Navigating the Post-Divorce Stages of Grief

Navigating the Post-Divorce Stages of Grief

Navigating the Post-Divorce Stages of Grief

Healing After heartbreak

This year in particular has been one of loss for many of us. You may have lost a loved one, or even just been mourning the many ‘normal ways of life’ that have perhaps irrevocably been lost.  

While navigating the stressful terrain of this year, as a therapist and online life coach I have been working with clients who have also been going through things like coping with job loss, infertility and pregnancy loss, and breakups. If you’ve been through or are going through a divorce or long-term relationship breakup, you should know that it will include a grieving process. I often tell my clients that a breakup can be conceptualized as the “death” of a relationship, and that it can be helpful to use the stages of grief to help move through all of the painful emotions that can arise. 

Before I go through the stages, I want to emphasize that just like when you’re grieving the death of a loved one, grief is a personal and unique experience. You may not go through all of these stages, you may go back and forth between some, and you may have some entirely new emotions come up. We use models like this one by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to help make sense of the complicated and intense emotions involved, and to remind us that grief is a process we must move through, no matter how bumpy, to get to a place of peace and acceptance.  

With each stage below, I’ve provided an action takeaway that may serve as a helpful tool to navigate through it.

1. Shock and Denial

When relationships end in a sudden way, they can certainly cause shock and denial, as you begin to process the reality of this new life change. When I’ve worked with clients who are looking for support freshly out of a breakup, they’ve brought up things like feeling numb, helpless and generally out of control. Even when there is a longer, considered process that results in the decision to get a divorce or break-up, the weight of an ending can still result in these kinds of feelings. You may also be experiencing these feelings if you’re considering ending your relationship, and finding it difficult to make the decision.  

  • Action Takeaway: Sit down with your journal and start writing a eulogy for the relationship. Ask yourself: Why did this relationship need to end? Where were the highlights, positive moments, and the things you will miss? What were the lowlights, the hurtful, negative, or unacceptable parts? My hope for you is that you will be able to create a “funeral” or ritual of some sort where you can allow the reality of this life-changing moment to be fully felt and processed by your mind, body, and heart. 


2. Pain and Guilt

This is the stage where the pain of the breakup can feel overwhelming. You may have lost your closest support system in the ending of your relationship, and it can be a devastating time to be experiencing this pain. You may feel like you are “overflowing” with pain, and that you will never be okay. You may also experience feeling like your friends and family are “tired” of listening and supporting you, and appear to have moved on from this life-changing event that has happened to you.  

It’s important to know that feeling pain, guilt, overwhelming sadness or hopelessness are completely normal and needed for you to continue to process the breakup. It can be really helpful to talk with a counselor or coach who is experienced in breakup recovery, as they will know how to support you during this time. Your family and friends are there to support you, but  they also may have moved into a different stage in their own experience of the end of your relationship (especially when they were a close “part” of the relationship). Because of this, they may not fully be able to understand where you currently are in your process. 

  • Action Takeaway 1: Talk to a counselor or coach. You may have also taken a real hit to your self-esteem during this experience, and a counselor or breakup recovery coach can give you a safe space to explore your feelings and process your emotions. 
  • Action Takeaway 2: Express, express, express. Journal, cry in the shower, scream into your pillow, throw some paint on a canvas, go axe-throwing, anything to get that energy and emotions flowing out of you. They’re bubbling up and they want to come out! The more you push them down and away, the more they will simmer and bubble up. It’s Okay to Cry: How to Handle Big Emotions and How Difficult Emotions Lead to Growth talk more about the darker emotions that we experience and the process that they bring us through into new growth. Check these two articles out if this is a difficult area for you. 


3.  Anger and Bargaining

Many of my clients are somewhere between the pain and anger stages when they come to me for breakup recovery coaching. The Anger and Bargaining stage may be when you have thoughts like “I should have done X differently” or “What if I had noticed Y years ago, maybe I could have done something differently” or “I just can’t understand or accept why they did Z”. This is likely when it becomes even harder to reach out to the people around you. You may be spiraling, experiencing intrusive thoughts, and finding it hard to manage the anger or other intense emotions, and people around you may be finding it harder to support you. 

  • Action Takeaway: Write a letter to your Ex, expressing what you’re most angry or hurt about. Try the prompts: What feels hardest to forgive? What did you need from them that you didn’t get? Then, tell your Ex how you grew, both through your time together in the relationship, as well as through the breakup. This letter is for your eyes only, so feel free to share all your thoughts and feelings – you’re the one who is holding the anger, it will help you to release it. 

