what you should know about the stages of grief

Each person’s experience of mourning is unique and intimate. There is no one way to deal with loss.Share on PinterestJovo Jovanovic/Stocksy United

Loss can be overwhelming for you or someone you care about.

This is a natural, even necessary feeling. Even though it may not feel like it, these emotions are important steps on the healing path.

It is possible to heal from a loss, but it takes patience and time. Even if it’s difficult, support groups and counseling can help you get through it.

The Kubler–Ross model for grieving

Many mental health professionals and researchers have spent years studying the effects of loss and the emotions that accompany it in an effort to better understand grieving.

One of these experts was Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss American psychiatrist. Kubler-Ross, which is the theory of five stages of loss and grief, was created by her.

In her 1969 book, “On Death and Dying,” Kubler-Ross examined the five most common emotional reactions to loss:

  • denial
  • anger
  • Shopping
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Kubler-Ross originally called them the “five stages death.” She was working with terminally ill patients at that time and these were their common feelings regarding mortality.

Here are the 5 Stages of Grief After Facing A Loss

Kubler-Ross expanded her model to other types of loss years after she published her first book. The five stages that lead to death were transformed into the five stages for grief.

It can take many forms and be for different reasons. Everybody, regardless of their background or culture, has experienced loss and grief at one time or another.

Mourning is not limited to the loss of a loved one or your own death. Mourning can also come as a result of an illness, the end of a close relationship, or even the end of a project or dream.

A perceived or actual change in your life can also cause grief. For example, moving to a new city, school, or job, transitioning into a new age group, or staying in isolation because of a pandemic.

Also, there is no set list of “valid” reasons for grieving.

It is what you feel that matters. There are no right or wrong feelings about loss.

The 5 stages of grief

Understanding the five stages of loss and grief can help you to understand where you are at this stage and how you feel.

If you are concerned about or wish to understand the grieving process of someone else, there is no one way. Everybody grieves differently.

Emotions can be intense or not. Both of these responses are possible and quite common.

The amount of time it takes to navigate the stages and heal from grief varies greatly from one person to another. You might need to grieve for a loss over several months or even years.

These stages may not be experienced in the same order or in all of them. It is possible to go back and forth between one stage and another.

Some people skip these emotions altogether and may process their loss differently. These five stages of grief should not be considered a guideline, but a guideline.

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Denial

This may be the first reaction to loss for some.

Denial is a common defense mechanism. This may be helpful in buffering the shock caused by the painful situation.

You might be quick to doubt the loss.

These are just a few examples of this type denial:

  • You might fantasize about someone calling you to tell you that there was a mistake, even though you are facing the death or loss of a loved one.
  • You might think your ex-partner will regret it and return to you if you are going through a divorce.
  • You might think that your ex- boss will give you the job back if you lose your job.

You may feel numb for a time after this initial reaction of shock or denial.

You may feel that nothing really matters to you at one point. The way you used to see the world has changed. Although it might seem difficult, you can feel that you can continue on.

This natural response helps you to process the loss at your own pace. You can allow yourself to process the changes at your own pace by going numb.

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You can denial temporarily help you get through the initial wave of pain. When you are ready, you will feel the emotions and feelings you denied and your healing journey can continue.

Cartoon: 7 ages of denial |

Anger

Sometimes, pain can take other forms. Kubler-Ross says that pain caused by loss can often be redirected to anger.

It’s not unusual to feel intensely angry, even if it surprises you or your loved ones. This anger serves a purpose.

Some people find it difficult to feel anger. This is because anger is often feared or rejected in many cultures. You might be more used to avoiding it than confronting it.

You might ask yourself questions such as “Why me?” and “What did you do to deserve this?”

It is possible to feel angry at strangers, family members, inanimate objects, and other people. Sometimes you might be angry at the world.

It is not uncommon to feel anger towards the person or situation you have lost. You might be able to see that the person isn’t to blame. However, emotions can cause you to resent the person for causing pain or for leaving.

You might feel guilty at times for feeling angry. This can make you feel even more angry.

Remind yourself that your anger is only a manifestation of pain. Even though it may not feel like it, anger is essential for healing.

After being isolated from the world during the denial stage, anger might be a way to regain contact with the outside world. You can disconnect from everyone when you are numb. Anger can make you feel connected, even though it’s only through that emotion.

