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No Contact & Dealing With Grief

In this class: Understand the five stages of grief in the context of No Contact with some recommendations for moving through the stages. 

When a relationship breaks -  and actually even when dates don't work out - you have to grieve the loss of because you have some hopes and expectations in there.

Suddenly there is white space where you had plans and you may feel at a loose end because you can't do the things that you normally would, like pick up the phone, or email, or hang out together. You have to keep reminding yourself that you've broken up and it can feel very devastating. It's not like you've lost them to death, which is what many associate 'grieving' with, so the idea that you can't just pick up the phone or anything else can deal an emotional blow to you that can literally feel as if it's knocked the wind out of your proverbial sails. You may have already acted on grief feelings on impulse, interpreting feelings as a cue and even need to reach out and try again. If you have, you will no doubt already know that beyond the instant gratification and the short term, that it hurts to do this, and yet, that's not to say that you won't have the urge again or that you won't struggle with grief and the act of grieving.

No Contact is a breakup and grieving tool that teaches you how to accept the reality of your relationship and the person. In your relationship you have both good and bad memories and experiences - part of NC is balancing things out through a process of the five stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. NC is not about 'villainising' the other person (or you for that matter) - eventually you can remember the good times without putting this person on a pedestal, forgetting the reasons that your relationship broke down, or reacting to grief feelings by doing something that is ultimately self-destructive.

There are a few key things that you should know about grief that will help to not only manage your expectations of it but will point you to where you need to help you.

Grief isn't linear. Much as it would be handy to go through each of the stages once and to only feel 'bad' at the beginning, in reality, you will travel back and forth on this path and it will, if you practice self-care, eventually pass and stay past the stage of acceptance.

How much you struggle with grief is directly proportionate to your ability to take care of you, so what you're doing during that time, as well as your beliefs system. If you don't self-soothe healthily and have instead relied on external solutions to your external issues, you will do things that equate to, I want to run from my feelings and have someone else do something / change to make me feel better about what I have done and am going through. You will see these feelings as 'bad' when they're just very natural feelings. The more you judge the feelings is the more you will compound your misery. If you treat your feelings and thoughts as facts, and you have unhealthy beliefs, then you will apply meanings to those grief feelings that have the potential to cripple your sense of self and to also diminish you while building up the other party.

You are responsible for helping you to grieve. There are no doubt supportive people in your life who can help you to grieve but you must be your primary carer. Expecting the person who you're NC from to be the one to make you feel better, runs counter to the whole process. You cannot make another person responsible for your feelings and behaviour, even if they have a part in why you are feeling this way. If you do, you will focus on trying to influence and control their feelings and behaviour rather than taking command of you. This doesn't change the fact that they may have done you wrong but you need to acknowledge how you have responded. You are in charge of that. If you've responded to their actions by beating you up for this and taking down your worth, it is you that responded in that way. It didn't and does not need to have that meaning. Trying to get this person to make you feel different fails to acknowledge the fact that part of why you feel as you do is due to the meanings you attached to their behaviour as well as any choices you've made.

What To Expect During The Grief Stage - Denial

  • Can't believe this is happening
  • Wondering if it's possible to give them another chance
  • Wondering what was real and what was fake
  • Analysing what was said and done and often blaming yourself for things that they did, which is actually a form of denial that displaces the responsibility
  • Temptation to break contact
  • Feeling like you're in a fog
  • Trying to be their friend
  • Waiting for the I Made A Mistake Call

You've likely already been through this stage, particularly if you have already given your ex (or soon to be ex) several chances. It begins before the relationship has ended as you don't want to believe what's happening or what you will need to do, and this stage, depending on how much of a hard time you give you during the process, is likely to go on for a few weeks into NC. If you're very 'done' and have already been though this stage a few times, you may find that it doesn't last very long.

Denial is basically not acknowledging an unacceptable truth. It's actually, as long as denial is not your usual mode of being, i.e. fantasising, a healthy part of the grief stage that helps you to process things at a pace that you can handle. Where issues arise is if you go through the grief stage and end up obsessing and blaming yourself. It's even trickier if you respond to denial by doing things that you may later consider at best embarrassing and at worst humiliating.

When you get trapped in your feelings it's like, 'I can't believe that they rejected me' and 'I can't believe it's over for good' or 'I can't believe they don't see how good we could have been together' and other such trappings.

Recommendations: Keep a Feelings Diary (see the guide in module one), check out the obsession video in the extras section of your course page, and nurture you during this time. If you're out of reality, it causes you to neglect yourself and it also gives you more things to feel bad about you. Having a list of the reasons why you need to do NC is also a way of staying in reality and please stick to responsibility, not blame.

