One of the hardest things about being human is experiencing the pain of loss. Whether you are an adult or even a child, when someone you love or something meaningful can no longer be part of your life, the pain is excruciating.
When we lose someone very close to us, the pain we experience can feel unbearable. Understandably, grief is so complicated, and we often wonder if the pain will ever end. We go through different emotional experiences such as confusion, anger, and sadness.
Grief affects each person uniquely. Any loss starts a process known collectively as “the stages of grief.” But what exactly are these stages, and how do you know what stages of grief you are in? This post will help you understand all your queries related to grief.
What is Grief?
Grief is a reaction to any form of loss, encompasses a wide range of feelings from deep sadness to anger, and the process of adapting to a significant loss can vary from one person to another.
Most people consider grief to be a complex pain that follows the passing of a loved one. But this isn’t exclusively tied to death. Instead, one can experience these intense feelings after a wide range of experiences, such as:
- Breakup or divorce
- Job loss
- Relocating to a new city
- Diagnosis of terminal illness
Sometimes, people feel that labeling their experience as “grief” is inappropriate unless they are mourning the death of someone. But grief is a natural emotion, and the loss of anyone a person heals dear can trigger a mourning period.
Everyone has attachments, and when those bonds are separated, it can be traumatic. Any pet owner would feel depressed and sad if they lost their beloved companion, and still, our society feels hesitant to honor the genuine pain that accompanies such a loss.
Most people believe that “grief” is a single emotion, but it is not. Grief is a complex, multifaceted response to loss. It is composed of many emotions and even physical reactions. It can also create physical symptoms in the body, which include:
- Aches and Pains
- Weight loss or gain
- Heart palpitations
- Nausea or digestive problems
- Shortness of breath and lightheadedness
Psychology Today stated that people are most likely to experience these symptoms for four to six months after a loss.
It is essential to honor your emotions when you’re mourning. However, attempting to minimize your pain will not make it disappear and can exacerbate physical symptoms. Unfortunately, the only way to deal with grief is to experience it.
The Five Stages of Grief
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist from Switzerland, published a book in 1969 entitled “On Death and Dying.” In that book, she wrote the five stages of grief.
Dr. Kübler-Ross conceived of the five stages of grief as a way to explain the progression felt by people who have been diagnosed with terminal diseases. These patients are grieving their lives as they’re attempting to live them.
The grieving process is a set of various emotional phases. These feelings are how human beings process a traumatic loss. Beyond these processes, she also explored how people communicate their grief to others, seeking signs of acceptance.
According to Dr. Kübler-Ross and other psychologists all over the world, the five stages of the grieving process include:
Stage #1: Denial
It is the first stage in which people convince themselves that their traumatic event hasn’t happened or deny its permanence. Sometimes it becomes an attempt to persuade others the event hasn’t occurred, so you can also believe this yourself. But deep inside, you know the truth.
Denial means denying your own pain or sense of loss. For example, after the death of your loved one, maybe you try to act like that loss means nothing to you or doesn’t affect your daily life.
Stage #2: Anger
People often feel angry when they lose a loved one. Breakups often result in an anger phase. So do divorces, amputations, medical diagnoses, deaths, and job terminations.
In this stage, you take your frustrations out on other people or even yourself. As a result, you may feel irritated or moody for weeks, snapping at coworkers or screaming in traffic.
People are often ashamed of anger, but it actually pushes you into healing. It is one of the important stages in recovering from your loss. Always try to release your anger in ways that will not hurt others.
Stage #3: Bargaining
Have you ever said a prayer to your high power and asked them to change something that happened? Or maybe you offered to improve any area of your life and asked for a specific outcome in exchange? This is bargaining.
Bargaining is the belief or hope that you can exchange one set of circumstances for another. For example, you can wish to undo something that has already occurred or prevent a looming deadline.
Stage #4: Depression
Depression is characterized by frequent crying, sadness, loss of appetite, or disrupted sleep. Some people even suffer aches and pain. In addition, your immune system becomes weakened, making you more vulnerable to illness. Unlike clinical depression, this grief-related depression typically passes after some time.
Stage #5: Acceptance
This stage is the period when you understand your loss. You see how much the loved one meant to you. The reality of the loss is rooted, and you no longer try to bargain it away. At this stage, you will see a path to move forward in life.
You will feel peace in your acceptance. But still, you may experience sadness and anger. Accepting a loss doesn’t mean you are no longer sad. Instead, it means you understand the permanence of the situation while continuing to move forward in your life.
How do you know what stage of grief you are in?
This question is so difficult to answer as no to individuals who grieve in the same way and probably do things differently. Grief can’t be organized into tidy stages. It is like a hike through the mountains. Sometimes, it is all uphill, and every step is an effort. Then, you are tired and want to give up. And finally, you sit down and take a rest.
There is not a set of progressing stages for grief. Each journey is unique. You may never experience what another does. There is not a proper way to grieve nor a set period for grief.
It is important to note that everyone copes with loss differently. Sometimes, you may find that you experience all five stages. At the same time, you may also find that it is not easy to classify your feelings into any of the stages. That’s why to have patience with your feelings in dealing with loss.
Allow yourself to process all your emotions, and when you’re ready to speak about it with loved ones or healthcare professionals, do so.