yourself and close friends and family and to accept that they are a part of a painful process that will normally ease in time. Don’t expect to go through the stages one by one. It is more likely that you’ll jump from one to the other, often in the space of a few minutes!

You will not necessarily experience the stages of loss in the order shown above and you might visit each stage more than once. You might sometimes feel that you are taking one step forward and two steps back. The feelings you might experience, whether mild or intense, are all a normal part of divorce and separation. However, if you feel that you’ve been stuck in a particular stage for some time, you might want to consider seeing a counsellor to help you through the process.

Remember: understanding the stages won’t make the pain go away, but it might help you realise that this is a normal process that other people go through as well.

Where is your child in this? How is your child experiencing your separation?

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