What To Expect During The Grief Stage - Anger

  • Being very angry with yourself
  • Being very angry with him/her
  • Being tempted to lash out and tell them all about themselves
  • Feeling consumed by your feelings
  • Possibly contemplating revenge
  • Ruminating, often at night time or when you're at a loose end, which, if you respond to this, may result in you texting or calling them
  • Feeling like you can't move on
  • Feeling bitter, despondent, or even believing that you're miserable while they're living the life of Riley
  • If they've moved on, "Why them and not me?"
  • Raking over previous hurts and rejections and even feeling angry with your family due to, for example, childhood issues

It's very possible that you're in this stage already or have come out of it and are feeling resolved to see NC through. You may also be vacillating between denial and anger which is normal. Anger is a normal and necessary emotion. It is perfectly normal and your right to feel angry about your hopes and expectations not being met, about issues where you've been wronged, or things that you feel that you've done that are not in your best interests. It may extend to feeling a sense of injustice, like "Why me?" or "I have bad luck". We all go through these feelings and actually, anger is very necessary for NC as if you process it and learn from the insights gained, you are unlikely to return to a situation that is not working for you.

Do not fear being angry and also don't act like you're above anger as if it's only for immature people.

It is critical to work your way through anger and have some of those bad days...and then come out the other side of it. Working through means getting it out of your head by talking and writing about it. It's making sense of it, it's crying, it's sometimes having a damn good scream when the music is up loud or when no one is home.

What you must remember is that you're human, you love, and you want to be loved and like everyone on the planet, you don't always do things that are in your best interests and you sometimes do things that you term as 'mistakes'. That doesn't make you a failure as a person and part of the issue of why people get stuck in the anger stage is because they punish themselves by reliving what they think are their 'failures' and wallowing in a pit of blame.

The mistake is not so much having got involved with this person or having made one false move that you think 'provoked' this situation (it didn't), or not being perfect (unrealistic and unfair); the mistake is beating you up, applying painful, judgmental meanings to their actions and your own, and continuing with self-destructive thinking and behaviour. The great thing is that while the past cannot be changed, all of the latter things can be.

The key to working through anger is to gain perspective and perspective doesn't come from blaming you - it's about owning your own stuff, letting them own theirs, and not doing the whole 'one false move' thing where you think if you hadn't done one thing, nothing else would have happened. It wasn't all them, it wasn't all you, and the net result is that your relationship couldn't continue.

Recommendations: Don't pretend that you're not angry. Write Unsent Letters - guide in module three. Write 100 if you need to - it will cleanse your soul if you make an appointment with your anger to write it out and gain perspective. Perspective comes from reality, responsibility, and being as nurturing as you can be to yourself during the process. Don't sit around fermenting in anger and saying nasty things about you - interject with reality and some compassion.

What To Expect During The Grief Stage - Bargaining

  • Coming up with ideas that would enable you to return to the relationship - imagining deals and compromises
  • Praying that if X happens you'll do Y

When you feel tempted to break NC and to return to denial, it's often because you're bargaining, coming up with a rationale where you think that you can bargain with yourself or this person to make the relationship and them be as you want. Bargaining is actually something that you will have started experiencing pretty much as soon as it became apparent that the relationship wasn't going to work out and it's where you make deals and come up with compromises, either privately in your head or with the other person.

"Maybe if I wait it out a bit longer and don't make any fuss about marriage / moving in / changing, this could work out and I won't have to continue this painful process."

Bargaining is looking to do an exchange to get away from the pain, which essentially delays the inevitable. It's the some terms rather than none scarcity mentality.

If you allow you to be hijacked by the bargaining stage, you will come up with deals and bargains that will allow you to have the relationship on any terms rather than on none at all, which is where you will end up being compromised, especially as you will end up doing things that not only detract from you but that while opening you up to pain, may also embarrass or even humiliate you. Unhealthy compromise creates a loss. Healthy compromise is about working together to find a solution you can both live with, something that is highly unlikely to be achieved out of bargaining to avoid pain or a relationship where you've needed to do NC.

Whatever you're prepared to settle for is what you're going to get. If you've been thinking that this person is the best that you can do and you barely have two self-esteem beans to rub together and they're exhibiting signs of their own issues, it's time to get your emotional house in order and recognise that you're not with this person because you want to be in a mutual relationship and there's reason to support that; you're with this person because they represent everything that you don't like about you and that you believe about life and love. It's not that there's a scarcity of decent people; there's a scarcity of self-love and self-compassion and thankfully, this can be changed, strangely enough by going through the grieving process.