Anger isn’t your only emotion during this stage. Irritability, bitterness, anxiety, rage, and impatience are just some other ways you might cope with your loss. All of these are part of the same process.ADVERTISEMENTAffordable therapy delivered digitally – Try BetterHelp

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Bargaining

Bargaining can be a way to keep hope alive in times of extreme pain.

You may think that you are willing to sacrifice everything to get your life back to the way it was before the loss.

You might find yourself thinking about “what if” and “if only” during internal negotiations. What if I did XYZ? Then everything will return to normal. But what if I had done something different to prevent the loss.

Guilt could be a companion emotion during this stage, as you might inadvertently be trying to regain control, even at your own cost.

These thoughts and emotions are not uncommon. This helps you to heal, no matter how difficult it may seem.

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Depression

As with all stages of grief, depression can be experienced in many ways. There is no right or wrong way, and there is no deadline for overcoming depression.

Depression is not a sign that you have a mental illness. It’s an appropriate and natural response to grief.

The depression stage is when you face your current reality and the inevitable loss you have experienced. This realization can cause you to feel deep sadness and despair.

You may feel differently in other areas due to this intense sadness. This could be something you feel:

  • fatigued
  • vulnerable
  • Confusion and distraction
  • Not wanting to go on
  • Not hungry or wanting something to eat
  • Not able to or willing to get up in the morning
  • You are no longer able to enjoy the same pleasures you once had

It is usually temporary and a response to your grieving process.

This stage, however overwhelming it may seem at the moment, is an important part of your healing process.

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Acceptance

Acceptance is not about accepting what has happened. It might be possible to understand why you feel the way you do depending on your experiences.

Acceptance is more about how you acknowledge the losses you’ve experienced, how you learn to live with them, and how you readjust your life accordingly.

This stage may be more comfortable for you to reach out to your friends and family, but it is also normal to feel that you want to stay away from people at times.

Sometimes, you may feel that you can accept the loss and then move on to another stage. It is normal to go back and forth between stages.

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You may find yourself at this stage for a long time.

This doesn’t mean that you will never feel sadness or anger at your loss again. However, your long-term perspective and how you deal with it will change.

Other stages of grief

Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief have been a guideline for many mental health professionals who work with the grieving process.

Some of these professionals, such as British psychiatrist John Bowlby, have developed their own work around the emotional responses to loss. Kubler-Ross has also modified and expanded the five-stage original model.

This adaptation is commonly known as the Kubler Roses Change Curve. This extends the five core stages to seven stages that overlap:

  1. Shock.The loss can be a shock, sometimes paralyzing, experience.
  2. Neglect.The need to find evidence to support the loss and disbelief
  3. Anger and frustration.An anger towards the change and acknowledgment of some changes.
  4. Depression.Intense sadness and lack of energy
  5. Test.Try to be open-minded and flexible with your new situation.
  6. Take a decision.A growing optimism about how to handle the new situation.
  7. Integration.Acceptance of the new reality and reflection on your learnings, as well as the ability to step out into the world with a renewed spirit.
Stages of grief

Common myths regarding grieving

Everyone mourns differently, and for different reasons. Sometimes you may feel that your grieving process doesn’t follow the “norm”.

There is no right or wrong way to deal with loss.

These are some thoughts you might have when grieving for someone else.

1 .”I am doing it wrong”

A common misconception about grieving is that everyone experiences it the same.

There is no right or wrong way to heal from a loss. It might be helpful to remind yourself that there is no right or wrong way to feel.

It’s not about following a checklist or going over things. It is a multidimensional and unique healing process.

2. ‘I should be feeling…’ 

Different people experience different emotions and experiences the stages mentioned.

Perhaps the depression stage is more like sadness than irritability. Denial may feel more like a feeling of shock and disbelief rather than an expectation that the loss will be cured.

These emotions aren’t all that you will experience. They might not be there at all for you, which is normal.

This does not mean that your healing journey has failed in any way. Your healing journey is unique and valid.

3. “This goes first”

There is no set order or sequence for stages of grief.

You can either move through the stages one at a time or back and forth. You might feel sad on some days, but the next day you may feel hopeful. You could feel sad again. You might feel both.

