Grief isn’t the easiest thing to talk about. It can come in many forms and stem from many things. Losing your job, a difficult medical diagnosis, or losing a loved one are all things that can make us experience grief. But what is grief, and how can we help overcome it?
Simply put, grief is an emotional response to loss. It usually refers to the loss of a loved one. Of course, there can be other responses, such as physical, behavioral, and others. How we respond to loss varies widely and the important thing to remember is whatever you experience is okay.
7 Stages of Grief
Most people are familiar with the 5 Stages of Grief, or the Kubler-Ross model. However, we think it combines two stages that people often experience, and this 7 Stage model has widely become accepted as more inclusive. Remember, the 7 stages of grief are there to help guide you back to a place of peace and happiness.
Shock and Disbelief
It is natural to be shocked upon learning of the loss. Especially if it was sudden or unexpected. You may not believe it on some level in order to avoid pain. It is a way of protecting ourselves from being overwhelmed. You may feel numbness or a lack of belief. A person can go through many feelings and even have some physical reactions in a state of shock, as well including dizziness and nausea. After some time, it starts to set in that someone we loved is gone, making other emotions and feelings come forward.
Trying to wrap our heads around a loss is incredibly difficult. There is no set time for how long this will take. Some people have described feeling a sort of out of body experience. The important thing to remember is to give yourself time. Whether it is someone’s death or a relationship, ground yourself where you are.
Denial in the grief process isn’t quite the same as the normal term denial. This doesn’t mean you deny the event. Instead, denial refers to how you express your emotions and feelings. Some people deny that their loved one has actually died. Some people deny they are having a difficult time or are deeply affected by the loss. Just as in all the stages, it can present in many different ways.
You can think of this as the tip of an iceberg in some ways. There might be many other things beneath the surface, but you are unable to acknowledge them at the moment. Denial can take quite a long time until you feel ready to move forward in the stages.
Feelings of denial can stem from a lack of understanding, so there are some things you can do to perhaps make yourself more in tune with reality. Journaling your way through what is painful and what has happened may help you make sense of your loss. Finding connections in our lives can often put things into some sort of order.
Guilt can happen if one has regrets about things unsaid or something they wished they did for someone who is gone. It stems from a desire to go back in time and do some things over again.
This can lead to thinking it is your fault. And your mind won’t necessarily determine between feelings that are logical or not. We are trying to make sense of something that is difficult to process in a process of complicated grief.
Life can feel pretty scary and chaotic during this time. In feeling this way, you put a lot of pressure on yourself emotionally. The key is to take care just a bit by letting the guilt go. A grief coach may be helpful here to give the griever somewhere to share the experience and put it into some more perspective.
Anger and Bargaining
Anger is a very real part of the grieving process. With a loss, feelings of disbelief can turn into frustration and anger. Thoughts of ‘why is this happening to me’ are quite common. It is also normal to feel anger towards yourself for not being able to change the situation or anger at the person for causing it. Additionally, you may become angry at someone who has nothing to do with the situation.
Another part of this is bargaining. This is often filled with many if statements, reflecting on the past and saying if this, then that. Bargaining for the loss and trying to find ways to turn the situation around are common. If we feel unable to have an effect, bargaining with the powers that be can help our feelings of anger.
Finding healthy ways to deal with your anger is key to overcoming it. Confronting situations that make you angry will help you not feel powerless. Keep from being down on yourself or lowering your self-esteem. If you can, ask yourself ‘What is making me angry and what can I do about it?’.
This is an important stage to be aware of because it can have some consequences after of the grief process. Permanent damage to current relationships is possible. A grief recovery coach can give a safe place to uncover and explore your anger.
Depression, Loneliness, Reflection
At this stage, you might be feeling more able to accept the loss but are unable to cope with it. One of the hardest things to do is feel alone in a bad situation. However, loneliness can accompany feelings of depression. The loss will start to sink in and depression can come and go in a person’s life. Feelings of wanting to be alone, complete isolation, and being overwhelmed are normal. It is a time for reflection, going back and thinking of the past. In some ways, this is the first sign of acceptance. You are opening yourself up to the situation, whatever it is.
It is a natural stage of grief so don’t let yourself be talked out of it by well-meaning outsiders. Their inclination to make you feel better right away is well-intentioned, however going through these feelings help you move towards peace.
However, now is the time to be working hard to not sit in this state. Being active can help a lot! Sign up for that dance class you have always wanted. Ride a bike or go for hikes. Ask a friend to go for coffee. Aiming for a goal and getting out of the house can help you see life from a more optimistic place.
Reconstruction and Working Through
As time goes on and you are able to be more functional, your mind will start to work a bit more like it did. This doesn’t mean the feelings of sadness, anger, depression, guilt, or anything else will necessarily be completely gone. However, you can now start to look at everything with a clearer view. You will start to sort out how to begin to live a normal life again.
This is a period where you can start to look at ways to move forward and past these stages in the grieving process. You might start to work on financial and practical problems to get back to a place of more normalcy. And yes, the sorrow and sadness will likely still be there. But you will be able to move in the right direction towards the last stage, acceptance.
This is the final stage where you are able to accept and cope with your loss. This doesn’t mean you will ever “be over it”. However, you can start to feel ok again. It comes with an ability to think about them again, talk about them, and have them on your mind without incredible pain or emotion.
It is truly a feeling of hope. Yes, life might never be the same, but life will go on. You can still find peace and happiness. It is a time of coming to reality with a complicated process.
7 Stages of Grief: Final Thoughts
There is no right way or wrong way to experience grief. You might not experience all these stages. Your friend might be in a stage of anger for weeks while you only experience it for a few days. You might skip bargaining.
You don’t need to make sure the first stage and fourth stage happen in order. We are all individuals and we all need just as much time as we do. However, getting through pain can be difficult to do alone. Seeking out help can make a huge impact in your life and in healing.