Five stages of grief (Explained)

Losing a loved one can induce unimaginable pain and suffering.

Understandably, grief is complex and sometimes those who grieve wonder if the pain will ever end.

They go through a lot of emotions which include anger, confusion, and disappointment.

There are many different kinds of grief. Grief may be precipitated by difficult situations, relationships, or maybe substance abuse.

Children can also grieve a divorce, a wife may grieve the death of her husband, a teenager may grieve the ending of a relationship, or you can grieve the potential loss of a life after receiving a diagnosis of a terminal illness. 

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described five common stages of grief, popularly called DABDA.

These five stages of grief are common feelings that we face after the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and subsequently acceptance.

What are the five stages of grief? 

1.    Denial

The first stage in this theory, denial can help us limit the overpowering pain of loss.

It may be tough to accept the truth that we have lost an important person in our lives, especially if we have just spoken to them the previous week or even day.

It can take our mind a while to adjust to this new truth.

Denial, or pretending the loss did not happen, is not always the best way to minimize our pain.

It is, however, one of the ways in which we try to absorb and comprehend what has happened. 

If you lose a loved one, you will probably spend time reflecting on experiences you have shared with this person and are wondering how you will move forward without him or her.

These emotions can be extremely painful and overwhelming, and denial tries to slow this process down.

The stage of denial helps us take the processing of a major loss one step at a time.  

2.    Anger

It is extremely commonplace for humans to experience anger after the loss of a loved one.

We are trying to get used to a new reality and are probably experiencing intense emotional discomfort.

Anger is an emotional outlet for grief and is the second stage of the five. 

Sometimes being angry is easier than being vulnerable. Anger allows us to feel and express emotion without worrying about being judged or rejected.

Remember, it is okay to be vulnerable and to show emotion instead of hiding behind a mask of anger.

Unfortunately, anger tends to be the first emotion people experience while they begin to express emotions associated with loss.

This can result in feelings of isolation in your experience.

If you are currently in the anger stage of grief, it is helpful to let people in and console you, connect with you, or comfort you. 

3.    Bargaining

It is not unusual when handling loss to do whatever it takes to lessen the pain and suffering. 

When the bargaining stage begins to take place, you might start praying to god or whatever higher power you believe in (if any) in the hopes that you may be able to change the outcome that has occurred.

During this stage, there is an acute awareness of our humanness in these moments while we recognize that there is nothing we can do to change what happened to a better outcome.

This feeling of helplessness can cause us to react in protest with the help of bargaining, which gives us a perceived sense of manipulation over something that feels so out of our control.

While bargaining you might also tend to focus on your own faults or any regrets you may have.

You might look back and analyze all your interactions and memories with the person you lost and ruminate on the times when you felt disconnected or angry with that person.

You may remember something you said to that person that you didn’t mean and try to convince yourself that if things had played out differently, you would not be in such terrible emotional pain. 

4.    Depression

During the journey of processing grief, there comes a time when our imaginations subside, and we slowly begin to take a look at the truth of our current state of affairs.

Bargaining no longer feels like an option and we are faced with what is really happening.

We begin to feel the loss of our loved one to an even greater degree. 

As our panic and shock start to subside and the emotional fog starts to lift, the loss feels like an even greater unavoidable burden and a period of depression may set in.

During these times, it might be easier to retreat into our own thoughts, become less sociable, and isolate than to reach out to others for help.

Dealing with despair after the loss of a loved one can be extraordinarily isolating.

5.    Acceptance

When you come to a place of acceptance, it is not that you no longer feel the pain of loss.

However, you are no longer resisting the truth of the state of affairs and are not trying to make it something different.

Sadness and regret will probably still be there in this stage, but the emotional survival processes of denial, bargaining, and anger are less likely to be present.

These stages follow in a circle as shown in picture given below:

What are the symptoms of grief?

Your grief symptoms may manifest physically, socially, or spiritually.

Some of the most common signs of grief are listed below:

Ø  Crying

Ø  Headaches

Ø  Difficulty Sleeping

Ø  Questioning the Purpose of Life

Ø  Questioning Your Spiritual Beliefs (e.g: your belief in God)

Ø  Feelings of Detachment

Ø  Isolation from Friends and Family

Ø  Abnormal Behavior

Ø  Worry

Ø  Anxiety

Ø  Frustration

Ø  Guilt

Ø  Fatigue

Ø  Anger

Ø  Loss of Appetite

Ø  Aches and Pains

Ø  Stress

Are there different types of grief? 

Although the five stages of grief are important and a good rule of thumb, people grieve in many different ways and may not go through each of these stages or in this order.

The lines of these stages are very blurry blurred—we may also transition from one stage to another and go back to an earlier stage before moving on to the next one. 

There is also no specified timeframe for the five stages of grief and when someone should complete them.

