Curious about the stages of grief? Did you or a loved one experience some form of loss?
I’m extremely sorry that you had these difficult experiences. Though this phase is unbearable, it’s a common encounter.
You might face it in your personal life or professional life… and the unfortunate incidents always creep up at odd times.
You cry, feel angry, feel wronged, feel drained, and withdraw from others, but nothing hastens the pace of your grieving process. Yes, it’s so personal and intimate and you don’t have much power over it.
If you doubt the right and wrongs about grieving… this think-piece will answer it all.
So, let your emotions flow and get right into it…
Stages of Grief Infographic
What are the stages of grief?
According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s model, there are five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
After the loss of a loved one, people feel unbearable and indescribable pain. However, this pain isn’t simple… it’s so complicated that you may sometimes wonder “Will this ever end? Will I live with this pain for the rest of my life?”
Curious where it all began? Let’s know about its birth from here…
Where did the stages of grief come from?
The five stages of grief of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first came into being in her 1969 book “On Death and Denying”. It was based on her own experience with mourning ill patients and their families.
The Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross defined the various stages of grief model in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying”.
She observed terminally ill patients for years and developed the five stages of grief or the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross model. Though the grief model was initially made for the ill, it’s the same for any other kind of loss.
The five stages of grief are the most popular ones. But there are other models too, like ones with seven stages or even two stages.
Many grief and psychology experts lashed out at this model for the lack of research. However, Kübler-Ross only wanted to make a difference in the patients’ lives and was very clear about the limitations of her book.
Interested more about the different stages? Let’s find it out here…
The 5 stages of grief (five stages of grief)
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was working with terminally ill patients. So, this model was supposed to be called the “five stages of death” because these were common for them.
But she later changed it into five stages of grief because it was the same for any kind of loss. So, let’s know about these…
Stage 1: Denial Stage
This is when you deny or become shocked by the loss. You may find the loss incomprehensible and freeze. You may deny and reassure yourself that everything will be fine.
Theoretically, denial is the first stage of grief. While you’re feeling overwhelmed, denial might ease the pain of loss momentarily. This is a way your brain tries to survive the emotional pain.
It is hard to accept the death of a loved one. Possibly, you spoke to them the previous day or hours back and can’t accept the blow. You don’t want to feel the pain.
During the moment of loss, your mind can’t adjust to the changed reality. You remember the good days you shared with this lost person. You can’t quite comprehend how to live without them.
You can’t process the vast information and the pain. The denial stage slows down this process and helps you take small steps… instead of risking the possibility of feeling overwhelmed with your emotions.
Denial isn’t actually a pretense, it’s a coping and defense mechanism to overcome complicated grief. It gradually numbs you to intense emotions. It’s not wrong, so it’s okay if you don’t snap out of it soon.
In death: The medical staff are mistaken. My loved one’s death is a miscommunication. It didn’t really happen. They’ll soon call me to clear the confusion.
In terminal illness diagnosis: There’s some problem with the report. I’ll get tested once more.
In breakup: They’ll soon regret the breakup, reach out, apologize, and everything will get back like before.
In job loss: My boss will soon offer my position back. Let’s wait until they realize they can’t get a better employee.
This is a natural reaction and a temporary phase when grief first hits you.
While you overcome the denial stage, you face the suppressed emotions slowly. You experience the sorrows you denied. This is when your journey takes you to the next stage.
Stage 2: Anger Stage
In Anger Stage, you feel so angry that you become mean to all people related or unrelated to the situation, yourself, or even strangers. You might even break inanimate objects to relieve your anger.
The following stage of grief is anger – a masking effect. This stage hides the painful emotions you carry. You might express this anger at the people directly related to the grief and even ones who aren’t responsible for it like other friends and strangers.
If a loved one dies, you even get angry at them or direct it on inanimate objects. Though your brain knows that it’s not their fault, you can’t help but search for an outlet.
You only focus on channeling your feelings out of your system. You’re actually scared of the future but you don’t want to admit that. Rather you express your anger about it.
