Understanding the Five Stages of Grief and Loss
Anyone who has gone through grief or loss knows that the experience is emotional, complicated and personal. The emotional aspect is generally understood, yet society often forgets how tremendously complex and individual grief and loss can be. In order to better understand how to cope with grief and loss, it is important to be knowledgeable of the various stages that you or your loved one may go through. As you read on the five different stages of grief and loss, keep in mind that an individual’s experience is as unique as they are. That said, this is not a linear timeline of stages, but rather an informative guide that can be used for assistance and understanding.
Denial functions as a form of numbness as we try to protect ourselves from feeling the reality of the situation at hand. This act of protection is entirely understandable because grief and loss can be quite a shock on a number of levels. Not wanting to feel such intensity, we tend to run from it – mentally, emotionally, and even physically – because it is simply too difficult to accept what is going on internally and externally.
For those that experience forms of numbness, understand that this is normal for some individuals. This does not mean that you or your loved one is careless or apathetic towards the situation. The numbness is merely apart of the process for some. It is extremely important not to force the situation and know that as one acknowledges the situation, the numbness and denial will fade.
In order to fully understand anger, we must first address the fact that our society seems to fear anger more than it accepts it. This fear creates quite a bit of confusion because it is not anger that is destructive. In fact, anger is a heathy part of the healing process. Anger only becomes destructive when it is suppressed and unidentified, for individuals allow it to overcome them as they act out against others.
Considering this, it is extremely important that individuals have a healthy relationship with any anger in their lives. They must be willing to feel it without allowing it to control their actions. The more you are able to truly feel your anger and allow it to be, the more that it will fade as you begin to heal. Establishing a healthy awareness of anger extends beyond the immediate situation as well, for there will certainly be times where your anger is triggered again, and the more you feel it without acting out, the more you’ll realize that you are the one in control, not the anger.
While in the process of grief or loss, individuals often find themselves bargaining in hopes that they can prevent the situation from occurring. In most cases, the bargaining is with a higher power, but it can also take place on a human-to-human level. (ex. “Doctor, please will you try this one last time? I will pay you anything.”)
After a loss, the stage of bargaining often consists of an individual wondering if there was something that they or anyone else could have done to have changed the outcome. A very common phrase in this stage is “If only…” When in this stage, it is important for individuals to realize that these “If only’s” do far more harm than good because they keep you stuck in the past looking for someone to blame for the pain that you are dealing with right now. Again, do not rush the situation, but keep in mind that you must maintain a healthy relationship with these “If only’s” as well, for you can’t let them overcome your mind or life.
Once the bargaining fades and we begin to accept the situation, our mind suddenly becomes focused on the present moment. When this occurs, individuals may find themselves feeling empty and alone. When dealing with these unnatural thoughts and feelings, it is crucial that people and their loved ones understand that depression is not a sign of mental illness or instability. It is merely an appropriate sign of loss. Understand that it is okay to feel depressed. Feeling as though there is something wrong with your emotions will only make things worse.
While acceptance is an important part of all stages of grief, it is essential that people keep in mind that acceptance doesn’t mean that you are okay with the situation. In most situations of grief and loss, the individual never feels perfectly okay with the fact that they lost a loved one. But what genuine acceptance is all about is being open and able to learn how to live with the situation at hand.
Keep in mind that patience is essential throughout any stage of grief or loss. Losing a loved one is hard enough the way it is, so the last thing that you need is to feel pressure or guilty for feeling the way that you do. Remember, these stages are a natural part of grief and loss, but each individual goes through them at different speeds and times. No matter the emotion or situation at hand, be patient with yourself and understand that there is nothing wrong with how you are feeling.
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