The Five Stages of Grief
Unfortunately, we will all experience loss in our lifetime. According to a theory developed by psychiatrist, humanitarian, and hospice pioneer Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the five stages of grief include: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Learning about these stages can help you understand the emotional healing process, move through it in a healthy way, and be aware that there is a light at the end of even the darkest tunnels.
According to the theory, denial is the first step that you are likely to experience in a loss. When you first lose someone it can completely shatter your reality. It’s hard to digest and process this huge change, and your body and mind will go into a state of shock as a survival mechanism. You will likely begin to reflect on how you can possibly go on without them. In an attempt to slow down and understand everything that has happened, which can be extremely overwhelming, you might pretend that the loss didn’t happen at all.
It isn’t unusual to go through a period of anger after a loss. Loss can initiate an extreme range of emotions, and anger can feel like an accessible way to express them. You might be angry at the universe for letting the loss happen, angry at a doctor for not saving them, or angry at a loved one for not saying the right thing. Anger could be a way to allow you to express sensitive emotions, like sadness, without being vulnerable, however it can leave you feeling isolated for that very reason. Whatever the case, anger is an important step and you should try to truly feel it.
In this stage you may begin to bargain with a higher power to help alleviate your pain. It can look something like, “God, if you allow this person to live I will turn my life around.” Bargaining provides a sense of control during a period of time when nothing feels like it can be controlled. In the bargaining step you may also start to think about things you regret, like times you treated them badly or didn’t appreciate them. You might also start to ponder “what if” and “if only” statements. This is a completely natural step in the grieving process.
After the initial phases of grief, the panic lessens and the mind calms down. In this stage you are finally in the present tense and are left with the reality of the loss. In other words, you start to truly feel the sadness of the loss. The sadness will feel unavoidable and it isn’t unusual to isolate yourself to be alone with your feelings. Although it may feel like this step will last forever, remember you will get through it.
Finally, the last stage of grief is acceptance. In this stage, although you still feel the pain of the loss, you have come to terms with reality and understand that you must learn to live in your new world. You may still feel sadness and regret, but you are actively working to accept your past and find a bigger meaning. You will start to reintroduce yourself to the new norm and will slowly start to enjoy life again.
It’s important to recognize that not all people who are grieving experience all of these stages in the same order, or even at all. If you are experiencing grief, be kind and patient with yourself and give yourself plenty of room to process your emotions in a safe place. If this means canceling social plans for a month, so be it. If a friend or family member is going through a period of grief, remember that sometimes the best way to support them is to simply listen to them talk. Always remember that you are not alone and can reach out to friends, family members, or professionals to help you through rough periods in your life.