Let’s talk about grief: Stages of grief and how to recognize them
By Chantelle Switzer Tuma
If you or a loved one is dealing with loss, it can be helpful to learn more about the grieving process. Here we share the 5 Stages of Grief, along with a few ways to help someone who is grieving after a death or breakup.
It’s important to remember that the grieving process can be complex, and it isn’t the same for everyone. These steps may not be followed exactly, or other feelings may surface after you thought you were through the stages of grieving. Allowing room to experience grief in your own way can help you heal after loss
Grief is an overwhelming emotion. It’s not unusual to respond to the strong and often sudden feelings by pretending the loss or change isn’t happening. Denying it gives you time to more gradually absorb the news and begin to process it. This is a common defense mechanism and helps numb you to the intensity of the situation.
As you move out of the denial stage, however, the emotions you’ve been hiding will begin to rise. You’ll be confronted with a lot of sorrow you’ve denied. That is also part of the journey of grief, but it can be difficult.
Where denial may be considered a coping mechanism, anger is a masking effect. Anger is hiding many of the emotions and pain that you carry. This anger may be redirected at other people, such as the person who died, your ex, or your old boss.
Anger may mask itself in feelings like bitterness or resentment. It may not be clear-cut fury or rage.
As the anger subsides, however, you may begin to think more rationally about what’s happening and feel the emotions you’ve been pushing aside.
During grief, you may feel vulnerable and helpless. In those moments of intense emotions, it’s not uncommon to look for ways to regain control or to want to feel like you can affect the outcome of an event. In the bargaining stage of grief, you may find yourself creating a lot of “what if” and “if only” statements.
It’s also not uncommon for religious individuals to try to make a deal or promise to God or a higher power in return for healing or relief from the grief and pain. Bargaining is a line of defense against the emotions of grief. It helps you postpone the sadness, confusion, or hurt.
Whereas anger and bargaining can feel very active, depression may feel like a quiet stage of grief.
In the early stages of loss, you may be running from the emotions, trying to stay a step ahead of them. By this point, however, you may be able to embrace and work through them in a more healthful manner. You may also choose to isolate yourself from others in order to fully cope with the loss.
Depression may feel like the inevitable landing point of any loss. However, if you feel stuck here or can’t seem to move past this stage of grief, you can talk with a mental health expert. A therapist can help you work through this period of coping.
Acceptance is not necessarily a happy or uplifting stage of grief. It doesn’t mean you’ve moved past the grief or loss. It does, however, mean that you’ve accepted it and have come to understand what it means in your life now.
You may feel very different in this stage. That’s entirely expected. You’ve had a major change in your life, and that upends the way you feel about many things.
Look to acceptance as a way to see that there may be more good days than bad. There may still be bad — and that’s OK.