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Grief is universal. At some point, everyone will have at least one encounter with grief. It may be from the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or any other change that alters life as you know it.
Grief is also very personal. It’s not very neat or linear. It doesn’t follow any timelines or schedules. You may cry, become angry, withdraw, or feel empty. None of these things are unusual or wrong.
Everyone grieves differently, but there are some commonalities in the stages and the order of feelings experienced during grief.
In 1969, a psychiatrist named Elizabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a book “On Death and Dying” that grief could be divided into five stages. Her observations came from years of working with terminally ill individuals.
Her theory of grief became known as the Kübler-Ross model. While it was originally devised for people who were ill, these stages of grief have been adapted for other experiences with loss, too.
The five stages of grief may be the most widely known, but it’s far from the only popular stages of grief theory. Others exist as well, including ones with seven stages and ones with just two.
Grief is an overwhelming emotion. It’s not unusual to respond to the strong and often sudden feelings by pretending the loss or change isn’t happening.
Denying it gives you time to more gradually absorb the news and begin to process it. This is a common defense mechanism and helps numb you to the intensity of the situation.
As you move out of the denial stage, however, the emotions you’ve been hiding will begin to rise. You’ll be confronted with a lot of sorrow you’ve denied. That is also part of the journey of grief, but it can be difficult.
Where denial may be considered a coping mechanism, anger is a masking effect. Anger is hiding many of the emotions and pain that you carry.
This anger may be redirected at other people, such as the person who died, your ex, or your old boss. You may even aim your anger at inanimate objects. While your rational brain knows the object of your anger isn’t to blame, your feelings in that moment are too intense to act according to that.
Anger may mask itself in feelings like bitterness or resentment. It may not be clear-cut fury or rage.
During grief, you may feel vulnerable and helpless. In those moments of intense emotions, it’s not uncommon to look for ways to regain control or to want to feel like you can affect the outcome of an event. In the bargaining stage of grief, you may find yourself creating a lot of “what if” and “if only” statements.
It’s also not uncommon for religious individuals to try to make a deal or promise to God or a higher power in return for healing or relief from the grief and pain. Bargaining is a line of defense against the emotions of grief. It helps you postpone the sadness, confusion, or hurt.
Whereas anger and bargaining can feel very active, depression may feel like a quiet stage of grief.
In the early stages of loss, you may be running from the emotions, trying to stay a step ahead of them. By this point, however, you may be able to embrace and work through them in a more healthful manner. You may also choose to isolate yourself from others in order to fully cope with the loss.
That doesn’t mean, however, that depression is easy or well defined. Like the other stages of grief, depression can be difficult and messy. It can feel overwhelming. You may feel foggy, heavy, and confused.
Acceptance is not necessarily a happy or uplifting stage of grief. It doesn’t mean you’ve moved past the grief or loss. It does, however, mean that you’ve accepted it and have come to understand what it means in your life now.
You may feel very different in this stage. That’s entirely expected. You’ve had a major change in your life, and that upends the way you feel about many things.
Look to acceptance as a way to see that there may be more good days than bad. There may still be bad — and that’s OK.
The seven stages of grief are another popular model for explaining the many complicated experiences of loss. These seven stages include:
· Shock and denial
· Pain and guilt
· Anger and bargaining
· The upward turn
· Reconstruction and working through
· Acceptance and hope
You may feel that the loss is unbearable and that you’re making other people’s lives harder because of your feelings and needs.
You may lash out, telling God or a higher power that you’ll do anything they ask if they’ll only grant you relief from these feelings or this situation.
This may be a period of isolation and loneliness during which you process and reflect on the loss.
At this point, the stages of grief like anger and pain have died down, and you’re left in a more calm and relaxed state.
You can begin to put pieces of your life back together and move forward.
There’s no one stage that’s universally considered to be the hardest to endure. Grief is a very individual experience. The toughest stage of grief varies from person to person and even from situation to situation.
Grief is different for every person. There’s no exact time frame to adhere to. You may remain in one of the stages of grief for months but skip other stages entirely.
Additionally, not everyone will experience all stages of grief, and you may not go through them in order. For example, you may begin coping with loss in the bargaining stage and find yourself in anger or denial next.
Avoiding, ignoring, or denying yourself the ability to express your grief may help you dissociate from the pain of the loss you’re going through. But holding it in won’t make it disappear. And you can’t avoid grief forever.
Over time, unresolved grief can turn into physical or emotional manifestations that affect your health.
In order to heal from a loss and move on, you have to address it. If you’re having trouble processing grief, consider seeking out counseling to help you through it.
Grief is a natural emotion to experience when going through a loss.
While everyone experiences grief differently, identifying the various stages of grief can help you anticipate and comprehend some of the reactions you may experience throughout the grieving process. It can also help you understand your needs when grieving and find ways to have them met.
Understanding the grieving process can ultimately help you work toward acceptance and healing.
The key to understanding grief is realizing that no one experiences the same thing. Grief is very personal, and you may feel something different every time. You may need several weeks, or grief may be years long.
If you decide you need help coping with the feelings and changes, a mental health professional is a good resource for vetting your feelings and finding a sense of assurance in these very heavy and weighty emotions.
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