Grief can creep into our lives with different masks. It could be a breakup, death of a loved one, losing a job or any other sad incident no matter how small. The thing is, life has ups and downs. It can’t always be happy moments. In a funny way, without bad days, life wouldn’t be worthwhile. But, when those bad days come, do you know how to navigate around them? If you’ve been feeling stuck with grief and unable to get out, this is for you. To escape grief, you need to understand which stage you are stuck at; Let’s talk about the five main stages of grief, as coined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
Stage 1: Denial
Denial is basically when we don’t want to experience grief yet, or we simply don’t want to believe that there is a reason to grieve, so we lie to ourselves. We pretend like it’s not there. No matter how many situations raise questions in our minds, we choose to silence it. As odd as it may sound, this is an equally as important stage when it comes to grief. It’s hard to believe that things changed for the worse, and our brain knows that. That’s why it cancels out the grief temporarily to protect us. It’s our brain’s attempt to protect us from feeling overwhelmed, shocked or scared.
If you find yourself always making excuses for someone, or ignoring clear signs you’re either sensing or having others point out, you may be stuck in the denial phase. In order to start healing, you need to be honest with yourself. You’ll eventually have to allow yourself to grief, it’s inevitable if you want to heal. So, the first thing you can do is start asking yourself the hard questions and know to your core that this is what’s best for you.
Stage 2: Anger
Of course, the most infamous stage. Masking our sadness with anger is something we all do, whether it’s intentional or subconscious. We cling towards anger because it’s an emotion that doesn’t require us to be vulnerable in order to express, and is generally socially acceptable. Perhaps, even more acceptable than expressing our fears sometimes .
If you find yourself getting angry when you talk or think about a recent loss, remember that anger is a secondary emotion. If screaming on top of a mountain or punching a pillow helps you, then great. Let it out. The thing about anger is that the more you allow yourself to feel it, the more it begins to dissipate, which leaves more room for you to heal . Just make sure that after you do so, you check in with yourself or talk to someone about how you’re truly feeling.
Stage 3: Bargaining
At this stage, we start to experience the desperation that comes with loss. It can actually happen before we experience the loss or after. We’ve all begged at the last minute, haven’t we? “Oh if this person comes back to me, I promise I’ll be good”. “God, if my sister recovers from this illness, I promise I’ll be more devout”. The list of bargains is endless. Our bargains are usually directed towards a higher power than ourselves, and it’s our attempt to feel more in control of a situation that we absolutely have zero control over . This stage can be experienced in other ways too, like feeling stuck in the past. It’s all the ‘what ifs’ that play in our minds all day. We start thinking that if we had done things differently, then we wouldn’t have had to endure this outcome. It fills us up with resentment, regret and guilt. Again, this is our attempt to feel like we had control over what happened. We do all that we can to mask our feeling of helplessness.
These sort of intrusive thoughts can occupy our minds on a daily and even disrupt our usual routines. It gets hard to focus on the present when we keep on resenting the past. If we’re being honest, the only remedy to this stage is to ground yourself. Practice meditation, journaling and gratitude exercises to remind yourself that the present is worth living in, even if some days are tough.
Stage 4: Depression
This is what you probably thought what grief is. Just pure sadness and loss of motivation to get out of bed. It’s when reality starts to kick in and we stop trying to fight it. We begin to experience all the emotions we’ve been turning a blind side to. We also may become very closed up at this stage and slowly start being less sociable.
If you’re at this stage, we urge you to ask for help. Talk about your feelings with a professional or someone you can trust. It’s only natural to feel sad, lost or helpless, but don’t allow it to take over your life. There is still glory, growth and beautiful things to come, which brings us to the final stage.
Stage 5: Acceptance
A lot of people misunderstand what the word acceptance stands for in this context. It’s never about being “okay” with what happened. It’s also not about being happy about it. It’s simply accepting that it did happen, and that we can’t change the past. We’re no longer trying to push reality away. This stage is truly liberating and it’s when things start to shift. Work, self-care, social life and everything in our lives start to slowly resurface and we finally start going back to our routines.
Despite having the same routine or going back to the things we love, it may feel different. We may never be able to be who we were before and that’s perfectly okay. What we go through changes us and change isn’t always bad. It’s an opportunity to accustom our life to what feels right for us at the current stage. Accepting the new version of ourselves is also part of stage five. Once you’ve reached that point where you think “Yes, this happened. Yes, it changed me. But, I’m okay and It no longer has power over me”, you’ve reached the final stage of grief.
Of course, relapses can occur and that’s okay, but you’d know better this time. You would then be able to get yourself moving from stage one to five faster and more efficiently. You’re capable of overcoming this, I promise.
- The Five Stages of Grief by Jodi Clarke via verywellmind.com
- The Fives Stages of Grief by David Kessler via grief.com