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Emotional Stages of the Grieving Process

Mental Health

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Wes Cain

Grief affects each of us uniquely. A loss, such as the death of a loved one or close friend starts a process of multiple phases, known as the emotional stages of grief. For many years, psychologists studied people in grief to understand and clarify these stages. More importantly, they sought to understand how we work through and cope with our feelings.

Losses that Lead You Into Grief

Grief does not just occur after someone dies. You can experience these heavy feelings after a wide range of experiences, such as:

  • Relationship breakup
  • Job loss
  • Amputation
  • Diagnosis of terminal illness
  • Relocation

No one feels grief in the exact same way. Your life experience is unique, as is your process of grieving. But for the most part, we all feel similar feelings. These feelings fall into five categories, the 5 emotional stages of grief. The particular order and duration of these stages depend on the individual.

There is no right or wrong way to go through the negative feelings of loss. Nor is there a right pathway to healing for all people. Find your own way in your own time. By getting to know the stages of the grieving process, you better understand your own path while validating that others share your experience.

History of The 5 Emotional Stages of Grief

The five stages of grieving come from the work of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist from Switzerland. In 1969, she published a book entitled, “On Death and Dying.”

Dr. Kübler-Ross actually described the grief cycle as one experienced by people diagnosed with terminal diseases, those grieving their own diminishing lives. She called the process the stages of death. These include denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Soon, people noted how this grief cycle applies to feelings experienced after the loss of a loved one or other similar experiences.

The grieving process is a set of emotional phases. These feelings are how humans process a traumatic loss. They are all at once how we cope and how we heal.

Beyond these processes, Dr. Kübler-Ross explored how people communicate their grief to others, seeking signs of acceptance. We also seek signs of acceptance and healing in ourselves after a major loss. Maybe that is why you are reading this article now.

The Emotional Stages of Grief

According to Dr. Kübler-Ross and as endorsed by psychologists all over the world today, the five stages of the grief process include:

Denial

Denial involves convincing yourself that your traumatic event has not happened. Or you deny its permanence. Sometimes denial is an attempt to convince others the event has not occurred, so you can also believe this yourself. But you know the real truth deep inside.

Denial often means denying your own pain or sense of loss. For example, after the death of a loved one, maybe you try to act like that loss meant nothing or does not affect your daily life. The same type of denial happens after divorce, diagnosis, amputation or a breakup. If you experience denial when fired from a job, you might show up at work as if nothing happened.

Anger

People frequently feel angry when they lose a loved one or suffer other traumatic events. Breakups often result in a phase of anger. So do divorces, diagnoses, amputations, deaths and job terminations.

Really, suffering any loss can cause you to feel moody, irritated and angry. In this phase, you take your frustrations out on other people or even yourself. Surprisingly, anger actually pushes you into healing. It is an important stage for recovering from your loss.

Bargaining

If you pray, have you ever said a prayer asking your higher power to change something that happened? Or maybe you offered to improve an area of your life or restrict yourself from something you enjoy, just to change what occurred. This is bargaining. Even the act of desperately praying proves cathartic after a loss.

Bargaining brings up issues you do not want to confront. But in the process of trying to bargain, you actually force yourself to acknowledge that the event occurred. It contributes to your realization.

Depression

Depression after loss is not necessarily the same as clinical depression. But these two types of ongoing sadness affect you similarly. You suffer sadness, frequent crying, lost appetite or disrupted sleep. Some people suffer sickness, aches, and pains. You feel like your loss is the end of your life or that you lost your reason for living. Unlike clinical depression, this type of grief-related depression usually passes in the phase of acceptance.

Acceptance

According to Dr. Kübler-Ross, acceptance is the period when you understand your loss and pain. You see how much the loved one or thing you lost meant to you. The reality of your loss firmly roots and you no longer feel angry or try to bargain. You start seeing your own need to move forward in life and out of your emotional phases.

For the most part, you feel peace in your acceptance. But you may still experience a low mood or sadness at times of year that trigger memories of the event. Anger sometimes comes into your acceptance. That happens when you feel little moments of anger that you must pick up the pieces after your loss.

How long is the grieving process?

One of the most common questions is, “How long is the grieving process?” Unfortunately, there is no clear answer that fits all people and the many types of losses. As individuals, we experience grief in our own ways and our own time. If you suffer grief, let yourself go through the stages in any order. Understand your feelings as they occur and accept the emotions as your coping mechanism toward eventual healing.

How do I help myself heal after a loss?

When you suffer a loss, you can ask for help. No one has to go through grief alone. The Becoming Counseling offers outpatient mental health services for families, couples, individuals, and groups. Contact The Becoming Counseling for more information or to schedule a visit.

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