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5 Stages of Grief & 3 Tips to Remember

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10 months ago

The pain we feel after the loss of a loved one can be intense. Understandably, the subject of grief is broad, and most times, it appears as the end in sight of our pains is unrealistic. We experience so many emotional stresses like sadness, confusion, and anger.

Types of Grief:

Put it at the back of your mind that people go through it differently regarding the different grief cycles. Also, we may not grieve in the exact order listed here. Most times, the lines separating these grief stages are not clear cut – we may go from one grief stage to another and even back to the former phases of grief again before finally entering a new one.

For some people, these grief stages may come very fast, while in other people, it could be slower. 

The relationship you had with the deceased is unique to only you, and so is your pain. It makes sense that your emotional processing, courtesy of their departure, is unique to you. It is normal to take your time and discard any expectation of what you should do and not do as you come to terms with your grief.

Some anger theories:

Even though the grief theory out forward by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is a popular model of bereavement and grief, there are some other theories that you should also know.

All of these theories work in concert to describe the blueprint of how we perceive and process grief. Experts on the subject of bereavement and grief use these models to help the bereaved. Also, they use it to provide helpful information to workers in the medical profession to help them manage bereaved families better.

Grief + Attachment Theory

John Bowlby, a renowned psychologist, based his research on the emotional attachment between children and their parents. According to him, early attachment experiences with loved ones, like mothers and caregivers are crucial in shaping how we perceive connections, security, and safety. 

Colin Murray, a British psychologist, designed a grief model based on the attachment theory proposed by John Bowlby. His theory postulates that there are four stages of grief we encounter when we lose someone close to us:

Numbness and Shock  

In this stage, we find the reality of our loss unacceptable to us. We are overwhelmed without our emotions as we try to cope with it. At this stage, we experience physical distress, and this can also result in some physical symptoms.

1. Searching + Yearning

As we contemplate our misfortune in this stage, we may start yearning for comfort and reassurance to fill the feeling of emptiness the bereaved left in us. We might attempt to do this by reflecting on the fondest memories we have of them. It is at this stage that we become engrossed with our thoughts about the bereaved.

2. Disorganization and Despair 

We may feel angry and question ourselves at this stage. Coming to terms with the reality that the deceased will not come back to us becomes real, and we may find it hard to understand this. This stage is also characterized by feelings of aimlessness and secluding ourselves from others to digest our pain.

3. Recovery and Reorganization 

At this stage, hope may be restored in our minds and hearts. According to this stage of Kübler-Ross’s grief theory, longing for the deceased and sadness do not just vanish. But instead, we tend to move towards reconnecting with others and healing. This will help us lead better lives in the future. 

The Five Stages of Grief:

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a psychiatrist, developed a theory that states that humans experience five different grief stages when they lose a relative, friend, or acquaintance: Denial, Anger, Depression, and Acceptance. 

Stage One: Denial 

Denial, the first phase of the grief theory proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, helps us mitigate the pain we experience when we first heard of the departure of a loved one. As reality begins to dawn on us, we’ll try to find ways of surviving the pain we feel. It is hard to believe that we have lost a loved one, especially if we got in touch with them recently.

Our acceptance of facts has completely shifted during the process of this loss. Our mind will need some time to harmonize with this existing reality. We’ll reflect on those moments we had with the deceased, and we may not find it easy to move on with our lives.  

Usually, there are many details to reflect on and several hurting images to process. The reason why we these stages of denial of a loved one when we first hear it is to help us slow down the aforementioned process so that our emotions will not overwhelm us. 

Denying the death of a loved one does not only help us act as it did not occur. It also helps us understand and absorb the reality before us.

Stage Two: Anger 

Anger is a common emotion that comes to us when we lose some close to us. We attempt to harmonize what occurred with the existing reality before us, and intense emotional discomfort is almost inevitable. We have a lot to come to terms with, and the feeling of anger may be one useful outlet to discharge the pent-up emotional stress in us.

