When I think of the Stages of a Breakup, I immediately think of the Five Stages of Grief. If you’re not familiar with the Five Stages of Grief, I’m sure you’ve at least heard of it before.
Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross introduced these stages in her book (published in 1969) On Death and Dying. This book (which included the Five Stages of Grief) was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients. Kubler-Ross’s model hypothesizes that people in the thrones of grief experience a series of five emotions, or “stages”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
If you’d like to look more in-depth at these stages, see studies refuting and supporting this massively influential concept and get more information, you can easily do your own research online. David Kessler, who co-authored a book with Kubler-Ross, recently wrote about the “Sixth Stage” of Grief he discovered: Meaning.
After the death of his son, David was heartbreakingly affirmed firsthand just how non-linear, not progressive, and unpredictable the process really is.
I am not a doctor, a medical professional, or a professional who is licensed or certified in anything (and I’ve never claimed to be or presented myself as such). My education has come from life experiences, not a classroom. I have the utmost respect for the psychological and psychiatric professional community and am honored to work with many people around the world from the professional community.
Although I have not run clinical studies in a scholastic environment, I have survived people, relationships, situations, and circumstances that I was convinced I couldn’t.
I have gone to war with parts of myself that for years, I was too ashamed to acknowledge. And although I am still very much a work in progress, I have come out on the other end.
Currently, I work with clients in 31 countries around the world – many of whom are grieving the loss of a person and a relationship that wasn’t supposed to ever go away. I have not only been emotionally suicidal myself, but I talk to people every day who are emotionally suicidal due to the soul-shattering pain of a breakup with a selfish, emotionally unintelligent individual who lacks self-awareness, empathy, maturity, and a life outside of their egoic needs. They may also believe that the truth has versions.
I see the Stages of a Breakup that people are in, in real-time, every day.
Through the years, I have noticed many common denominators when it comes to the Stages of a Breakup with a toxic ex.
I define a toxic person as anyone who gets validation by exploiting your hunger for theirs.
Holes can be poked in literally anything and there are exceptions to every rule.
Yes, people of all genders, orientations, and circumstances experience many specific differences. But I have noticed that pain is pain; an investment in a relational Ponzi scheme will never elicit consistent returns, and it’s a lot of the same bullsh*t – just different body parts and dynamics.
I write from the perspective of a straight woman because it’s the only authentic perspective that I can write from. But I feel as though these Stages of a Breakup that I’ve come up with (after going through it myself many times myself and coaching thousands of people around the world), are very common when it comes to breakups with a toxic ex.
Whether it’s a breakup in a romantic relationship, a friendship, with a family member, a coworker, etc., toxic people have a way of making us feel like we were nothing more than a doormat-launching-pad. A doormat whose not-enoughness, launched them into profound change and evolution, relational success, and a happier life now that we are no longer in it.
The Stages of a Breakup are definitely NOT linear; you may not experience all of them.
And just when you get to one stage, you may fall back into a stage you already feel like you’ve gone through.
The truth really does set you free. But if you’ve never known the peace, indifference, freedom, and joy of emotional independence, you will always find yourself returning to the shackles of relational toxicity.
No matter what you believe you deserve in this life…
If you’re more familiar with toxic relationships than you are with healthy, reciprocal ones, certainty will always take precedence over the courage to act on healthy boundaries. Even if it’s reaffirming the certainty of your own pain, perceived worthlessness, and suffering.
This breakup has made you forget just how resilient and irreplaceable you really are.
It’s time to refresh your memory.
The Stages of a Breakup are here are as a guide to frame, identify, and break down what you may be feeling and experiencing.
What are the Stages of a Breakup with a toxic ex?
1. Limiting Your Relationship With Reality
In order for your ex to be able to continue living on in your head and heart as someone worthy of your time, attention, and love (and also, capable of changing), you need to actively limit your relationship with reality.
Subscribing to reality is painful; the truth hurts and right now, it’s too painful to accept.
2. Cherry-Picking the Good
We cherry-pick the good times of the relationship and the decent qualities of our ex. We then, amplify those little bits of decency – all while turning our back to non-negotiable bullsh*t at every turn.
We do this because we are more focused on the high of satiation (from a little crumb of “good”) than we are interested in (subscribing to reality) and addressing the shame of starvation (how hungry we have to be for a CRUMB of decency to satiate us).
