In 1969, accomplished psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross identified five stages of grief an individual goes through when suffering a loss. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These emotions are likely to be experienced surrounding death, but they can also be felt in other situations – when a child experiences their parents divorcing, an individual undergoes a breakup with their partner or you receive life-changing news and grieve the loss of the way things used to be.
It has been noted over the years that the stages of grief are not linear, it is not a step 1, step 2, step 3, etc. situation where an individual undergoes each emotion in order. Nor will everyone experience every emotion. Some might never try the bargaining phase, and some might not deny the situation. Nevertheless, psychologists agree that any or all of the five steps of grief will manifest at some point when processing a loss.
Denial is the buffering stage against all of the other emotions you might be tempted to feel when receiving bad news. Typically, a loss means a sudden and immediate shift from the way things were, to a whole new reality. Denial does not let you accept that reality completely and fully at the onset. You might deny what you heard was true, tell yourself it can’t be as bad as they said or that they got it all wrong because this happens to other people, not you.
The shock, and proceeding numbness, which come with denial are what help you to survive the grief at its beginning. As The reality of the situation slowly begins to sink in, the preferable reality you so desperately wanted to believe gives way to the true reality, as well as the accompanying emotions.
Anger, a natural and important stage of grief, manifests once reality has sunk in. This stage might lead you to wonder why such a thing happened to you. You might be mad at the unfairness, or the feeling that you didn’t deserve this. Could be angry with people close to you, or even angry with God for allowing it to happen.
While we’re traditionally told to keep emotions in check, it’s absolutely vital to the process of grieving and healing to feel and experience anger over a loss. It can be a very real, raw emotion which allows you to begin processing your emotions. While anger may be the desire to place blame on something or someone, it acts as a real, tangible thing in a world where suddenly everything familiar and comfortable has been jerked drastically out of focus.
A loss is something most often very out of our control. Bargaining – like making promises to God or a higher power – takes place during this stage where we cling to a false hope of “If this, then that.” By saying, “If you heal this person, I promise to never do (blank) again,” you put into your mind a false sense of control over the situation.
Bargaining is also the phase where guilt tends to begin. There may be the temptation to believe if you’d done something just slightly different, the whole situation would’ve turned out completely different. You might be tempted to ask a lot of “what if’s” surrounding the scenario. The stage of bargaining is often characterized with a desire to find an alternative to the intense pain the situation is inflicting.
Depression is most often associated with grief, and the emotion accompanying the realization that there is nothing to be done to change anything. The panic and desperation to bargain away or deter the loss in some way has subsided and the reality of the situation, along with the pain and the sadness, begins to set in. When the stage of depression is experienced, individuals might find it difficult to find motivation to continue living their lives the way they used to, because it’s not the same.
This stage can also be incredibly isolating as one is drawn inward via their emotions. A sudden loss of interest in social activities, failing to reach out to friends and family and feeling a sense of hopelessness is a very natural part of undergoing a loss.
Acceptance isn’t necessarily being okay with what happened, but it is acknowledging the truth that you are going to be okay. It takes time to reach this stage, this acceptance of your new reality and this belief that your grief is not for the rest of your life. There will be days when you accept this truth wholeheartedly, days when you doubt anything will be good again and days when you return to acceptance yet again. It’s a slow process, but an important one in the healing journey.
Acceptance still allows for the pain of the loss to be felt, but it is also a letting go of trying to make the situation different, a sense of peace which is reached in the new reality.
Navigating any kind of loss is difficult, and one which often requires a support system. If you need to speak with someone to help process grief or a loss in your life, reach out to Silvermist Recovery today at 724-268-4858.