What are common stages of grief?

Different people experience different types of grief. A person is likely to feel a variety of emotions while grieving.

While grief is for everyone a very personal experience, there are often parallels between the experiences of the people.

Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote a book called On Death and Dying in 1969 which introduced the scientific community to the phases of death and dying, or the “one common denominator.” The stages she was talking about became the five stages of grief that many people today recognize.

There’s no way to experience sorrow, however. A person doesn’t automatically go through the stages and end up resolving their grief. The stages may vary, however, and some people may not even experience all the stages of grief.

The following sections explain the commonly accepted stages of grief and how they may vary depending on a person’s type of loss or circumstance.

Stages of grief

Meeting friends or family may help a person cope with grief.

Dr. Kübler-Ross identified five stages of death and dying:

  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • depression
  • acceptance

Initially, the steps were only terms to better explain the death and dying process. Mourning is typically a part of that process, though.

The Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation states that those stages are not linear, and that they have been misunderstood by the public over time. We also note that the book itself is not a research paper, though it is often quoted as such by individuals.

Today, those five stages of mourning are now widely accepted by people and organizations alike. We today use them to describe the feelings a person can experience following loss-involving circumstances such as:

  • the death of a loved one
  • the loss of a job
  • a relationship ending
  • a diagnosis of cancer or another serious illness

The American Cancer Society describe the five stages of grief as follows:

Denial

Denial is typically the first stage of grief which occurs just before or after a loss. Characteristic experiences include anxiety, emotional numbness or shock. During this stage, a person can avoid remembering or conversing with others about the loss.

Anger

By general, people regard rage as the second stage of grief. This may last days, weeks, months, or even longer.

A person may typically experience anger and frustration, which can manifest by various ways. We can, for example:

  • cry
  • feel agitated
  • feel weak
  • engage in activities that are aimless
  • feel lonely
  • feel isolated

Bargaining

Bargaining is typically the third stage of grief, and often is the shortest. A individual can attempt to find sense in the loss during this period, and reach out to others to discuss it.

Acceptance

The final stage of grief, acceptance often happens as a person begins to come to terms with the loss. In most cases they start moving on with their lives and do not care about the loss.

Remember that not everyone is going to go through all the stages of grief. In different times, a person can experience the stages too.

Different situations

There are many situations where a person’s emotional emotions can be clarified through the stages of grief. This can help them understand, for example, that what this feel is normal, and they can help others who want to offer support.

The following sections explain some circumstances where, as well as what to expect, a person can feel grief.

Loss or bereavement

It’s common for a person to feel the grief after a loved one’s loss. Anyone suffering a person’s or pet’s loss can go through all the stages of grief, or may experience only a few of the stages.

It’s not uncommon to deny death to a person who grieves. It is also normal to get angry with the person for dying, or for failing to take adequate precautions to keep healthy.

In other situations, a person may blame for the loss and go through scenarios that might have stopped the person from dying. Depression can also cause the grieving person to have self-doubt and not know how to go on without the victim.

We may finally accept the death and appreciate the time they’ve had with the loved one.

Divorce or breakups

Once a relationship ends, a person can feel grief — especially if the breakup has been unexpected or unwanted. A person may feel like their former partner is just upset during a divorce or separation and will be back to normal the next day, denying the breakup happened.

We may have anger at the other guy, too. A individual who experiences a relationship loss can also go through the negotiation stage. For instance, they could think they could have prevented the breakup if they had spent more time with the person or had better addressed their needs.

One person can even get discouraged and wonder how without the other they’ll go on. Ultimately, they can agree that it was necessary to break up or divorce, and that without the relationship they are better off.

Job loss

A job loss may trigger a response which can include all five stages of grief. A person can feel like their employer made a mistake, and when they come to their senses, they may bring them back.

A person may also start looking back at their job performance and thinking what they might have done differently, or they may think they won’t be able to go forward without their work.

They may finally come to accept that the job wasn’t a good fit for them, and elsewhere they’ll find a better chance.

Bad news

Receiving bad news, like diagnosing a terminal disease, can also cause a person to grieve.

A person may at first reject the news, assuming it can’t be correct. We might get angry with the doctor, family members or others. Depression cycles are common, as well.

Finally, a person may accept the outcome and realize that they still have time with others, or that they can move on from the news that changes life.

Coping

There is no common grievance coping mechanism. A person may find different strategies are working well for them, while others are not helping at all. In order to find one that works it is important to try different strategies.

Some general coping strategies include:

  • reaching out to friends or family for support
  • taking comfort from faith or spirituality
  • joining a support group
  • seeking individual counseling
  • accepting individual feelings and emotions
  • becoming aware of the triggers of the grief
  • exercising often and eating a healthful diet

How to help someone

Some people might feel awkward spending time with a human who is mourning. That’s normal. Not everyone knows how to console someone person instinctively. We may not be in a position to communicate, or may not know what to say or do.

In some situations it can make a difference to just reach out to the grieving person. There is no straightforward way to help another deal with their sorrow. Sometimes a person may want to engage with a friend or loved ones in normal activities. Other people might just want to sit with them in silence.

Outlook

Grief will include several ups and downs, as a person will probably have several emotions to deal with. A person may go through all or only some of the stages of grief, and may not experience all of the stages in the order above. The grieving process also has no timeline.

A grieving person might want to seek help from friends to family, support groups, and individual therapy. A person who supports them will be able to reach out to the person and let them know that they are there to care for them.

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