One person might go through the five stages in a matter of weeks, while another person may take months or even years.

Any amount of time that a person needs to grieve and go through these stages is perfectly normal. 

Your pain is unique to you, your relationship to the individual you lost is special and specific to you, and thus the emotional processing can be different for every individual.

You do not need to act or feel a certain way; you are entitled to feel however you feel. 

People often misinterpret others feelings and state in the future. This is called Affective Forecasting.

Emotions and feelings are very unpredictable and uncertain. Someone who’s in grief might not be in the same state a few years later.

Thus, making definite statements about their feelings will not change anything.

How can I support someone who is grieving? 

It can be extremely difficult to know what to say to a person who has experienced a profound loss.

You should do your best to provide genuine comfort to the person, however, your efforts may still be inadequate and unhelpful.

One thing to bear in mind is that the person that is grieving does not need to be fixed. In our efforts to be helpful, we tend to try to rescue people from their pain so they will feel better.

We offer uplifting, hopeful feedback or maybe attempt to offer them humor to help ease their pain.

Although the intention is good, this approach can leave people feeling as if their pain is not seen, heard, or valid.

Don’t Force It

Another sometimes unsuccessful method of supporting a grieving person is forcing them to talk about their pain when they are not yet ready.

Even if your intentions are to help them process their emotions faster, this can be an obstacle in their healing process. 

Make Yourself Available

One of the most useful things you can do is to offer space for people to grieve.

In doing this, we are letting the person know that we are available and there whenever they are ready to talk.

We can just offer a listening ear or shoulder to lean on when they are going through any of the stages of grief. 

Ø  Denial

Ø  Anger

Ø  Bargaining

Ø  Depression

Ø  Acceptance

Are there specific treatments to help with grief? 

Counseling and medication are the most common and effective treatments for grief.

Initially, your doctor might prescribe you medications that will help you function optimally during this difficult time.

These may include sedatives, antidepressants, or anti-anxiety medications to help you get through the day.

Also, your doctor might prescribe you medication that will help you sleep. Treating a grieving person with medication has been controversial in the medical field.

Some doctors feel that they are doing a disservice to your grieving process if they prescribe you medication because they think you will not experience the grief to the fullest extent. 

Counseling is a better technique in the treatment of grief.

Support groups, bereavement groups, or psychological counseling can help you work through unresolved grief.

If you are having trouble functioning and need some support to get back on track, these are very beneficial options.

Counseling does not “cure” you of your loss; rather, it helps you gain coping strategies to help you effectively address your grief.

The Kubler-Ross Model is a tried and true guideline but there is no right or wrong way to work through the grieving process.

If you or a loved one is having a difficult time dealing with grief, seek treatment from a health professional or mental health provider.

Call a doctor right away if you are having thoughts of suicide, feelings of detachment for more than a few weeks, or if you notice a sudden exchange in behavior. 

This blog article discussed the five stages of grief and options to reach out to for help, as well as effective strategies to support someone who is grieving.

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the five stages of grief: 

1.    Are there 5 or 7 stages of grief?

Although we just discussed the five stages of grief, some people think there are seven.

These include shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. 

2. Who created the five stages of grief?

Elisabeth Kubler Ross first identified the five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying in 1969. 

3.    Can you die from grief?

You might have heard that someone “died of a broken heart”.

While dying solely because of grief is exceptionally rare, your grief may exacerbate pre existing cardiac conditions.

Want to learn more about the five stages of grief?

Try these recommended readings!

On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss

This book is a commemorative edition of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s final book and combines case studies, wisdom, and the author’s own experiences on how the grieving process helps us live the rest of our lives with a loss.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross died in 2004, and before her death she and David Kessler completed On Grief and Grieving, which explores the way we experience and process grief.

This book combines discussions about the five stages of grief with sections on sadness, hauntings, dreams, isolation, and healing. 

The Mindfulness Journal: Daily Practices, Writing Prompts, and Reflections for Living in the Present Moment

Journaling is a great way to process grief. It is also a great stress release whether you are dealing with mental health issues, heartbreak, a problem at work, or any other life stressor, this journal is for you.

This Mindfulness Journal can easily be added into your daily routine and can serve as an outlet for stress-reduction that will help you appreciate every single day and moment.

It includes 365 daily writing prompts divided into 52 weekly mindfulness topics. The prompts are extremely unique, fun, and engaging, so you will never get bored while journaling.

Additionally, each prompt is on its own separate page so you will have more than enough room for reflection and to write down all of your thoughts, big or small.

Although it is suggested to journal once a day, you can spend as much or as little time as you want on each prompt. 

References

The 5 Stages of Grief & Loss. PsychCentral. November 20th, 2019. 

The Five Stages of Grief. Very Well Mind. March 21st, 2020. 

What You Should Know About the Stages of Grief. Healthline. 2020. 

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