Note that the feeling of anger does not require us to be so susceptible. Nevertheless, it appears to be more acceptable socially than accepting that we are afraid. Anger lets us express our grief without much fear of rejection or judgment.

Sadly, anger is the first emotion we experience as we begin to free ourselves of loss-related emotions. It can result in you feeling secluded in your grief and thought about as unfriendly by others during the times when their reassurance, connection, and comfort means a lot to us.
Stage Three: Bargaining 

As we adjust to the loss of a loved one, it is not uncommon to experience the desperation of doing just anything to minimize or mitigate the pain. The loss can make us think about avoiding the pain we’re feeling or the pain we expect to experience due to the loss. There are different ways that we attempt to carry out this bargain.

It comes with different promises such as:

  • God, I will be a better person if you give her a second chance at life.
  • I will spend more time with my family if you leave them here with me.

We often place our bargains at the feet of a stronger influence or superior being as we start bargaining. There’s keen consciousness of our humanity during these periods as we come to terms with the fact that it is not within our power to shift the outcome in our favor.

This experience of powerlessness can lead us to act in objection by bargaining. At least, this confers us with a measure of power over what seems to be beyond our control. Also, we’re going to concentrate on our regrets or personal faults. We may flashback on our moments with the deceased and recall when we made them feel pain or got detached from them. 

It is normal to remember the moments when we spoke harshly to them and wish we can embark on time travel and speak to them nicely. We may also make the radical conjecture that had things happened; differently, we will not be in so much emotional pain.

 

Stage Four: Depression 

As we deal with our grief, there will be periods when our thoughts will drift less randomly, and we will gradually begin to process the reality of our current situation. We will no longer feel the urge to bargain as reality has finally dawned on us.

We begin to experience the pain of losing the deceased profusely. The mental fog will start fading as our panic starts to fall, and the loss of our loved one feels unavoidable and present.

Even though this is a common grief stage, handling depression after losing a loved one can be isolating. 

In these periods, we will crawl inside our shell as our grief increases. We may become increasingly hostile and may not want to interact with others concerning our predicament. Although this stage is natural, handling depression after the death of a loved one is reclusive. 

 

Stage Five: Acceptance 

When we finally accept our loss, we will no longer resist our temptation to control or modify our circumstances. This is what some may know as “closure”: the cycle of healing an emotional wound.

We may still experience regret and sadness at this stage, but the emotionally-driven strategies of denial, anger, and bargaining will likely not exist anymore.

 

3 tips on helping a loved one (or yourself!) overcome grief:

It is often hard to know the right words to say or actions to take to console a bereaved. We try our best to bring consolation to them, but it can sometimes feel unhelpful or inadequate.

Below are some tips you should know: 

1. Shun fixing or rescuing

Note that the bereaved do not need any fixation. We may speak hopeful and uplifting words in an attempt to ease the grieving party of pain. Even though the purpose of such a move is reasonable, this method may make the bereaved believe that their pain is not valid, heard, or seen. 

2. Don’t Force Anything

We can be so anxious to help the bereaved ease his/her pain that we think that pushing them to talk and express their pain will help them heal faster. This is not necessarily true, and sometimes, it can be a blockade that hinders them from healing.

3. Avail Them (Yourself)

Make room for people to release their grief-driven emotions. This allows the bereaved to understand that you are accessible to them when they feel it is convenient to relate. We can encourage them to talk to us but do not forget to provide validation and understanding if they still not ready to talk to you.

In closing, it is crucial to know that people respond to grief differently. While it is true that you may have gone through all of the five stages of grief listed above, it may be hard for you to categorize what you experience into any of these grief stages. Be patient with your feelings and yourself when you are handling the loss of a loved one.

Give your friends or yourself  time to deal with every emotion growing and think about productive outlets to release them in like singing, painting, exercising or helping others. Find someone you enjoy talking to and let them know how you feel. If you are caring for a bereaved, there is no specific thing that you need to do but to give them the space to talk about their pains and experience when they are ready to do so.

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