None of us are strangers to the feelings of grief. In general, grief is a normal response to loss. It most commonly occurs as a response to the death of a loved one or death in general. Grief is to be expected after experiencing a traumatic event or experiencing a sudden change in daily routine.
If you have experienced grief before, you may wonder if there is any rhyme or reason for the complicated grieving process. It is essential to recognize that any given situation will affect people differently, especially when it comes to grief. Grief forces people to face incredibly uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings at different levels of intensity based on their past and personal experiences with any given event. Despite it sometimes feeling impossible to understand, the 5 Stages of Grief model can help us recognize and normalize common responses to grief.
What are the Five Stages of Grief?
It is important to understand that these stages occur in no particular order and with no specific set timetable. While grieving often brings about intense distress, it is essential to face emotions as they surface instead of avoiding them, as avoiding them would only worsen symptoms over time. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross coined the following five stages of grief in 1969:
Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept reality on reality’s terms. Denial is a defense mechanism and a typical response to tragic or unexpected loss. It is associated with feelings of numbness, accompanied by the disbelief that an event or loss truly occurred. Some people experience denial by carrying on as if nothing tragic or earth-shattering happened. Others experience denial by believing or thinking that they are okay with what has happened, even when their emotions may seem unbearable.
Denial can feel like shock, confusion, and shutting down. Some people may enter this stage of grief and feel trapped, especially with inevitable situations such as death.
When people experience anger, often, they want to shut it off or avoid it entirely. However, anger is a completely natural emotion. After losing a loved one, it is normal to feel angry at the world, at the situation, or even at oneself. People may start questioning their spiritual or religious beliefs as they experience this unavoidable anger.
Anger can feel like frustration, embarrassment, rage, loss of control, impatience, and resentment. Anger can manifest differently and be directed toward many things, even toward people who played no role in the loss. This dynamic is especially important to recognize for individuals who may receive the wrath of someone grieving.
The bargaining stage involves making deals with ourselves, with God, or with another higher force or power. When people are in pain, it is difficult to accept that there is nothing that can be done to change the situation. People employ bargaining because they want to believe that if they act a certain way, then perhaps they will be rewarded. Consider the loss associated with a break-up. A partner may engage in bargaining by asking their partner if they can still be friends. This strategy does not provide any concrete solution, and it can also make the healing process more difficult in the long term.
Bargaining can feel like guilt, blame, insecurity, anxiety, and shame. People in a bargaining stage may find themselves stuck reflecting on the past and asking “what-if” questions.
Depression is the most commonly known response to grief. Sadness, longing, and disappointment often accompany experiences of loss, no matter how intense the loss is. This stage of grief is healthy, though, because it is a recognition of and acceptance of emotional attachment. Symptoms of depression can show that a person is starting to accept the reality of the loss instead of avoiding or denying it.
Depression can feel like despair, helplessness, and hopelessness. Despite its reference as a “stage” of grief, feelings of depression can come in waves for several years.
The acceptance stage is associated with some degree of emotional detachment and objectivity to the loss. This stage varies depending on a person’s situation. Often, people who are dying may find themself in this stage of grief long before the people they are leaving behind. Grief comes in waves, but with patience and time, the pain will ease. When it comes to physical loss, such as the death of a loved one, a person can recognize that the loss will always hurt. However, a person can gradually return to life without constant emotional burden through practicing and utilizing acceptance.
Acceptance can feel like validation, wisdom, self-compassion, and courage. It is living mindfully in the present moment and engaging with life on life’s terms.
It is important to understand that grief, like any trauma, can contribute to substance use as a form of self-medication. When you or your loved ones are going through stages of grief, be on the lookout for potential warning signs of substance misuse or abuse.
Remember that the stages of grief are not linear. It is normal to jump from one stage to another, especially when different situations in life change your perspective on your perceived loss. If you feel overwhelmed by the process of grief, understand that there are always community resources available to help you through it. Lean in on your support systems and seek treatment if your grief becomes unmanageable.
DiscoveryMD understands how challenging the grieving process can be. We believe that healing best takes place in a supportive environment with compassionate staff. We are sensitive to all of our patient’s needs and are ready to help you through this challenging time in your life. To learn more about our treatment facility or grief, contact us today.