Sometimes bargaining can help you see your way to a constructive solution but the difficulty with NC and a relationship that needed it, is you are unlikely to be in a clear frame of mind and are looking for a solution that speaks to your ego. When we are tempted to break contact, we're bargaining, but we make decisions in isolation that are often not based on reality but a remarkable set of circumstances that will need to come about if only the other party changes. Stop bargaining for lightening to strike.

Recommendations: The key to turning bargaining into something productive and moving beyond this stage, is to keep your feet in reality with a clear, real image of who the other person is, and make constructive deals with yourself - these are deals that help you to better you and really have nothing to do with them per se, and everything to do with wanting to act in your own best interests. "You know what? I'm going to give myself 3/6/X months where I'm totally focused on me and getting on with my own life and if I still feel a burning desire to be with them after that (you won't), I'll revisit the situation then."

Write out your 'bargains' and sanity check them. Are you using assumptions that have no basis in reality? Have you already tried a variation of this? Yep, insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

What To Expect During The Grief Stage - Depression

  • Being caught off guard by what feels like overwhelming loss at times
  • Crying suddenly
  • Feeling despondent
  • Feeling rejected - "I wasn't good enough for..."
  • Previous loss and anger that you haven't resolved returning to the fore - you may feel very sad about other areas of your life that this relationship helped you to avoid
  • Blaming yourself
  • Realising that it's been X weeks or months since you started NC and feeling bad about having to do it in the first place
  • Feeling that you've lost your investment
  • Focusing on regrets
  • Feeling like you'll never get over this even though you're likely forgetting that you've actually been feeling overall better for being out of the situation.
  • Feeling guilty even though you really don't need to
  • Being freaked out about not thinking about them all the time and then going into thinking overload
  • Secretly or even openly being afraid of moving on and having to get on with your own life and have a new purpose

This is the sadness stage and sad is an emotion that calls on you to reflect inwards and take care of you. It's a cue to self-soothe, which you may not be au fait with if you've typically relied on external solutions to any internal issues and get exasperated if you can't get rid of a feeling quickly and permanently. Being sad in itself does not mean that you are depressed - sadness is something that all of us go through. You are grieving the loss of your hopes and expectations. You may be sad about this current situation but it may also have brought up feelings of sadness related to the past. Often a lot of sadness with NC situations relates to being unable to turn back time and also being sad about not being who you'd hoped to be with this person or the picture in your head not living up to reality.

Understanding your hopes and expectations helps you to understand your sadness. It’s not about removing expectations or hope because this in itself is a source of sadness but a lot of the sadness that we feel surrounds the disappointments we feel regarding life not living up to the picture that we had in our head. By understanding what your sadness is about, you can identify how you can healthily go about representing your needs, expectations and wishes in your life.

Remember, our relationships give us a window into understanding what we need to be and do for ourselves. Whatever it is that was missing from this relationship, is what you need to be doing for you right now and going forward. This will stop you from selling you short - another source of sadness. You will not accept less than what you can already be and do for yourself.

Grief can trigger what I call retrospective sadness - you experiencing this loss may bring up a previous unresolved loss, and this may be why you are feeling so much pain. This is especially the case if you have attributed painful meanings to a past experience and so in feeling the sadness, you take it as inferring the same past meaning.

Depression in itself, is unexpressed anger turned inwards. The depression grief stage is a very deep sense of sadness and disappointment connected with anger that you may or may not be expressing, that you will need to release.  This is the release and acknowledge your anger stage. This is the process your anger, hurt, and sadness, and come out the other side stage. The depression grief stage happens after you've been through the other stages and have started to realise that the relationship is really is over, that NC really is needed and the other person isn't going to change - comprehension of this in itself will cause you to feel down. None of us like to think that this is what we will end up recognising about someone we felt intensely for. We like to think that our relationships are better than 'this'. We take it far too personally that a relationship didn't work out and see it as a failure of ourselves, which is really like pretending that the other person didn't exist, had little contribution or power, and that it rested on us for the relationship to succeed or fail. Not very truthful at all. Realising that whatever bargains that you make with yourself or with them that it's a waste of time can feel so disheartening because it means accepting that it is over and you may not feel like your heart can cope with that just yet.

You may move through this stage very quickly or it may linger, especially if leaving this relationship is causing you to have to face up to other aspects of your life that you're not happy with.