3. Show Them What They’re Missing While “Healing”
As far as the Stages of a Breakup go, this one makes me laugh because I’ve done is so many times in so many different (embarrassing) ways.
Whether it’s on social media or through mutual friends, we indirectly try to show our toxic ex what their missing on a superficial level while trying to heal on a substantial level.
I’ve tried acupuncture, reiki, Eat Pray Love, yoga, meditation, you name it. This was all happening AS I WAS attention mongering at every turn; putting on an indirect performance to get a crumb of validation from an ex who couldn’t even self-validate.
4. Rationalizing Friendship
There’s no reason we can’t be friends… right?
Yet, we continue to try and put the square peg into the round hole.
Because we have limited our relationship with reality, we can’t see nor accept that our ex was NEVER a true friend to us. So, we expect them to be capable of a mutual and reciprocal friendship just because they are no longer our partner.
This makes no sense. You aren’t that powerful that your (perceived) worthlessness could make an emotionally and empathetically connected, responsible adult completely disconnect and abandon their moral code JUST BECAUSE they are in a relationship with you.
5. Checking up, Stalking, and Obsessing
Nothing ignites stalking and obsession more than a toxic person rejecting us. Of all the Stages of a Breakup, this is one of the most difficult to get past.
Never has it been so easy to check up on an ex (without directly contacting them) as it is today. Checking up soon turns into a full-blown stalking obsession. We check their social media multiple times a day, drive by their house, etc. all to try and maintain a pulse in an already confirmed dead-end relationship.
6. Falling off Your White Horse
We “check up” (social media stalk) so much (or we hear something from a mutual friend) that we get triggered enough to react when something shakes us to our core. Staying on your white horse Is emotional intelligence; it’s non-reactivity.
By allowing our emotional triggers to dictate our actions, we inevitably fall off our white horse and break the promises we’ve tried to keep to ourselves. This creates a great deal of shame and embarrassment because it feels like our ex now has “the power.”
We then try to give our reactivity a purpose via closure-seeking.
With all the different Stages of a Breakup, this one can feel the most out of control and hopeless.
Bottom line: As long as your self-esteem is low and your ex’s level of toxicity is high, you will not only feel desperate for closure, but you’ll feel like only they can give you the closure you need to healthily move on. The thing is, if someone treated you so poorly that you start going on a closure expedition, you actually have the key to your own prison cell. Their hurtful behavior IS your closure.
You can’t expect someone who was consistently immature, disrespectful, and dishonest to now, all of a sudden be mature, respectful, honest, and able to value you, all in the name of closure.
If this could actually happen, exes around the world would be giving closure and I would be out of work.
Because of how poorly the closure-seeking made us feel, we try to “get back out there” and socialize, go out, maybe even date.
This is about as effective as putting a bandage on cancer.
But because this relationship has drained you of your sense of reality and self, you end up attracting people, circumstances, situations, and events that affirm your negative belief system. You look for erasers everywhere but all you end up finding are people and situations that highlight the absence of your ex.
Of all the stages of a breakup, this is my favorite one because once you get here, there’s no going back.
You FINALLY get to a point where you become so disgusted, you just can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Your emotional gag reflex has kicked in with both your ex and their toxicity, along with YOUR OWN toxicity that you are now able to own and identify.
To me, forgiveness is adjusted boundaries rooted in acceptance. You accept who your ex has unfolded to be.
You accept what you did/did not do and you adjust your boundaries accordingly because you prioritize your peace over the chaos and crumbs of relational amateur hour.
This is how you give your pain a purpose. It’s how you can USE other people’s toxicity to get you out of your own, once and for all.
It’s how you accept that some people are lessons, some relationships are mirrors, and until you are willing to compassionately address the person staring back at you, you will never be free.
If you want “revenge,” prioritize your peace. Toxic exes do not realize the shackles they are in until they see you unlock your own.
I will be digging much deeper into these stages soon. This is just an introduction to help you identify where you’re at and affirm that you are not alone.
+ If you’re interested in further help on the stages of a breakup, please check out my online course, Breaking UP, Not DOWN – Navigating The Stages of a Breakup.
+ If you need further and more personalized help with your relationship, please look into working with me here.