Updated: Apr 6, 2021
This post summarizes the five stages of grief experienced after suffering a loss. It overviews the origins of the grieving model, and how each person may experience loss differently. Each of the five stages is given a brief explanation along with a few examples of internal dialogue. Grief is caused by any situation that results in the feeling of loss. This can range from the ending of a relationship, to the death of a loved one. Everyone copes with grief differently, and there is no right or wrong way to go about the mourning process. The 5 Stages Of Grief model was first introduced in 1969 by American-Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kuber-Ross. Although it represents a general model of the grieving process, these stages have been modified and expanded since they were first created. These stages may be experienced out of order or at different times and people may revisit stages multiple times, or skip some altogether.
Denial: For many people, the first stage that they experience after loss is denial. Denial often involves repressing emotions and feelings as a defense mechanism. Denial is a way to protect ourselves from the overwhelming pain of the loss. While we process what has happened, we may experience numbness. Here we might be thinking that “it was all a dream” or it never happened at all. Another example would be after a loved one has died someone may think that they are still coming back.
Anger: After denial, we will often turn to anger as a way of expressing heavy emotion. The pain that we are carrying is redirected as anger, providing us with an emotional outlet. It’s common to feel anger towards objects and people, whether they are strangers or family, as well as the situation in which you find yourself, or even the person that was lost. Anger gives us structure to our grief by allowing us to place the blame on someone or something.
Bargaining: Bargaining is a way to feel in control of the situation while holding on to hope. It involves “making deals” or promises, often directed towards a higher power. This can look like
“I promise I’ll do better if you let this person live” or
“I will never be angry at my loved one again if you bring them back to life”.
It also involves internal negotiation where we ask ourselves “what if” or “if only” we had done something to prevent the situation that had occurred. Throughout this stage we are stuck in the past, as we plead for life to return to what it was before.
Depression: Depression occurs as we begin to realize the reality of the situation. We begin to move into the present, and become fully aware of the loss that we are experiencing. Intense sadness and despair accompany depression, and can result in aspects of fatigue, vulnerability, confusion, loss of appetite, etc. Depression is experienced uniquely, and there is no right or wrong way to deal with it, as well as no set time that it should be overcomed. It is not a mental illness, and is rather a completely normal response.
Acceptance: The last stage of grief is acceptance. This is where we acknowledge the loss that we have experienced, while also readjusting our life to move forward. While we may never feel the same as before, this is where we begin to accept our new reality. We may also feel more comfortable reaching out to friends and family to talk about the situation or our feelings.