"I have tried counseling for about a decade with various counselors and have never been able to connect or grow with them. [My Growing Self Coach] has connected with me genuinely and helped me grow more in two meetings then several counselors have done in a decade.”

— Coaching Client


4. Depression and Loneliness 

This stage can be a really low period, especially when it has become harder to feel supported from people in your life. You may also just feel drained from all the other exhausting emotions you’ve been going through. And again, you have just lost an important person in your life. It can be so easy to fall into a demoralized, hopeless place where you feel really alone. This is sometimes the stage people are in when they have reached out for breakup recovery support, and what has helped my clients is to know that I can empathize and bear witness to this grief, and really join them in a time that they may feel most alone.  

  • Action Takeaway: Pick up your phone and reach out to someone. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or someone like a breakup recovery coach or counselor, you need to help yourself by reminding yourself that you are not alone. If you feel really low, even just sending a text message to someone saying “I’m feeling like crap today” and letting them know that it doesn’t have to be a full conversation. You would want your loved ones to know that they could count on you to just listen and be there with you for a bit, wouldn’t you? Trust me, they feel the same about you.


5. The Upward Turn

The passing of time, processing your emotions, and support, will eventually bring you to a point where the most intense emotions have subsided, and you can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You may feel more calm, and you may finally feel hopeful and positive.  

  • Action Takeaway 1: When you feel negative emotions or thoughts coming up, engage in healthy distractions like calling a friend, reading, a fun physical activity, or doing something productive.
  • Action Takeaway 2: Practice mindfulness skills that help you stay in the present moment and use thought-stopping techniques to keep you from ruminating or spiraling into negative thoughts.


6. Reconstruction and Healing

Just like the stages of grief are not necessarily linear, the process of healing, reconstruction, and building yourself up will be bumpy. And just like grieving a death, the painful parts of a breakup may never completely go away. You want to continue to cultivate the feelings of peace when thinking about your old relationship, and embrace the lessons you’ve learned about yourself and about what you hope for in a future relationship.  

  • Action Takeaway: It’s time to really work on building up your self-esteem. Intentionally reflect on your positive qualities, the accomplishments in your life thus far, the personal strengths and gifts you are proud of, and what others appreciate the most about you. Make some space to engage in self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Spend time with loved ones and enjoy being able to feel lighter and more peaceful. 


7. Acceptance and Hope

This is the stage that I love to see my clients get to – a gradual acceptance of the end of the relationship, and feelings of positivity and hopefulness about the future. And yet, even when they have processed through most of their most intense emotions, come to accept and feel peace about the ending of the relationship, it is not uncommon that some of the earlier stages can come up again. A special day, a memory, a sentimental item in your home, may trigger some pain, sadness, anger, or betrayal. This is normal. Lean into the positive thoughts and feelings and notice the evidence in yourself of how far you have come from the earlier stages of grief. 

  • Action Takeaway: Use the learning and growth you’ve gone through during this grieving process and continue to work on your self-development, your goals for yourself and for a future relationship, and celebrate the resilience and strength that you have gained by going through such a painful experience! 


I’m sure you’ve faced a number of losses in your life, and are likely to face many more. It’s simply part of our human experience. I hope that, whatever stage of grief you’re in now, you found something useful here. Ultimately, grieving the loss of a relationship will be painful, and when you allow the process to take place and go through the stages of grief, it can result in remarkable growth, clarity about what you want to bring into your life next, and resilience.

Wishing you strength, support and wellness,

Life Coach - Career Coach - Hindi Speaking Therapist

Sharmishtha Gupta, M.A., LMHC is a warm, validating counselor and coach who can help you uncover your strengths, get clear about who you are, heal your spirit, and attain the highest and best in yourself and your relationships. 

Sharmishtha offers breakup support coaching and divorce recovery coaching. She is an excellent life coach and individual counselor and can help you get clear about what you want, heal from past experiences, and move forward into a happier, healthier future. 



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Do You Know How Awesome You Are?

Hey, let’s try something. Can you name 3 things that you LOVE about yourself? 

You don’t have to grab a piece of paper or pull up your Notes app. Just take a moment, close your eyes, and answer that question for yourself in your mind.

How did it feel to do that?

Now think about how easy it is for you to describe the wonderful things about someone else in your life. Someone you love, admire, or even only know superficially. For many people, it is a little more complicated to do that for themselves

Some people can rattle off a long list of their best qualities and accomplishments. Some can confidently name a few. I was working with a client recently who felt extremely uncomfortable identifying even one. 