Anger helps you avoid showing vulnerabilities so you choose it over expressing fear. You also save yourself from the fear of judgment and rejection.
Your anger conceals the bitter resentment and it doesn’t happen to many… while some take longer to move on from this.
You express anger quite vividly and this further isolates you from others. You become unapproachable during your vulnerable moments.
This also snatches away the possible comfort, reassurance, and connection… which might actually help your situation.
When the anger lessens, your rational brain activates and you comprehend your real feelings. You feel guilty about being angry mindlessly. Remind yourself that anger is pain and it’s a form of healing.
You’re irritated, anxious, raging, and impatient… and once it’s over you connect with close ones again.
In death: It was your entire fault for not taking care of yourself. Why didn’t you care about yourself or about leaving me all alone?
In terminal illness diagnosis: What did I do to deserve it? It’s all because of them… God doesn’t love me at all.
In breakup: He/she will never have a happy life. They’ll face equal pain. [You might even spew hate speech online or among their friends.]
In job loss: My superiors are the worst. I hope the worst for their career and the company.
Stage 3: Bargaining Stage
This is when you realize that the situation is no longer in your hands. You fumble around to hold on to something, someone, or even higher powers. You want them to undo the damage or loss in return for sacrifices. Or, you simply regret your actions.
In the third stage of grief, bargaining, you hold on to hope even through intense pain. You’re ready to give away anything in exchange for stopping or reversing this loss.
You feel so desperate that you might as well do the impossible. In your mind, you strategize ways to get through and undo the damages. You pray to God and try finding other possible influences over the situation.
You might even feel guilty about your faults and that’s why you’re ready to negotiate the issue. You want to get some control over the situation at any expense.
The deserted feelings make you aware that you have no power but there might be something or someone else who can call the shots.
You even regret doing everything bad to the person that brought you to this situation. Some might even assume that if only they didn’t do certain things a certain way, things would be different.
Though tough, this phase is another way to confront reality and grief.
In death: I wish I cherished you more… You were worth so much joy. If only God returned you by my side… I’d do everything to make life better.
In terminal illness diagnosis: I wish I spoke to health professionals earlier… then I would’ve left a longer life.
In breakup: If only I did better back then. If only I focused on him/her more.
In job loss: My boss would have understood my value if I overworked every day and worked on off days.
Stage 4: Depression Stage
This is when you find that bargaining or regretting now doesn’t work. You feel depressed and low when the loss hits you.
In the fourth stage of grief, depression, you shut down. In the last two stages, you felt hyperactive and ready to fight and blame others or fix and undo the grief.
This stage cools down your zeal or belief that everything is or will be in your control. For most, depression is an inevitable phase while coping with grief.
You know there’s no option left so you forcibly face the reality. The pain of loss becomes more vivid as the misconception of controlling the situation clears.
Until this stage, you tried hard to deny it and find a solution. But this is when the reality slowly sinks that you don’t have control… the reins aren’t in your hands.
You accept the loss slowly and figure out things less aggressively. You begin coping with the loss once you isolate yourself from others. You become less sociable and don’t reach out for help.
However, don’t mistake coping with the loss in this phase is easy. It’s as overwhelming as the other phases.
You still feel uncertain, tired, vulnerable, confused, lose appetite, lose the will to lead life like before, and don’t want to move on from the pain.
It’s usually not as intense as clinical depression and is a regular response to grief.
If you can’t move on from this phase, it might be clinical depression so seek mental health professionals. They will lead you through this coping phase.
Or, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1.800.662.4357 for info on the nearest support and treatment services.
In death: I’m nothing without you. If you don’t return, what’s the point
In terminal illness diagnosis: Is this how my life ends? Is this what I was waiting for?
In breakup: There’s no point living a life without him/her.
In job loss: That job was my only hope. I can’t live on without it. I won’t ever get such a job ever.
Stage 5: Acceptance Stage
This is not a happy phase, i.e., you don’t get over the grief just yet. You feel grateful and optimistic about your future. Acceptance doesn’t mean you can’t revisit other phases.
