“Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn how to swim.” — Vicki Harrison
Moving like the ocean is one way to describe grief, which is such a small word for such indescribable, overpowering emotions. Experiencing grief isn’t as simple as feeling sorrow or sadness. It’s a rollercoaster of a journey. Grief can be caused by a death or loss of something or someone. Recognizing the five stages of grief can help you navigate this journey, from shock and blame to despair and hopefulness.
Understanding Grief: 5 Stages of Grief
The five stages of grief (also known as the Kübler-Ross model) were developed by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and introduced in her book “On Death and Dying” in 1969. This model identifies grief as a series of emotions. This series, or the five stages below, serve as tools to help you comprehend your feelings, says David Kessler who co-authored two books with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, including “On Grief and Grieving.” Understanding yourself in these stages helps you gain knowledge about your grieving process and start to heal, learning how to cope with loss and death.
One way to respond to the initial shock of devastating news is to fall into denial. The numbness and disbelief become survival and defense mechanisms. This stage is protective, giving time for you to take in information at your pace while starting to make sense of it.
- Internal dialogue: “This can’t be happening.” “He’s going to be fine.” “This isn’t real.”
Anger arises once the news sinks in; it’s a natural response in the grieving process and can be directed at a loved one, God, the world and yourself, says Dr. Christina Hibbert, a clinical psychologist and bestselling author. Beneath anger is pain, even guilt. But it’s an emotion that can provide strength, structure and can feel better than nothing at all.
- Internal dialogue: “How could this happen to me?” “This isn’t fair!” “There is no God.”
You may move into thinking that you’ll do anything to change a death or the fate of the loved one. This stage is full of “If only…” “what if…” responses, shares Kessler. You may fantasize about going back in time to create a different outcome or wonder what you could have done differently. It’s a process of trying to negotiate the elimination of pain.
- Internal dialogue: “I’ll do anything to make her better.” “I promise to be a better person to make her come back.”
Now intense sadness hits—or even an emptiness of feelings—as grief reaches a deeper level. Everything seems worthless and daily tasks can feel like huge burdens. Friends and family can’t help and life seems meaningless. You’re opening yourself up to mourning, a critical step in the healing process.
- Internal dialogue: “What’s the point?” “Why should I bother with anything?” “Nothing matters.”
This stage is where you start to accept that the loss or forthcoming death is a reality. Here is a new norm that requires readjustment. It’s an evolution into a new life. You can see the light to move forward and embrace the forever change. William Worden’s “tasks of mourning” adds that overcoming or coping with grief follows an active decision to adapt to a new environment (not only accept).
- Internal dialogue: “I’m ready to reconnect with friends and family and create new relationships.” “It’s time to move on.” “I’m going to be OK.”
Find the Support You Need
Although this model is widely accepted, grief symptoms aren’t linear or uniform. Health Guidance, a wellness publication, explains that there is great variation with grief — individuals may experience stages repeatedly or skip ones. For some individuals may regress or even become lifelong grievers who can never come to terms with their loss. Our hope is that by sharing this model, you may engage in a process of introspection and eventually reach a hopeful place of moving on.
If you need help in your recovery or how to deal with grief, schedule a teletherapy appointment with ThriveTalk. Certified therapists will provide support and strategies to help you manage your grieving process. For more information call +1 (833) 348-6684. We’ll connect you with a counseling professional via video conferencing, so you can conveniently receive treatment in your own home, where you feel most comfortable or to fit within your busy schedule.