When I asked her to do this exercise, she puzzled over it for a while before settling on one. But then came a flood of uncertainty, and she began to doubt whether it was true or not. She tried a few more times but ultimately she gave up on the entire exercise, feeling frustrated and disingenuous. 

This was someone who is highly intelligent, extremely kind, a hard worker, and truly lovely inside and out. She struggled with perfectionism in her work, insecurity in her relationships, and a lot of anxiety. We worked together to tackle those issues, and found that ultimately they all stemmed from her low self-esteem.

Recognize Your Narratives

The narratives we construct about ourselves are informed by our early experiences, our caregivers, our teachers, our friends, the media, and society at large. As we grow up, we are constantly bombarded with messages and belief systems about the world around us, and we quickly learn to internalize them. Recognize that some of the thoughts you have about yourself are part of deeper, more subconscious narratives you hold, and may not actually be the whole truth. 

For example, if you’re in the dating world, you may be experiencing various forms of rejection on a regular basis. A bad date can lead to thoughts like, “I acted like an idiot!”, “I can’t believe I said that, I’m so stupid!”, “I’m ugly!”. It’s important to recognize that thoughts like these are your brain cherry-picking through all the potential thoughts you could have about that situation in order to feed into those constructed narratives that you hold about yourself. In this case, it may be a deeper narrative of “I’m not loveable”.

Reflecting, journaling, and doing growth work through therapy or coaching are some ways to learn to recognize these thought patterns and the deeper narratives you are holding on to. They are usually so ingrained and instinctual that we have to make a real effort to even notice that they are present. 

Learn How to Thought-Stop

Thought-stopping is a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) technique that I teach many of my clients who struggle with anxiety. Once you have done the work of recognizing the untrue or harmful narratives you hold about yourself, the goal is to learn to stop the thoughts that feed them further. 

I like to describe this as a muscle: Just as you need to continually do strength training work to keep your biceps strong, you need to strengthen your thought-stopping muscle in order for it to be effective. 

The basic idea is to bring more awareness to those moments when you have an unhelpful or harmful thought, like “I’m an idiot!”, and quickly perform a stopping exercise. This can be simply saying “Stop!” to yourself, or even a physical action like snapping a rubber band on your wrist. The goal is to develop awareness of the thought patterns, and to stop the tendency of letting harmful thoughts spiral into anxiety or continue to feed that unhelpful narrative. 

I like to think of thought-stopping as a protective measure to keep that harmful self-narrative from cementing further. It’s good practice to develop more awareness of your thought patterns and to feel more in control of your thoughts and anxiety. However, to develop self-esteem, we also have to do some deeper work to challenge these narratives we hold about ourselves.

Challenge, Re-Frame, and Practice Self-Compassion

While thought-stopping is a great practice to have in your toolbox for managing anxiety and spiraling self-criticism, we also want to make a deliberate effort to challenge some of those harmful narratives we hold about ourselves. Taking time and space to really look at what we think about ourselves, where it comes from, and how to re-frame some of those beliefs with more compassion is a vital part of building self-esteem. 

For example, with the dating situation, listing the ways in which you are a desirable partner and truly allowing yourself to look at where you tend to dismiss the positives and highlight the negatives. A supportive therapist or coach can be a helpful person to do this with, because we often find it hard to recognize when we are being unfair on ourselves or engaging in black-and-white thinking.

If you’ve read this far, you are probably someone who is looking to boost their self-esteem and are ready to make some changes in your life. One actionable tip I have for you may be one you’ve heard before: talk to yourself as you would talk to a close friend who is going through something difficult. 

Would you be harsh or overly critical with this friend when they make mistakes? When someone says something rude to them on a date? When someone talks down to them at work? When they are feeling anxious or fearful of tackling a challenge in their life? Just as you are capable of being a kind, compassionate and supportive friend, you are capable of developing your own self-esteem and gaining more success and happiness in so many more areas of your life.

Remember that exercise we started with? Try incorporating it into your life as a 5 minute practice. Maybe in the evening, before you go to bed, as a way to wind down and reflect. Or maybe in a 5 minute break in the middle of your busy day, when you’ve been on the go and have already had a thousand thoughts that you have not yet brought awareness to. Take a few minutes to breathe, check in on your thoughts, reframe anything that you need to, and remind yourself that you are trying your best, and you are worthy. 

Developing self-esteem is not easy. It takes a lot of energy, patience, perseverance, and support to be able to do some of the work I’ve laid out here. But it can be hugely gratifying to be able to live with less self-doubt, less anxiety, more purpose, more confidence, and a stronger sense of how kickass you are!

