When you experience a loss, you cannot expect to recover overnight. While each person processes grief and loss in his own unique way, there are essentially 7 stages of grief that most people walk through in their process of healing.
The 7 Stages of GriefWhether it is due to the death of a loved one, receiving a diagnosis of a terminal illness, the revealing of infidelity or some other traumatic event, every stage of grief has its purpose.
Stage 1: Shock and Denial
Usually the first stage most people go through is the stage of shock and denial. This stage can be quite upsetting if you do not understand it. You may wonder why you are not crying or showing other signs that the loss occurred. The purpose of this stage is to protect you from overwhelming emotions.
When you are in this stage, it can be difficult to fully believe the loss has occurred. You react with disbelief, and you feel numb. You may find yourself denying the loss, and you may be unable to comprehend that it is real.
As an example, you may find yourself picking up the phone to call your loved one, not fully realizing that he has passed away. You may wonder why he has not come home by a certain hour, and have trouble realizing that he is not coming home at all.
Shock and denial are normal reactions to a loss. This stage can last for a number of weeks, until you are emotionally prepared to move on to the next stage.
Stage 2: Pain and Guilt
The second stage of grief is most often extremely painful. You are only starting to comprehend the magnitude of your loss. The pain may feel unbearable. However, you need to complete this stage if you are to heal and move on with your life. You should not try to avoid the pain by using drugs, alcohol, or other methods for avoidance.Guilt is a normal part of this stage, too. Regardless of the particular loss you experienced, you start to feel that it would not have occurred if you had done something differently.
As an example, if your loved one died in a car accident, you may feel he would still be alive if you had been driving the car, or if you had told him to stay at home. The guilt you feel during this stage is an exaggerated feeling of responsibility. You feel that you are somehow responsible for the loss.
When you are in extreme pain, and feel remorse or guilt, life can appear frightening and chaotic. You may not know how you will manage through this difficult time. If you allow yourself to feel these emotions, and understand they have a purpose, the period of intense pain and guilt will eventually end. You will be ready to move on to the next stage.
Stage 3: Anger and Bargaining
At some point during the process of suffering a loss, you will become angry. You should keep in mind that this anger is perfectly normal, even if it appears irrational. You may explode with anger, or you may look for someone to blame. Your anger needs to be felt and released, but do not allow yourself to become destructive.
You may find yourself bargaining with God, fate, or another source that you believe has the power to change the situation. As an example, you may promise God that you will be a better person, or attend church every week, if He will bring back your loved one.
During the anger and bargaining stage, you may wonder why you were singled out for this horrible loss. You will feel the loss should not have happened to you.
From anger that can be extreme enough to be frightening, to bargaining that seems irrational, you must go through this difficult stage during the grieving process. When you understand that it is necessary, you will be able to cope. When Stage 3 is completed, you will be partway through the grieving process.
Stage 4: Depression
It is only natural to become depressed when you have experienced a traumatic loss. You may spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on your loss, reflecting on the past and memories of your loved one, and feeling extremely depressed over the entire situation. The feelings of depression and sorrow can seem overwhelming.
During the depression stage, you might intentionally isolate yourself. You may prefer to be alone with your feelings, and you may not want to cope with the other people in your life. When friends and family members try to help you feel better, it only causes you to feel worse. You may tell yourself that they could not possibly understand what you are going through.
You may experience physical symptoms of depression. Headaches, digestive problems, aches and pains that have no medical cause, lack of appetite, and lack of energy are common examples. You may also experience changes in your normal sleep habits. You may sleep as much as you can, be unable to fall asleep, or awaken during the night.
A sense of despair or emptiness can occur during this stage. You may feel your life will never be any better, or that you cannot go on without your loved one. When you understand depression is perfectly normal, it can help you cope with your emotions. You will be able to proceed through this stage, and move forward.
Stage 5: The Upward Turn
Eventually, your depression and sorrow will start to subside. While the grieving process is not over, your thoughts and feelings will start to appear more realistic and not as overwhelming. You will feel a little more organized and calm. The upward turn is the stage of adjustment. You still miss your loved one very much, but you are adjusting to the fact that he is not coming back. You are realizing your life will go on without your loved one.During this stage, the physical symptoms should start to disappear. The aches and pains will subside, and your appetite will return. You will regain your ability to sleep through the night. You will develop a realistic view of your loss. You will realize it is okay to go on without your loved one. While this stage is not the end of the grieving process, accepting the reality of your loss is an important step toward moving ahead.
