Updated: May 25
I Know It is Hurting Me, but Why Can’t I Forgive My Ex?
One of the most difficult things to do is recover from a relationship break-up. It is difficult to forgive a partner who may not have been committed to nurturing a lasting, healthy bond. It is also normal to grieve for the lost relationship. Gaining insight into practicing the virtue of forgiving a person who hurt you is not easy but knowing the inability to forgive is hurting you is a good first step.
Understanding that you are having a hard time letting go of the past and moving forward with your life means you have made the decision to heal. However, you need additional tools to go to the next step. You may find that reviewing the Kübler-Ross model for grief can serve as a guide for determining in which stage of grief you find yourself. It is almost certain that you have progressed beyond the first stage of grief, shock and denial, but it is a good exercise to reflect on your journey at this time.
If you need to be reminded of the five stages of grief, they are as follows: shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A grief cycle may have you bouncing between these stages and recognizing them can give you clues about how to move forward. It is a worthy exercise to explore all the stages of grief.
SHOCK AND DENIAL
When you first understood your relationship with your ex had ended, you may have been in disbelief. The way of life you knew had ended, and you may not have felt prepared to start over. The reality of beginning again was not a pleasant one to ponder, but it was reality.
There was a “no choice” scenario that you had to deal with and reacting appropriately in an unfamiliar circumstance was a little scary. You may have found you were just reacting to events as they presented themselves, and the number of unknowns appeared infinite. The goal at the beginning of a trauma is to remain calm and create as stable of an environment as possible.
The numbness of this shock had you in reactive mode, and your awareness and sometimes “paranoia” could have been at an all-time high. Time and circumstances began to bring some clarity to your new situation, but certainty remained elusive until some final decisions were made between your partner and you. Once those decisions were finalized, you may have felt more stable, but you may have felt your life remained in chaos.
Next, you may have had a false feeling of freedom when decisions were finally made and your once thought stable relationship had reached a formal conclusion. The finality of a divorce or the end of a serious relationship may have brought with it some belief the worst was over. You may have felt relief and gained a sense of clarity.
A period of “out of character” behavior may have ensued, and you may have surprised yourself by acting in ways you did not realize you were capable of just a short time ago. Everyone responds differently, but it is not uncommon to appear a little reckless at times in this period. It is a phase that is individual. It is one that may not occur, last a short time, or last for a very long time.
When this phase is over, you may begin the hard work of recovery on a long-term basis. There is often a fatigue that sets in, and the thought of moving on by forgiving your ex becomes a priority. You may feel it is the right thing to do in order to build a new life. After all, it is the politically correct and modern thing to do! This need may start to consume you.
It is at this moment you realized that you were hurting yourself by not being able to forgive your ex. This may have been the moment when you were ready to move from stage one of grief because you are starting to gain some perspective. The numbness of shock may remain, but it is good that the realization that you are having trouble moving past your relationship is in your mind. You may not give yourself credit for moving forward to the next stage of grief. It is at this point that you might start to feel a little defiant!
THE ANGER STAGE OF GRIEF
The second stage of grief is anger, and it is possible that you may feel stuck in numbness and no anger at all. It is, however, necessary to get to this stage. Expressing anger in healthy ways is important. In a way, anger burns away grief. Realizing there are different forms of anger may assist you in determining a path forward for you. Here are four ways we can outwardly express anger while we are in grief:
Anger About Circumstances involves the feeling of having a new life and the need to move on. However, oftentimes this anger is not about the future or having to forge a new way of living. It can be about the past. You may decide that you have wasted a large portion of your life handling issues that are suddenly unimportant after a loss. While this is not true, you may feel that it is. It is anger due to frustration and wondering if time could have been better spent in your life. In the case of forgiving an ex you may have anger over being fooled or embarrassed.
Anger of Abandonment involves the realization that any unfinished business before the loss will remain that way. This could be accompanied by some feelings of leftover guilt. The reality of no longer being able to interact with an ex, for example, leaves a sense of loneliness that is sobering. The closer the relationship was with the other person, the more acute the feeling. It is very upsetting to be left alone, forced to move out of a comfort zone that was once in place. You may feel abandoned because there was a routine that is gone and must be replaced with another one you find suitable.
Anger Toward the Divine - When we are sad, we often turn to the Almighty to send us signs or give us relief from our pain. We turn to our faith and support beliefs to assist us and provide answers. This becomes tricky because our expectations often get confused. We may feel that we have been left alone, but the Divine never leaves us. Your anger may have you asking the question, “Why, God, did you allow this to happen to me?” The poem, Footprints in the Sand, reminds us that God never leaves us and that the presence of the Divine is always there.
You may wonder why the Divine has not given you the courage to forgive when you know it necessary to move on. Your unwillingness to endure this lesson is normal and so is the anger you may feel in this area. It will pass with time and you will have gained some insight in the end.
Anger of Futility - Finally, you may just be plain angry because you cannot change your situation. There is a “rage” within you that is not being expressed. There exists a finality to your lost relationship and going backward is not an option. You have your memories of the past and recapturing those positive moments is unattainable. This type of anger may give the impression that your grief is stagnant, but in healthy circumstances, it is silently pushing you forward into the next stage of grief.