All the best, 
Sharmishtha Gupta, Ed.M., M.A.

Sharmishtha Gupta, Ed.M, M.A., is a warm, validating counselor and coach who can help you uncover your strengths, get clear about who you are, heal your spirit, and attain the highest and best in yourself and your relationships.

Let’s  Talk

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How to Stay Motivated During Your Job Search

How to Stay Motivated During Your Job Search

How to Stay Motivated During Your Job Search

Sharmishtha Gupta, M.A. is a warm, validating counselor, life coach and career coach who can help you uncover your strengths, get clear about who you are, heal your spirit, and attain the highest and best in yourself, your career, and your relationships.

Job Search Rejection? Here’s How to Cope.

Hello! I’m now a part of the Growing Self team, but I wasn’t always. Even though I’m a career coach, I know first hand what it feels like to keep your head up as you job search for the right position. My experiences in job exploration have taught me how to stay positive and focus on my goals in the face of endless cover letters, difficult interviews, and of course, countless rejections.

Before finding my path as a mental health counselor, life coach and career coach, I dabbled in a lot of different fields. I’ve worked in marketing, at a tech startup, as a pet sitter and dog walker, as a social media manager, as an administrative assistant, and as a tutor. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way….

“I’m sending out tons of applications and not hearing back…”

Remind yourself, finding a new job is a numbers game. Even in a “people” field like counseling, a lot of organizations use recruiters or algorithms to narrow down the pool of applicants. Many fields are highly competitive, with the sheer volume of applications drowning out any chance that yours will get noticed.

Although a cover letter is an opportunity to present yourself to the potential employer, it is still a limited window into who you are as a person. You are a complex, multi-talented and interesting person! I know how demoralizing it can be to put in a lot of effort into trying to convey that through a job application and getting no response. Remember that you are more than your job application, and that the whole process of job hunting makes it easy to feel like you’re being constantly rejected for putting yourself out there.

Depending on the field in which you’re trying to get a job, there can be many alternate approaches to try to improve your chances of landing an interview. Reaching out via LinkedIn or other appropriate social media, marketing yourself in creative ways, or even making a phone call (*gasp* I know!) can be strategies that might be helpful if appropriate for the field. Get guidance from a career coach to explore alternate ways of approaching the job search so you’re not just churning out hundreds of applications and feeling disheartened at not hearing back.

“But I had a great interview and didn’t hear back….”

First of all, do not take it personally! I completely understand the tendency to feel like a failure or to feel like the rejection is a personal blow. Feeling like the interview went well, and even getting validation during the interview and then getting a rejection can be a real blow to your self-esteem.

I once had an interviewer tell me “We have three rounds of interviews, and you’ll be getting a second interview.” This was a position I really wanted, and I spent the week excitedly awaiting the next interview invitation. When I didn’t hear from them and reached out, I got an email saying, “We decided not to move forward with your application at this point.” I was devastated, and also very confused as to what could have changed their minds.

But the reality is, most of the time, it’s not about you. Sometimes someone else is a better fit, even if you have all the qualifications and skills required for the position. Sometimes the person interviewing you vouches for you but someone else overrules them for whatever reason. Either way, it’s out of your control. You can only present yourself in the best light and follow up appropriately, nd remind yourself that a rejection from a job application is not a rejection of you as a person.

“I’m feeling burned out and I can’t apply any more…”

Take a step back and reframe the job search. Take some time to reflect on what your goals are and what you’re trying to accomplish. This might be a great time to meet with a career coach, to help you refocus and to come up with strategies of how to accomplish these goals without tearing down at your energy and your self-esteem.

Make sure you’re reaching out to the people around you and letting them know what’s going on with you. Reach out to family, friends, current coworkers, and past coworkers. Let them know you’re job searching and ask for both moral support as well as networking opportunities. Some people have a negative view of networking – you might feel like you’re being a burden or an annoyance to people for asking for help. Trust me, you are not. People like to feel helpful, and also they know that they may be coming to you for the same help at another time!

You’ve got this!

Remember, whether you’re a fresh graduate, a career changer, or someone with decades of experience, the process of job hunting can be stressful and demoralizing. It may feel like you are struggling alone, but challenge those feelings by reaching out to others and sharing what’s going on.

A career coach or counselor may be a great resource at this time to help you come up with ways to keep yourself afloat emotionally, as well as to come up with tools and resources to approach the job search with a personalized game plan. I’ve been there, and I’m going to continue to be there throughout my own career. I’m here for you, but you have to believe in yourself too: you’ve got this!


Sharmishtha Gupta, M.A.
Life and Career Coach