The last stage of grief in the Kübler-Ross model doesn’t relieve or bring you positive emotions. You still feel the pain but it’s a neutral feeling. It’s not as negative as before.
This is when you come to peace with reality. You understand the meaning of life and look forward to working on what life throws at you.
Your feelings about many things change because of the major shock. You might feel sad and regretful but you’re in terms with the idea of bad incidents and that you have no control over most.
You adjust your life when you acknowledge and learn living with the pain. You may want to reconnect with your friends and family. But withdrawing from time to time is normal too.
You might even experience the other stages of grief. It’s all part of your healing process. Everyone experiences it differently. You might start to feel angry once again or mostly stay in the acceptance phase.
In death: I’m grateful for all the beautiful memories you left me.
In terminal illness diagnosis: In the remaining time I’ve got, I’ll fulfill all of my desires.
In breakup: Everything happened for the best. Let’s focus on the brighter side.
In job loss: I’m confident there are more future opportunities
However, that’s not all because Kübler-Ross worked more on this. So, let’s check the…
7 Stages of Grief
British psychiatrist John Bowlby developed his own grief process. Inspired by that Kübler-Ross erected another popular model. It is the seven stages of grief, aka Kübler-Ross Change Curve. This is an extension of the five stages of grief.
Here the stages overlap with one another.
1. Shock and Denial
In the first stage of grief, you can’t believe the reality. You feel numb from the intense and paralyzing pain and surprise. You look for proof to confirm whether it’s a prank or dream… or if it’s reality.
Your thoughts go like “This is not possible. This is a bad dream… or a mistake. Things will get better soon.”
2. Pain and Guilt
In the next part of the grieving process, you feel as if this pain is intolerable. You react to it in all sorts of ways but you feel guilty that you’re an inconvenience to your close ones. You feel guilty for demanding so much due to the painful feelings.
You feel “That’s so selfish and messed up. How can this happen?”
3. Anger and Bargaining
In the third stage of grief, you feel angry at both loved ones and strangers. You despise God for punishing you like this. Then you begin bargaining with all the possible influences of the world – even God – and promise to sacrifice anything if they undid the loss.
You contemplate thoughts like “If only life/they gave me another chance, I’ll do anything to fix this.”
In the depressive stage, you isolate yourself, feel lonely, lack energy and motivation, and feel too sad to live… while you process the loss and reflect on it.
You back off and promise “That’s the end, I won’t try anymore in life. What’s the point?”
5. The uphill turn
In this stage, the pain and anger lessen and you’re much more relaxed and stable.
You start to feel “It’s hard, but this is an even better time. I’ll make the best of what I have now.”
6. Reconstruction and Working through
In the sixth stage of grief, you start building your life bit by bit. You test ways to live your new life in a new way and try to understand the meaning of life. You have budding positivity about learning to live and manage.
You go into deep thoughts like “Since this is it, I better take my life lessons seriously. This is the time to enlighten me.”
7. Acceptance and Hope
In the last stage of grief and loss, you gradually accept the new way to live life. You look forward to what life has in store for you. You reflect on the life lessons and begin your new journey as a brand-new person.
You confidently believe “This is just the beginning of a better time. I’ll make it work for sure.”
But Kubler wasn’t the only one to get inspiration. So, let’s check out the…
Additional Models for stages of grief
John Bowlby’s research also focused on emotional connections between parents or caregivers and children.
In his research, he mentioned that children’s attachment to their loved ones in the early stages shapes their lives and sense of safety and security.
Based on Bowlby’s attachment theory, another British Psychiatrist – Colin Murray Parkes – defined another grief process with four stages. This revolves mainly around responses to loss of loved ones. The stages are…
1. Shock and Numbness
Loss feels unacceptable during this phase. It’s similar to Kübler-Ross’s Denial phase. You feel overwhelmed with your emotions while coping with the loss. You may also experience some physical signs of stress.
Your feelings are like: “They can’t leave me… it’s impossible”.
2. Yearning and Searching
In this part of the grieving process, you seek comfort to fill in your lost loved one’s void. You may relive memories with pictures, videos, and mementos. You try connecting to them through objects.
