What are the stages of grieving?
Reading time: approx. 2 min
When we lose a loved one in the world, the pain we feel may feel unbearable. Understandably, grief is complex and we sometimes wonder if the pain will ever end.
A theory developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross describes that we go through five different stages of grief after the loss of a loved one. Our feelings may vary in intensity during these stages as you process your loss. This process of grieving cannot be controlled, however, sometimes it is helpful to understand what the underlying reasons may be. The stages of grief are: denial, anger, negotiation, depression and finally acceptance.
Denial The first stage of this model is denial. It helps us deal with the barely bearable pain of our loss, even minimizing it somewhat. When we lose someone who was very important to us, phrases may pop into our heads like, ''that can't be true.'' Often this first shock is accompanied by a feeling of being numb. This is a very healthy and normal protective mechanism to help us cope with the pain and overwhelming feelings.
Our whole life has changed from one moment to the next. We need time to get used to this change.There may be moments in which we wonder how we can ever go on without this person. Denial is a healthy way to help us process and understand step by step what has happened. It helps us not to be overwhelmed by our feelings and to go through the process one step at a time.
Anger When we lose someone we love, it is very understandable that we can also become angry. Our world sometimes turns upside down and we are still adjusting to this change. This emotional chaos and knowing that there is so much to process can also make us really angry at times. Anger is an emotional outlet, perhaps directed at people we love, ourselves, a higher power, or life in general. We may even experience anger directed towards the loved one who has died and is now gone. That is a natural reaction, too and should be given space alongside all the other surfacing emotions.
Negotiation At this stage, we ruminate on what we could have done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are "If only ..." And "What if ...". This bargaining is often directed to a higher power or something greater than us that may be able to help us better deal with our situation. In negotiating we often become aware of our humanity, we realize that there are things in life that we do not have any power over..
In negotiating we tend to focus on our mistakes, we look back at the conversations and moments with the loved one, we often remember things that we said, things that we didn't mean, wishing we could go back. Often it is accompanied by a feeling of helplessness. Negotiation gives us the feeling of being in control over what feels uncontrollable for a short moment.
Depression During grief processing, there usually comes a time when our imagination settles and we slowly begin to deal with the reality of our current situation. Sadness sets in as we begin to understand the loss and its impact on our lives. As the fog of the first intense period lifts, our loss often feels more present and inevitable. We tend to turn inward, we become less social, and we share less with others. This is a very natural stage of grief, however it can be very isolating and lonely. If you are in this stage and feel alone, feel free to write to us, often it is helpful to share our grief with someone else.
Acceptance When we have reached the stage of acceptance, it doesn't mean that we don't feel the pain anymore. But we don't resist it anymore and don't use any other strategy to change the situation. Sadness and regret may still be there, but our strategies of denial, anger, and bargaining have probably subsided. Although we are still sad, we can go back to living our lives a bit more.
With these five stages of grief, it is important to know that everyone grieves differently and that we may not go through each of these stages or experience them in exactly that order. Often the boundaries are fluid, sometimes we jump from one to another and back again before we have fully integrated any of the stages.
If you're reading this and feel like you're in one of these phases and just want to talk to someone. We at Soulchat are here for you.
Author: Nallely Courtney
Devine, M. (2017). It's ok that you're not ok: Meeting grief and loss in a culture that doesn't understand. Sounds True.
Lewis, C. S., Mantel, H., & Spufford, F. (2014). A Grief Observed (Readers' Edition): With contributions from Hilary Mantel, Jessica Martin, Jenna Bailey, Rowan Williams, Kate Saunders, Francis Spufford and Maureen Freely. Faber & Faber.
Forsythia, S. (2020). Your grief, your way: A year of practical guidance and comfort after loss. Zeitgeist.