Grief is a wily, elusive emotion to grapple with. Many of us connect the feeling of “grief” to someone we love dying. And while loss of life is surely one of the hardest experiences we go through as humans, there are many other triggers and nuances of grief.
Sometimes we struggle to identify if it is in fact grief we’re facing, and how to work through something so complex and painful. To overcome the most challenging circumstances in our lives, we first need to learn about the mechanisms behind them.
Understanding the root causes and stages of grief gives us the power to make healthy choices for ourselves. We will be able to find closure more effectively, and not get caught in the weeds of each stage for quite as long. Let’s explore what the 5 stages of grief are so that we can work through them naturally and healthily.
What is Grief?
Grief is the experience of emotional suffering or pain, usually caused by an event like someone’s death. When we share a strong bond or affection with another living thing, their death can cause us to feel deep sorrow.
We may feel a myriad of other emotions accompanying grief, such as sadness, guilt, anger, anxiety or depression, and even poor physical health. Combined, this can be a huge burden to bear.
Keep in mind, grief isn’t solely caused by the death of a loved one. It can also be due to things like:
- A divorce or breakup
- Losing your job or financial stability
- Losing your home
- The death of a pet
- Physical trauma or loss of physical health
- Loss of a friendship
Even more subtle shifts in life circumstances or losses can result in grief. Don’t judge yourself for the way you feel, or that you’re grieving something other than a death. Any form of grief is normal and can be worked through in a healthy way.
It’s important to lean on friends, family, and mental health professionals to help you work through your pain. Visit BetterHelp for free grief resources:
The 5 Stages of Grief
In the 1970s, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed and introduced the concept of “the 5 stages of grief.” In general, the experience of grief moves through these stages in order as we process the deep, complex emotions associated with it.
While this is not the end-all be-all definition of how grief operates, it is a useful framework that can be applied to many different situations, losses, and challenging life changes. Here are the 5 stages of grief, which can also happen out of order as time passes.
The first stage is denial, which is what allows us to survive the initial blow of a challenging event. We only let in the feelings we can handle at first, and numb ourselves as a means of protection from pain. Then, slowly but surely, denial starts to fade as the more difficult emotions of grief begin to surface.
Anger tends to arise after denial and numbness dissipate. This emotion might scare us or others, and tends to be rejected and suppressed by ourselves and society. But it’s necessary to fully feel the anger inside you as it arises.
The anger of grief knows no limits, and can be targeted at anything and everyone. We are attempting to ground ourselves in something concrete by directing anger at external forces, because loss often feels empty and meaningless. This is expected, but make sure we look at who we’re tempted to point the finger at and if it’s misplaced.
Bargaining can present itself in two ways: grief before a big loss can come in the form of praying or begging God and others to spare the person or thing you love.
Grief after a big loss might look like a truce with the universe to become a better person in order to prevent this kind of pain in the future.
You may also feel lost in the “What if…” or “If only…” scenarios. This vicious cycle of ‘what if’s’ can go on for a long time if we allow ourselves to be chained to the past.
Depression is one of the most challenging and deep stages of grief to move through. We often mistake being depressed for being a sign that we’re mentally ill, but this isn’t the case.
Depression in response to a big loss is quite common and natural. It may feel like this dark cloud of depression will bog us down forever, but if we allow ourselves to move through it with compassion instead of resistance, we will rise out of it in time.
Acceptance is the final stage of grief. Accepting the circumstances of your loss is different than being totally “okay” with what happened. It’s about coming to grips with this new normal.
Realizing these are the cards we’ve been dealt, for better or worse, helps us understand that we’ll never get back exactly what we lost. This is not pessimistic or dark – it is a truth that will provide us with real peace and healing.