You think about that lost loved one throughout this phase.
You feel: “I miss those moments. I wish to return to them once again.”
3. Despair and Disorganization
In the third stage, you feel angry and question the meaning of everything. You realize that the lost one won’t ever return. When the reality sinks in, you lose hope all over and can’t understand the reality.
Your thoughts wander all over the place without a purpose. You may also become distant from your family and friends.
Your question: “What’s the meaning of human connections if they’ll leave me alone? I better not love another soul again”.
4. Reorganization and Recovery
This is when you restore hope in life, similar to Kübler-Ross’s Acceptance. You still long for the lost loved one and feel sad… but you’re one step closer to healing. You reconnect with others and begin to lead a somewhat normal life.
You have faith and feel: “No point being in a world and not cherishing the good parts. Let’s enjoy the love life gives me”.
But when does grief hit the hardest? Let’s check the…
Situations when a person may experience grief
In particular situations, you may undergo all the five stages of grief. You’re bound to undergo extreme emotional pain and feel incapable of handling them. Your brain numbs you and slows down the realization of pain into five stages in these situations…
1. When a loved one dies
Whether it’s a person or a pet, after their loss you deny their death. You feel angry at them for dying on you.
You may blame yourself for not being more mindful and fantasizing about alternate possibilities… where you’re more careful and they’re alive.
Soon, you feel incapable of continuing without them. And lastly, you accept it all and feel grateful for the good times.
2. When you separate from a loved one
If your partner calls off the relationship unexpectedly, it’s a huge shock. Naturally, you think it’s a joke and they’ll change their mind. Maybe after a night’s sleep, it will become normal.
Then you feel angry for leaving you. But then doubts plague you and regret not being a better partner. Soon, you take the blame for the separation and feel you can’t live on without them.
Lastly, you accept the breakup and believe you’re better off this way.
3. When you lose a job
Initially, you feel it’s a mistake… perhaps your boss meant to fire someone else. Or, they misevaluated you and will soon ask you to resume your duties.
You may hate your boss and the organization momentarily. Then you might re-evaluate your performance yourself and wish that you worked harder. You might feel you can’t do without this job.
In the end, you understand that you weren’t suitable for the job and you’ll find better opportunities soon.
4. When you’re terminally ill
At first, you don’t believe it or think it’s a joke. You doubt the validity of the diagnosis and feel angry at your doctor or even your loved ones. You may feel depressed and eventually, you accept it.
You look forward to spending the remaining days with your loved ones.
But does everyone feel the same grief? Let’s clear out the confusion here…
Types of grief
Everyone’s grieving method is different. Some might take longer than others. Some might not experience the stages in order. Some might not feel anything and accept it. All of them are normal and completely valid.
Every individual grieves differently so you may not go through all the five stages. Even if you do you may not go experience the phases sequentially.
The route of grief is often hazy. You may skip between the same phases to and fro. Or, you may complete one cycle and repeat it all over.
You may grieve for longer in one stage but move past another stage quickly. You might take weeks and someone else might take years to cope with grief and loss.
Despite your pace, you’re moving at a perfectly normal pace for yourself. Nobody experienced pain like yours, so don’t feel bad for taking “too much” or “too less” time.
Though that’s not all, there are many more assumptions about this. Let’s know more here…
Common misconceptions about grief
After reading this think piece, many might misunderstand the grief process. Dealing with grief isn’t a straightforward or simple way. Grief is complicated and nobody must make assumptions about it.
However, people still do and act on it. So, let’s clear the misconceptions here…
1. This isn’t the ONLY way to grieve
Many people think there’s a particular way to grieve and everyone must follow it. Some people force others to follow it in a certain way. But there’s no right or wrong way of grieving.
Remember, it’s your pain… the best and the correct way to grieve is how you do it. Not how someone else did.
2. I must feel…
Everyone doesn’t feel the same… your emotions will differ from someone else’s.
In denial, you might be just shocked rather than denying. You might be angry at strangers more than the deceased person in the anger stage. You might feel more irritated than sad in a depressive stage.
