Coping with grief
Grief is a state of intense sorrow, often following a huge loss. It can come from a bereavement or breakup, a diagnosis or a significant life change. Grieving is a natural process – but knowing that doesn’t make it easier at the time.
We all experience grief differently. This can make it even harder to understand our emotions, or to recognise what loved ones are going through.
What are the 7 stages of grief?
Knowing the stages of grief can help us understand our feelings or better support others – and the realisation that our intense emotions are perfectly normal and natural can really help.
Traditionally, therapists have used the '5 Stages of Grief' approach (the Kübler-Ross model); however, as a solution-focused counsellor and hypnotherapist, I prefer the '7 Stages of Grief' model. I naturally gravitate towards an approach that looks towards a positive future; and this model places more emphasis on the upward turn after those initial, painful emotions.
The 7 stages of grief model
Many people don’t experience every single stage, and not everyone goes through them in this exact, neat order. However, every grieving person will go through several of these difficult – but ultimately healing – processes.
Shock and denial
Have you heard the phrase “numb with grief”? That’s this first, initial response, where our feelings seem to shut down and we deny what’s happened. This is actually our brain trying to protect us from having a massive hit of emotion in one go.
Pain and guilt
When the shock wears off, reality kicks in and this is one of the hardest stages to go through. Grief can physically hurt and its intensity can be frightening. People often experience feelings of guilt – what could I have done differently? This is a risky time, with a temptation to dull the pain with alcohol or drugs.
Anger and bargaining
Anger hits, and this is a difficult emotion to control. Grief can feel easier with a scapegoat, which ranges from your best friend to God. People with faith may bargain with their deity, others may make impossible promises such as “I’ll never drink again if…”
The dramatic emotions are calming down as the loss becomes real. Sadness and emptiness may feel overwhelming as you process your grief. Friends may attempt to distract you; however, this normalising stage needs to be lived through.
This is the period of adjustment. Life starts to function more normally, and you can see light at the end of the tunnel.
In this calmer state, people begin to reconstruct their lives. Practical decisions and actions (such as financial and legal aspects) become possible, and you find realistic solutions to this “new normal”.
Acceptance and hope
Your practical, thinking brain has caught up and you’re beginning to rebuild your life. Now your emotional/primitive brain is also accepting the change.
If you’ve had a bereavement or break-up, there will always be a gap. Acceptance is about acknowledging this gap and learning to live with it. Life will never to be same again, but you can – and will – have a positive new future.
If you are experiencing grief or loss, please consider contacting a qualified therapist for a confidential chat. Counselling can support you through these stages, and your therapist will be able to work with you to find a future that feels right for you.