Grief After Breakup: What are Shock & Denial?
Grief is something we all deal with at some point or another in our lives. We can grieve any loss, it isn't exclusive to bereavement. We can grieve the loss of a job, a friendship, a pet or a relationship.
Over a series of blog posts, I'm looking at each of the "7 Stages of Grief" as described by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and how they relate to a breakup. This post focuses on what shock and denial are, how the body responds to them and my story of this stage.
My Story: Shock & Denial Phase
New Years Eve 2023 was a stunning end to the holiday period with a man I unequivocally and irrevocably adored. It was simple; we ate, drank champagne, danced on my dining room table and watched fireworks at midnight from my bedroom window. I thought this was going to be the first of many New Years Eve nights I would spent with this man. Less than a week later, it was the end.
He had a wonderful habit of purposely ignoring me. I know, you're probably thinking why was I so enamored by a man who would treat me this way but that's a conversation for later. Anyway, it was the first week of January and he was ignoring me again and my wonderful weekend with him was already a distant memory. By the Wednesday, I was in hospital and I had a miscarriage.
I look back now and a realise through the miscarriage and subsequent breakup, I was in a severe state of shock and denial. I had been in the hospital and then spent the rest of the week taking care of myself. I was still in denial about having a miscarriage but was still communicating with my partner that I was in severe distress and pain. He barely checked in, no phone calls, no real care for my wellbeing.
By Sunday, I snapped. Why wasn't he checking in on me? I had been in hospital. I'm not the type of person who makes a fuss or cries wolf, he should know if I'm saying something is wrong, something really is wrong.
I'll give you the cliff notes. I'm in a hormonal state, I call him, tell him he can't treat people the way he treats me; the ignoring me and not being supportive. No surprise, he tells me he doesn't think he wants a relationship or commitment and we hang the phone up, no longer a couple.
A day later, I have my follow up with the doctor who confirms, yes, I had a miscarriage. Finally, I'm faced with the truth and I go into shock. My impulsive decision is to voice message my ex partner and tell him what has happened.
To my surprise, he comes to stay with me. He dotes on me; runs me baths, brings me food in bed, we snuggle watching TV and we even have a date night where its back to calling each other our pet names and kissing. I tell him I hated fighting with him and he agreed. I thought this was us making up. He leaves my house, saying "see you soon" and I never saw him again. He actually left the country and I only heard from him 2 months later when he had returned to the UK.
What is shock and denial?
Psychological shock is the sudden rush of strong emotions along with physical reactions in response to a stressful event. Shock can be experienced in many situations such as car accidents, any situation that provokes fear or even being broken up with.
Symptoms include an increase in adrenaline, feeling physically sick or having diarrhoea. You may feel like you are unable to think straight often leading to impulsive or poor decisions. Or you may also feel numb, going as far as feeling like an out of body experience. This is your body's "fight, flight, freeze, flop" response. The good news is your body can only maintain a state of shock for a short period of time so this feeling will pass.
During this time, reach out to friends and family or try calming techniques such as controlling breathing. Try a slow inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and slow exhale through an open mouth for 4 seconds and repeat three more times.
Once we calm down from the initial shock response, denial is here to welcome us. Hurrah.
Denial is a defense mechanism used by the brain to protect us from our new reality which could cause us anxiety or other distressing feelings. In terms of a breakup, it manifests as being unable to believe it is over. Being in denial for a short period of time isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it gives you the time to come to terms with being broken up with. Generally, with time we are able to accept our new reality.
If you are struggling with shock and denial, speak with close friends or family for support or another perspective or seek help from your GP.
Dear Reader, thank you for joining me. I hope you found this post useful or insightful. Part II, "Grief After Breakup: 5 Ways to Cope" will focus on how this stage feels and ways to cope. See you there.