When it comes to loss, there are times our grief can seem completely impossible to overcome. Suffering from grief can take weeks or even years. We can grieve losing loved ones to death. The end of a romantic relationship. Losing friends to disagreements. Even something as simple as losing a favorite item or opportunity can trigger the five stages of grief. Didn’t get that job or promotion you were striving for? You guessed it, the five stages of grief apply here, also.
There are five stages of grief that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
1. Denial and isolation;
People who are grieving do not necessarily go through the stages in the same order or experience all of them.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed by our grief, but dissecting grief can make it seem more manageable, or at least help us understand the ins and outs of moving through our loss so we can conquer the feelings that are holding us back from living our best life.
Let’s take a deeper look at the different stages.
Denial and Isolation: Feeling like you just want to be alone or pretending like the bad thing didn’t happen. This can look a little different for everyone. Wether you are publicly in denial or privately telling yourself “this can’t be happening/didn’t happen”, the denial stage of grief is usually the shortest. It can initially help with the overwhelm of the emotions we are experiencing during the loss, but this defense mechanism is debunked after you are faced with the reality of the aftermath of the loss - a funeral, absence of a loved one, packing your office, purchasing a replacement item, etc.
Anger: Feeling mad or enraged due to the thing/person/event you’re grieving. Anger can make it so you can’t think clearly and possibly become destructive. We can use anger to soften the pain we are experiencing. We can use it to place blame somewhere. It can be intense and we use it to deflect our vulnerability. Our anger may cause us to lash out as we direct our pain and rage towards inanimate objects (slamming doors or throwing things), complete strangers (did that guy really just cut me off in traffic?), friends or family.
Many times we can feel guilty for being angry and then that guilt makes us even more angry.
Getting all the facts about the circumstances can help us move past anger, but it can also make us stay in a state of anger for longer than we would without the facts. You can come to obsess over the facts of the loss. Replay it over and over which opens the old wounds and causes fresh pain and anger.
Bargaining: Trying to find a way to negotiate the loss away so we don’t have to experience the loss associated with grief. Bargaining is our attempt at taking control back from the thing or person who caused the grief or loss. “If only” statements start to surface and before we know it, we’ve sworn off alcohol, sacrificed our first born and promised to call our mom every Sunday just to prevent the thing we’re grieving.
Depression: The depression we experience during grief can seem like a black cloud or sadness is following us around. As we get closer to resolution and acceptance, the depression caused by loss can be all-consuming. At times we can feel like we will never get through this time, this loss, this trauma.
“This phase may be eased by simple clarification and reassurance. We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words,” Julie Axelrod from psychcentral.com tells us.
Sometimes that’s all we need - some reassurance that we will get through, we will live on, and life will return to some kind of normal.
Acceptance: The final phase of grief is acceptance. Some of us may never get to the point of acceptance after a loss. Acceptance, in a way, is much like forgiveness. You forgive the tragic event so that you can move on. You accept that it has happened, you accept the aftermath and that your world has changed.
It’s sometimes easier to stay in a world where you are mad, or sad, or in denial of the tragedy you’ve been through. We become comfortable in our grief, it’s familiar. But staying in that place for years or even decades, doesn’t serve your life.
You can use the grief process, and finally the acceptance, of the incident or tragedy to push you to be a better person. Help you make change in the world. Pull inspiration from the thing you could not change and make strides to prevent it from happening again, or to help others who may be experiencing something similar.
Remember what our friend Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said about the stages - we don’t necessarily go through them in order, nor do we always go through each stage. We can experience extreme anger and then slip into acceptance without ever touching denial, bargaining, or depression. Although, not as common, it is possible.
If you’re experiencing long term depression, seek help from a professional.
Check out Better Help to get connected with a grief counselor who can help you through the process.
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