Each stage is named something… but that doesn’t mean that’s the only possible emotion in that phase. Your emotions may not be as vivid either.
Your healing experience is unique to others so don’t restrict your emotions.
3. This is the first phase
There’s no particular order of experiencing grief. You may accept the loss and randomly go back to denial or anger. You may begin with bargaining, go back to denial, jump between the two phases for a while.
You might feel hopeful today and anxious the next. It can be in a zig-zag route. There’s no meaning that you’ll linearly follow the stages from 1 to 5. All of it is natural and you’re healing through it.
4. I’m taking too much time
Your connection… to a job, your life, or another person… is different from how your friend connects to the same things. You may take longer depending on how uncalled-for a situation is.
Someone might take hours to get over it. Someone might take years.
Some people might not feel it at a stretch. They’ll experience the feelings intermittently. Sometimes they’ll feel it too strongly. Other times they won’t feel it at all.
However, if you doubt something is wrong… the emotions are staying for way too long, are growing intense and you feel it frequently… that’s your cue to seek expert aid.
5. I’m depressed
Experiencing the depressive stage of grief isn’t the same as clinical depression. You may have similar symptoms, but don’t jump to conclusions that it’s serious.
Depression in grief has other purposes… it makes you numb to the pain and it decreases the intensity and frequency of sorrows. You might feel joy from the good memories.
In clinical depression, the negative feelings increase with time. It destroys your confidence and hardly any thought brings you joy.
But of course, you might get clinical depression while grieving, so reach out if you’re doubtful.
Clinical depression isn’t the only moment when you need help. Let’s find it all here…
When to reach out for help when you’re grieving?
While grieving you may reach out for help from friends, family, support groups, professional experts, or anyone else you trust. But many are unsure about when to reach out. They fear others’ judgment because nobody around them ever asked for help.
However, never ignore your needs in these situations…
1. You can’t concentrate in your daily life like school or work
2. You experience physical pain or distress
3. You don’t feel like doing necessary things for living, like consuming food or medicines, or taking care of yourself in any form.
4. You feel the sadness more frequently and intensely every day
5. You wanted to hurt others or yourself
6. You feel unsure about coping with grief
7. You feel unsure or afraid of others’ thoughts
8. You become too irritated to the point of neglecting and hurting others. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 or text the Crisis Text Line “HOME” at 741741 if you or a loved one considers self-harm.
9. You have too much on your plate and can’t manage it. For instance, became a single parent or became a sole responsible person for an elder but don’t have resources
10. Someone convinced you that you’re grieving wrong and forced you to grieve faster or slower.
If someone else is grieving and you wanna help, that’s also possible. Let’s know from here…
How to help when others are grieving (Treatment of Grief)
When a loved one grieves, you feel pained and want to soothe them. However, more often than not, you feel unsure whether they really want you around. Even if they want you, you don’t know how to soothe them. I know, the uncertainties intimidate you. But work through these and support them…
1. Reach out to show they got you
Sometimes you might feel unsure whether the other person will be open to talking about it. You might worry that they might misunderstand you.
But understand that this fear and intimidation is stopping you from helping a person in need. Be confident about your aim and tell them how you feel. And that you want to stand beside them.
Invite them over if they’re open to the idea. Don’t force the sharing and caring down their throat. They’ll only distance themselves from you.
2. Listen without rescue instincts
The best thing you can do is listen to the grieving person. You might also want to share consoling words, but sometimes they might react negatively… because you’re not the one experiencing it.
So, don’t try to show them the bright sides. When it’s time, they’ll eventually notice them. Don’t try to humor them or show them hope.
Despite your good intentions, they’ll feel unheard… which destroys the entire point.
3. Help them practically without forcing
This person needs help, but how will you do that?
Many people force the grieving person to hasten the process. They force them to express all their emotions and get done with it. Don’t do that… give them time to process their feelings. They won’t get over it if you force them.
Rather, help them practically in life. Share some household chores and responsibilities… like taking care of their children, cooking, feeding, cleaning, shopping, and only if they don’t mind and you can… share their expenses.