Denial is not necessarily your first emotion. Perhaps anger or depression are your first emotions.

This is normal and part of the healing process.

4. “It takes too long”

The process of grieving a loss is a personal, unique experience. It can take many factors to determine how long it takes.

Some people can get through their grief in just a few days. Some people take several months to grieve.

It might be beneficial to not give deadlines to your work.

These emotions can be intense in grief. You’ll begin to notice a decrease in intensity over time.

This is a good time for professional help if your emotions seem to persist or increase in frequency.

5. ‘I’m depressed’

The stages of grief, especially the depression stage, are not the same as clinical depression. There is a difference between clinical depression and grieving.

This means that, even though symptoms may be similar, there are key differences between them.

As a result, intense sadness in grief will decrease in frequency and intensity as the time passes. This sadness may be felt simultaneously with temporary relief from happy memories of times past.

In clinical depression, on the other hand, without the proper treatment, your mood would stay negative or worsen with time. It could affect your self-esteem. It is possible to feel a lack of joy or happiness.

However, there are still chances that you might develop clinical depression as a result of grieving. Reach out to support if your emotions are increasing in intensity and frequency.

How to get help

Reaching out to someone for support and comfort when you are experiencing extreme grief can help you cope.

You can reach out to anyone for any reason you find valid.

You might also want to get help with processing your loss in the following situations:

  • If you have difficulty completing your daily tasks, it is time to return to school or work. For example, you’re having trouble concentrating.
  • You are the primary or sole guardian of someone else. You could be a parent, or the caretaker for someone else.
  • Physical discomfort or pain is a common symptom.
  • Because you don’t feel like doing anything, you’re not taking any medication or meals.
  • Instead of increasing in frequency and intensity, your emotions are becoming more intense over time.
  • You have thought about hurting yourself or others.
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You are not the only one who is thinking about self-harm. There is help available now:

  • Call a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
  • Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

There are several other ways you can reach out to help depending on your situation.

Family and friends

Talking to family members or friends can help you feel relieved.

Sometimes, expressing your inner turmoil verbally can help you release it.

Sometimes, you may not feel like speaking but prefer to be alone.

Let others know what you need and they will help you in whatever way is best for you.

Support groups

It can also be beneficial to join support groups. There are local support groups as well as online support groups.

The group can help you connect with others who have been through similar losses or are currently going through them. They may also be able to direct you to other resources.

If you feel pressured or judged by someone you are talking to, support groups can be a safe place where you can let your feelings out without being judged.

Mental health professionals

You can work with a mental healthcare professional to help you through grief counseling or therapy.

Call your insurance company to find out if grief counseling is covered by your policy.

Counselling sessions may not be covered by your insurance. Your primary care physician might be able offer support and guidance.

You can search for local organizations that offer grief counseling, even if you don’t have insurance.

Many national mental health organizations, like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), have local or regional chapters. You might be able to access some of their information as well as their grief support services by calling them directly.

Help someone in grief

Now you’re asking yourself how you can help your loved ones.

These are just a few of the ways that you can help them now and into the future.

1. Listen

One of Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s main legacy is her emphasis on listening to grieving people.

Even though you might want to comfort them, it is possible to have the best intentions. But in some instances, the best support comes from just being there and making it clear that you’re available to listen to whatever — and whenever — they want to share.

Accept it even if your loved ones don’t want to speak with you. Give them space and time.

2. Reach out

Some people are not able to comfort others. It can be overwhelming or intimidating to see someone you care about go through a difficult time.

These fears should not stop you offering support or being there. Empathy is the best way to show empathy and the rest will follow.

3. Be practical

Find ways to help your loved one shed the extra weight. Consider the areas that they may need assistance with while grieving.

This could include helping to prepare food, grocery shop, organize their home, or picking up their children at school.

4. Do not assume

It might be a good idea to offer support verbally and to listen to what they have to say. However, you should not assume or guess which step they are currently going through.

They may not be grieving if they smile or aren’t crying. They don’t need to change their appearance to be depressed.

If they are ready to share their feelings, wait until they do. Then, go from there.

5. Find resources

It is possible that you have the mental clarity and energy to search local support groups and organizations.

The grieving person can decide whether or not to seek out this type of support. However, having this information on hand could save time if they are ready or willing to use it.

These are some resources that you might find useful:

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