Stage 6: Reconstruction
During this stage, your thoughts and feelings start to return to their normal states. You are still working through your grief, but you are becoming more and more able to focus on your everyday life. You are developing the ability to see life without the person you lost, and you are developing realistic perceptions of life without him. The sadness may linger, but your perceptions are based on reality.
During this stage, you will start to rebuild your life. Whether you lost your spouse, parent, child, or sibling, you will see that you can rebuild your life without that person. You will look for realistic, practical solutions to living without your loved one. You will see your life can go on even though he is no longer with you.
Stage 7: Acceptance and Hope
Acceptance and hope come together to help you move on with your life after experiencing a loss. You have begun to accept that your loved one is gone, and that he is not coming back. You are finally able to accept reality. When you accept this reality, you are also accepting the fact that your life will never be the same again. The loss you experienced has changed both you and your life forever.
During this stage, you will see that your life can move forward. When acceptance is accompanied by hope, you are reaching the end of your grieving process. You will never forget your loved one, and thoughts of him may include sadness, but the pain is no longer overwhelming. You are preparing to move on with your life.
During this acceptance and hope stage, you will start feeling joy in your everyday life, and you will see a brighter future. You will start to make plans for the days ahead, and you will actually look forward to the future. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by your own emotions, and a deep sense of emptiness over your loss, your loved one will start to take his place in the past. He will always live on in your memories. During the stage of acceptance and hope, your priorities will shift to the future.
When you find yourself thinking of your loved one in terms of special times you shared in the past and focusing primarily on your future, you are approaching the end of the grieving process. You are letting go of what was and what might have been, and accepting reality as it is today. Your life will always be emptier without your loved one, but the future is yours to live.
What You Need To Know About The 7 Stages Of Grief
Not everyone uses the same words and terms to describe the stages of grief. The stages are the same, even if the terms differ. However, there are some important points to keep in mind about the 7 stages of grief. While the stages describe the normal grieving process, you cannot use a precise timetable for the stages. For some individuals, a stage may last longer, or for a shorter period of time, than it lasts for other people.
In addition, completing a stage does not necessarily mean characteristics of stages cannot overlap. You may experience numerous characteristics, or you may backslide into a stage you believed was over. You need not be worried over these issues. As each person is a unique individual, each person experiences the grieving process in his own personal way. Some people can complete the stages of grief within months, while for others it can take a year or more.
When you are grieving, be gentle with yourself. This is not the time to take on new responsibilities, pressure yourself in any way, or make significant changes in your life. Even if you must meet everyday obligations, do not try to avoid your feelings by taking on too much work or other activities. Consider asking someone to help with your job or child care for a period of time. You do not need excessive stress when you are grieving.
Do You Need Support During the 7 Stages Of Grief?
When you have experienced a devastating loss, it is in your best interest to have some type of support. Every stage of the grieving process will be much harder if you cope with it alone. When you have someone to talk to about what you are going through, you can avoid isolation. You can have compassion from someone who will help you understand that your emotions are normal.
There may be a number of people in your life who are appropriate for this role. However, a friend or family member may not be the best choice. They may be experiencing their own grieving process and are not able to provide the support you need, or have never experienced a devastating loss and cannot relate to your experiences. These are some reasons to consider a counselor.
A counselor is a compassionate, objective professional who can help you through this difficult time. If you do not have anyone to talk to, or if you do not think the people in your daily life can be helpful, make an appointment to talk to a counselor.
Although the grieving process can feel overwhelming, contact a professional immediately if you feel that you cannot handle the emotions you are experiencing. It cannot be stressed strongly enough that you must seek professional help if you think you may harm yourself or someone else, or if you have turned to drugs or alcohol because you cannot deal with the pain. The grieving process can be difficult, but it should not endanger your life, health, or safety.
Everyone who has experienced a traumatic loss must go through the 7 stages of grief before they can move on with their lives. You may have days or weeks when you feel you will never recover, and that you will never have a happy life again. When you understand these stages and know what to expect, you will see why the grieving process is necessary. You can heal and recover, and you can have a future that is worth living.
“Hold On,” courtesy of Priscilla du Preez, cdn.magdeleine.co, CC0 Public Domain License; “Walking Down a Dark Path,” courtesy of Dave Meier, picography.com, CC0 License; “Bridge to Nowhere,” courtesy of Dave Meier, picography.co, CC0 License