4. Don’t guess and assume
You know about the possible stages of grief… but don’t guess which stage a person is in. Don’t try to dissect their feelings with how they react or look for symptoms of grief in others.
Human beings can cover their emotions quite well. A person might not be depressed when they look haggard. They might smile even through the pain.
If you make one wrong step and suggest calculated advice based on your observations… you might ruin the relationship. So, let them express themselves and then work on it.
5. Look up for resources
At some point, the grieving person will be ready to seek more help. Don’t wait for that moment and seek the best support groups, insurance companies, or even mental health experts for grief counseling.
If you talk to them beforehand, this will save the griever time, effort, and energy. Some popular supports are GriefShare Support Groups, Helping Kids Grieve: Toolkit, and The Compassionate Friends: Supporting Family After a Child Dies.
Possibly there are more questions in your mind. So, let’s get right into the…
FAQs about stages of grief
The stages of grief are so complicated that new questions may arise even in the coming decades. Human emotions are much more complicated than a model.
You’ll probably have even more questions about it. However, let’s clear the common and frequent ones first…
The five stages of grief help you understand the reactions of the griever during the losses. However, everyone is unique and reacts differently. The five stages are all that it says… they’re stages.
If someone doesn’t follow the stages accordingly or doesn’t experience the stage at all, it doesn’t make anything wrong.
After Kübler-Ross built the five stages, many other grief models were developed. The presence of different models proves that there are different ways to experience grief.
The idea of “growing around your grief” doesn’t have any set stages of grief. As per this idea, you feel grief is simple… and with time you feel its intensity lowers.
The human brain is very complicated so everyone experiences grief in their own unique ways. You might begin with anger followed by denial and then bargaining.
You might not experience it in any order or even not feel any stages at all. You may even linger in denial for years and then skip to acceptance.
It’s all possible and normal so don’t focus on the stages. Rather, focus on relieving yourself or your loved one.
Other than someone’s death, your terminal illness, a breakup, or a job loss… there are certainly more situations like when a project ends, you fail to achieve a dream, you leave your hometown, you change schools or workplace, you enter a new age bracket, or even during pandemic quarantining.
It’s more about a transition in your life than a loss of your life. Your grief doesn’t need to revolve around “socially valid” reasons.
While grieving, nobody is in their right mind. Usually, nobody notices that something is wrong with them. So, I don’t judge you if you didn’t even think about it. However, if you wanna, I’m glad…
Take time: Grieving is a natural process so depend on time and believe in the process you experience. Not some rules in a book. Express your pain how you want to.
Talk with others: Try to stay in touch with your loved ones. They might find you unapproachable but also want to support you. This isn’t the time to isolate yourself.
Care for yourself: Exercising, eating, sleeping, maintaining hygiene… do all of it regularly and ensure you’re healthy both physically and emotionally.
Do what instills joy: This one might sound odd… doing happy actions is the last thing on your mind. But, try it to simply fix your mood.
Reach out to support groups: Learn about other grievers’ journeys. You’ll find a sense of relief knowing someone else experienced similar incidents.
A word from ThePleasantMind
If you want to understand grief, then the shortest way is accepting “Grief is different for everyone”. It’s such an intimate coping method to overcome the loss.
Some people binge-eat to cope with grief and some get drug and alcohol addiction. No two people have the same life experiences, opportunities, and capabilities. So, their reactions always vary.
So, how grief looks is always different for different people. Whether you feel grief or a loved one does, reach out and express your heart well.
If things look too gloomy, seek therapists. It doesn’t matter if many people worked through it without professional help… focus on your healing journey, rather than others.
Surabhi has a deep passion for words. She puts her heart and mind into whatever she pursues and craves for creative ventures. She has always been keen on creating original content that can make a difference. In her experience as a content writer, she has had the opportunity to work on several fields with Psychology being her favorite. Surabhi says, words have the power to transform the world, better than a sword. So she hopes to contribute her bit to this revolution. At ThePleasantConversation, she feels lucky to have the opportunity to share content capable of bringing about a change in the lives of the readers.