It is totally OK to have down times whether they last a day, a few days, or even a few weeks - this tends to be an up and down stage where you might not feel sad all of the time but it's something consistent that shows up over a period of time. It's distinguishable from what you've felt before and there's a sense of knowing that it [the relationship] is done, even if you're a little resistant to this. If your relationship was a lengthy one or quite traumatic, it may take months to work through - but you'll get there. If you take care of yourself and work your way through your feelings and at the same time don't get hijacked by them and throw yourself in the front line of pain with the person in question, you will come out the other side. If you beat yourself up, let the thoughts rattle round and round your head, opt out of your day to day life, and don't treat you with the love, care, trust, and respect that you deserve, it will take longer.

This stage is normal and expected but it is the judgements you make about you, as well as trying to hide away from your feelings, that can lead to full on depression that can greatly affect your life. You may feel very down but you may not actually be experiencing depression in its fullest sense - it's when you continue to feel down over an extended period of time and you can't seem to pull it back and keep beating yourself up, that you can find yourself needing to take action. If you've been feeling this way continuously - so no upward shifts in mood, black cloud, feel sluggish, very tired, struggling to take care of you for more than a couple of weeks or you have a history of depression, get professional support. If you have been having suicidal thoughts, take this as a cue to get extra support. Grief counseling and grief support groups can be hugely beneficial.

It's important to note: What takes your self-esteem down, is this idea that because you're not cartwheeling around and responding to sadness or this whole situation perfectly, that you are a failure. Is it fair and reasonable to judge you as being unworthy and inadequate due to how you have been responding to this situation or a problem? Is it fair to base your self-esteem on having to ask for help and support? Would you judge another person for feeling the same way or needing support? Yep, doubt it.

Be self-compassionate.

Recommendations: Tell people who you love and trust that you're a bit down at the moment and may need to hang out a bit more than usual. I told my friends. I also said "If I talk about him, it's not because I want to get back together with him - I'm just acknowledging that he was a part of my life both good and bad because pretending he doesn't exist is futile." Acknowledging that you had some good times (if you did) is good - you can realistically honour the relationship that you had, even if it wasn't in retrospect, that great. It was a part of your life - to write it off as 'crap' when it may be months or years of your life, is to force yourself to engage in another means of denial. Try to eat, sleep, and take care of things like your health, work, family - if you are neglecting other areas of your life, it adds to the despondency. Reconnect with things that interest you, take time off if needed, keep writing Unsent Letters and keeping a Feelings Diary and don't avoid crying as I find holding in tears takes more effort than crying itself. If going NC has caused you to have to face issues with other people, don't run from it - if you do, it's only a matter of time until you break NC or you start a relationship with someone else to avoid these feelings and end up back at square one. If you're running from problems, it's time to face them. Acknowledge your feelings but you don't have to run with negative thoughts - interject with some compassion. Listen to your feelings and recognise where the emotion is coming from - there may be other ways that you can feel better about you in your life without having to return to a relationship that wasn't working. If you're envying your ex because they've moved on, acknowledge that actually, you want to move on too and that you do, when you're ready, have the power to do so.

What To Expect During The Grief Stage - Acceptance

  • One day you realise that you can think about them without your heart sinking to the floor
  • You suddenly realise you've been so busy and happy that you haven't thought or even dreamt about them for a while.
  • You're making and realising plans
  • You feel quietly happy about yourself
  • There may be a little sadness but nothing that pulls you down - you know that you did the right thing
  • If they attempt to contact you, it doesn't feel like the sky is falling in
  • You don't think of yourself as NC; you're just living your life
  • You'll stop trying to be The Good Girl / Guy doing the right thing for them and instead doing the right thing for you.
  • You'll stop trying to be friends with them or making plans to be friends with them in the future.
  • You won't feel angry or sad whether it's towards you or them - you'll find yourself increasingly at peace. Period.
  • You'll stop wishing that things had been or were different.
  • You'll stop trying to rationalise the irrational.
  • You'll no longer want to fix things or wonder what it would be like to get them back and have the relationship that you wanted.
  • The blame shrinks or completely disappears. You won't blame them for everything because you'll be accountable for your own contribution and focusing on your own efforts to create better relationships.
  • You'll realise that despite your worries your worst fears haven't been realised, you're OK.
  • You'll accept the way that it ended and not worry about what coulda, woulda, shoulda happened.
  • You'll accept the relationship and realise it's OK. You're here, you have a different path in front of you, and because you've accepted, you have the power to adapt your love habits, create boundaries, love yourself, and create a better experience.

This stage shall set you free. Accept that you will experience the other stages first.

Remember that moving back and forth amongst the stages is natural - it is your way of processing what has happened and digesting the reality.