If you want support to learn how to process a loss, here are the 5 stages of grief people go through as they heal and move on.
The thing about grief is it never looks the same, even within the same person. Dealing with loss has various facets to it, including the type of connection you had to the person or thing and your level of mental strength when the grief hits.
Still, predictable patterns will happen, although their intensity and timing change from person to person and loss to loss. While not always in order, these “stages” occur in every person at some level, and you may go through some of them multiple times throughout your life.
Mental health treatment can teach you how to use strategeies to deal with these patterns, known as the 5 stages of grief.
Here, we’ll dig into these stages and how learning about them is a powerful tool that will help you process your loss.
Within the 5 stages of grief, it’s common to think you’re out of one and find yourself back in it. But the first stage, denial, is frequently only visited once. During this stage, you’re trying to absorb the fact of the loss and process it.
It may seem like you’re trying to “deny” the loss happened, but the reality is that this stage is necessary to help minimize the shock and pain. Denial is your buffer between the intense wound that you are feeling and survival. Your life has had a significant, possibly unexpected, shift, and your mind needs a little time to accept this change.
When reality kicks in, and denial lets go of its security blanket over your emotions, anger is the first one to show up. This stage is your way of expressing your feelings of fear in a way that you feel more comfortable with. No one likes to be scared, but we understand anger.
The downside of this stage is that we often push others away because of our strong emotions. It’s important to recognize when you’re angry because you’re dealing with grief and not because the person you’re taking it out on has done something wrong.
Think back to a time when you really wanted something, and another person had control over the results. You likely tried to use bargaining techniques to get your way. This same idea applies in grief, but instead of person-to-person, you begin to bargain with God/the universe/your belief system.
During this stage, you offer promises like, “If you just do this thing, I promise I’ll never be bad again!” In short, though, bargaining is where we recognize that we’re human, mortal, and helpless, and we have no control of life and death.
The understanding of helplessness naturally segues into the fourth stage, depression. While in your bargaining stage, you spent time remembering all the good things about the person or thing you lost and the situations when you took them for granted. Now, you have to face the reality of the loss, plus the memories of your interactions.
This turns into sadness, making us self-isolate while we’re dealing with the emotions. If you do this for too long, it can become extended depression, which is very difficult to get out of without help. However, once you can pull yourself out of that sorrow, you land in the next and final stage, acceptance.
In acceptance, you may still feel sad about your loss. The pain doesn’t go away, but the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression do. You accept your new reality, and you begin to adjust your life to continue without the person or thing you lost.
This is the ultimate goal in grief, but you can’t rush yourself to get there. Giving yourself time to deal with each stage and resolve it cleanly makes it more likely that you won’t regress back into it.
The mental awareness that therapy is the most effective way to handle grief may help you take action and get the tools you need to reach acceptance in a healthy way.
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