If you can see yourself experiencing any of these types of anger, then you know you continue to be on the right path toward healing. Allowing yourself to be angry and expressing it in healthy ways is part of the process to overcome your grief and find the energy to forgive. In addition, you may need to incorporate other virtues to assist you in your effort. Defiance is one of the virtues needed to overcome anger and move to the next phase of your recovery. This virtue gives you the strength to resist grief and helps you overcome it.
You may want to pause and think about the things in your life for which you can be grateful. One of those things might be that you are now out of an unhealthy relationship. Rebuilding your life and creating an environment for a successful future is helpful in your recovery process. This distraction can be helpful when you are trying to readjust your thinking.
Courage is another virtue you may need to employ. Allow yourself to be adaptable and do whatever is necessary to let go of the unforgiving, negative energy and move to a more positive state. It is helpful to be resolved in this effort and continue to feel positive about improving your life.
Learning to cope with your anger means that you are taking good care of your emotions and are finding activities that distract you from dwelling on the past. When you find new activities and thought patterns that create positive outcomes, it will feel good, making you want to explore new things that allow you to let go.
When you take action to create a new life and find you are busy with new ideas and behaviors, it moves anger and grief aside. They are replaced with a new and positive energy. It gives you hope and a desire to move on with life.
THE BARGAINING PHASE
The bargaining phase of grief is another area that can be preventing you from forgiving your ex. This is the phase where you may be second guessing your actions and trying to determine what you could have done to prevent this tragedy. The loss of a relationship can be more devastating than a death because the reality of your ex being around and not having resolution is difficult.
It may appear to be odd thinking, but in many ways, it is easier to forgive a person who has passed away than someone who is still alive. The finality of death awkwardly has a way of producing some closure when negotiating with a living person may not. Forgiveness is not an easy virtue to attain, but it is possible with support from others around you and practicing other virtues in your life.
Creating a new life with new activities allows you to move to another place where your past with your ex is not a reminder of your loss. When you practice healthy habits and develop new routines, it gives you a chance to work your way to another place psychologically. Your perspective broadens and allows you to see possibilities that may not have existed when you started this process.
During this phase of your grieving process, it is good to consider using a strategy of reaching out to others and learning from their experience in this area. Engaging others and expressing your feelings allows you to purge negativity and further explore your emotions. The nature of “give and take” in the bargaining phase gives you permission to learn from others and to learn about your journey to the place where you now find yourself.
The fourth stage of grief is depression. This is the stage where you take a “deep dive” into your psyche and may learn more about your situation than you ever considered in the past. This stage of grief represents another phase of anger, but it is unlike the second stage of Anger. It is introverted and very personal. In this phase, you may need additional support to help you cope. It shows wisdom when you allow yourself to detach and see your situation as objectively as possible.
If you need counseling or medical therapy, then you should not hesitate to seek this type of assistance. You need to take care of yourself first, and achieving a healthy mindset is critical when recovering from grief. If you are ever going to forgive your ex, you may try to forgive yourself first, understanding that the virtue of forgiveness will give you the energy to recover.
When you are depressed, being humble and acting with integrity toward your situation and others can be helpful. Being humble is not about being meek or submissive, it is about resolve and the determination to succeed. You may need to proceed with introspection and a sense of privacy, for you should avoid being a victim to your circumstances or allow your situation to control you. You may feel damaged during this process, but acting with integrity and taking a moral high ground will lift your spirits. A spiritual perspective is always a good virtue to pursue.
The decisions you make during this important phase of grief will determine the length of time you stay in this place and set the stage for the next phase of acceptance. This is the phase where the work in the previous stages of grief pay off. The word “easy” has never been used to describe moving through these phases, but once you have passed them, you can recapture joy in life. This is not a time to worry about being politically correct. It is about you and your recovery.
The last phase of grief usually is present when you no longer have time to dwell on your past or your ex. It is the phase when you have noticed the world is larger. You now have the energy to take care of neglected projects or have the desire to start new ones. When you are in the acceptance phase of grief, the pursuit of a new path in life is almost second nature.
You may never entirely forgive your ex because the trauma of the breakup may always remain. However, the difference may be that you now lack an obsession with your them. The issues surrounding your ex no longer play the same dominant role in your life they played when you were going through the process of forgiveness. A part of your healing should be to responsibly reflect on your journey and place your relationship in the past.
Acceptance is about prioritizing your new life as the most important aspect of your future and not dwelling on the forgiveness of your ex. It is about making forgiveness just another part of your healing process and being able to move to new possibilities. Your emotional and psychological health is more important than dwelling on people and issues that you cannot change.
The other people remaining in your life will benefit as well. A healthy “you” creates benefits for others who love and need you. Becoming a strong person again raises the energy of your environment and you. Your life is no longer on hold and moving forward feels good.
Imagining a new path, possibilities, and future are the best outcomes from a trauma. It is always good to respect the past as part of your growth but do not allow it to define you. You can only stop hurting yourself when your joy and happiness are the priority. Forgiving and leaving your ex behind become a natural part of your recovery.
The journey and work are not easy, but the results are worth the effort. Our discussion is only “a scenario” of a truth. Your journey is your own, and others can only offer their perspective. Give yourself plenty of time to work through the stages of grief because they are essential. You are doing a great job at recognizing your pain. Now you must figure out when you are taking the next leap on your path to recovery.
John Cappello is a psychic medium who has been in practice for over 25 years. You can visit his website at www.johncappello.com for more information or to set up a private consultation.