The 5 stages of grief
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Anna Bassett BA (hons) MBACP
14th November, 20170 Comments
“Grief is the price we pay for love.” - Queen Elizabeth II
Research on confronting our own death was carried out by Elizabeth Kuhbler-Ross in the late 60’s. It has since been adapted to include the process of grief, although some consider it a bit out dated. These stages may be of interest as a point of reference and making sense of the grieving process.
She believes that we navigate our way through five stages of grief. The stages do not necessarily run consecutively and they can be revisited again and again before finally achieving the acceptance of our loss.
Through our bereavement, it’s likely that we will we spend different lengths of time working through each stage and express emotions accordingly with different levels of intensity. It may be helpful to look at the stages as a guide to refer to, and which may offer some clarity and further understanding during a process where we have lost sense of our world. Questioning everything we know or thought we knew is completely normal.
The five stages of grief:
In this stage, Utter disbelief and ruminating thoughts. We are engulfed by feelings of shock, in addition we struggle to make sense of events and feeling numb is commonplace. It can feel like our world has become meaningless and life is overwhelming.
Trying to get through each day can feel insurmountable.
However, at this stage denial and shock can be positive and offer benefits, it allows us to put a sense of distance between us and the enormity of the loss: Because we are not yet fully in touch with these emotions, this distance, makes it easier to pace our feelings of grief,
There are hidden benefits in denial.
It is a defence mechanism, and I believe that it is our brains way of letting in only as much as we can handle at the time. It serves to protect us; As the reality of the loss is accepted, we begin the healing process, fortuitously.
Although I mentioned earlier that stages do not necessarily run consecutively and you may not pass through them all, when the denial stage starts to fade, yet the feelings that were denied begin to emerge. You may find yourself being faced by the devastating pain that lies beneath denial.
Anger is a normal and natural part of the grieving and healing process. It is not always part of everyone's experience, and some people feel uncomfortable with feeling anger. However, by being willing to feel our anger and not deny it, even though it may be intense is an essential and cathartic part of this stage. The more you allow yourself to feel anger, the more it can be released and processed.
There is a positive side of anger. It is that it enables us to channel energy, and helps to make some sense of our pain. At times this may feel easier than feeling the feelings behind it. When we experience a loss, we may have every right to be angry. Even if it sometimes, feels like it lacks justice or logic. The feelings that we feel are neither wrong or right, good or bad. They are what they are.
In this stage it can feel like we are navigating through a labyrinth of regret and sorrow filled thoughts.
“What if I…” or “if only we had…" statements run in a circular fashion in our minds. Of course, we would give anything to have our loved one back. Some of us wish we had a time machine and want to go back in time and do things differently to change the permanence of the outcome… If only.
At this point it's hard and important to exercise self-compassion. I’m not religious, but we are not God and we cannot change what has happened. Some people may lose their faith at this stage.
This stage forces us to focus on the present, it confirms that there is nothing that can be done to alter the permanence of the loss. This stage differs from a clinical or GP’s diagnosis of depression and it's not a sign of illness. The overwhelming sadness is a natural and normal response to a tremendous loss.
It represents the emptiness we feel when we are living in reality and realise that our loved one is never coming back. In this stage, withdrawing socially and from life in general, feeling numb or feeling as if you are living in a fog is common. Facing the outside world might seem too much to manage. Avoiding others and feeling hopeless is typical of this stage. When loss finally sets in, depression is a natural phase to prepare us to accept the unacceptable.
At first, acceptance might simply mean more good days than bad ones, or perhaps an increased distance between their frequency. Sometimes being able to remember more memories without the distressing emotions shows that we are taking steps towards acceptance. The final stage of the grieving process does not mean that we have to forgive, excuse what has happened or retreat back into denial.
There is no expectation to feel all right about the loss of a loved one.
This stage focuses on accepting the permanent reality that our loved one is physically gone. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. We need to learn and adjust to living our life where our loved one is missing. A counsellor can also help to give extra support during this difficult time.
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