The 7 Stages Of Grief And How They Affect You

By Stephanie Kirby|Updated August 18, 2022

Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Free, private support is available 24/7.

Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

 

If you have ever experienced the loss of a loved one or a significant change in your life, you have likely felt some form of the stages of grief. It is defined as sorrow or distress that is caused by loss or affliction, sharp sorrow, or painful regret. Although everyone experiences grief from time to time, it is a very personal experience and typically, no two people experience it the same-- especially when it is surrounding the death of a loved one. Two of the most influential stages in grief are denial and bargaining.

While this reaction can feel overwhelming and the pain associated with it is real, it’s important to understand that it is a natural emotion and going through the process is a healthy way of dealing with loss. Identifying all of the various phases of complicated grief and knowing what to expect during each one can help you understand the emotional changes that occur following a loss and can help you learn to cope and find the best coping strategies for you. Starting online therapy can be beneficial for those with mental illness as well as for many experiencing grief.

grief stages

Understanding The Stages Of Grief Can Help You Process Your Emotions

Generally, when people hear the word grief, the death of a friend, family members, or loved one comes to mind. However, any loss that results in significant change in a life circumstance or role can cause feelings of loss. This can include moving to a new location, couples undergoing a divorce or ending of a relationship, a loved one being placed in hospice care, a job loss, being diagnosed with a medical condition, experiencing legal issues that significantly change your life, and much more. When understanding grief and the grief definition, it is not uncommon to wonder why you feel overwhelmed in the situation or to question how long you will experience these feelings. If you are experiencing grief, it is okay to feel a shift in emotions or to even experience times that you feel emotionally unstable. It’s important to allow yourself to grieve, feel all the emotions, and to know when to seek help if grief becomes complicated or overwhelming to help prevent long term mental health challenges

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist introduced a model regarding the 5 Stages of Grief in a book called On Death and Dying. This model was one of the first models used to help individuals recognize the stages of bereavement and the effect grief can cause. In the original book, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross referenced five stages:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through time, however, different sources have added what they believe to be other phases of grief.

While these models are often used to help individuals who are grieving understand the process and how to move forward, not everyone experiences the same order of feelings or even experiences every stage. There's no correct way to navigate early steps of a prolonged grief process. And nothing can predict the grief reaction that each individual will have.

Stages of Grieving

When you are grieving, it can feel like a very lonely time for a bereaved person. It’s important to know, however, that you are not alone even if you're experiencing feelings of isolation. Everyone experiences the emptiness of grief from time to time in life. It is a normal reaction to loss. The best way to move forward after a loss is to allow yourself to go through the stages of feeling. 

Remember that you should not compare the way you grieve with how someone else is dealing with grief. Some people go through phases with little difficulty and find inner peace and the strength to move on with life without complications. Others may experience one or more phases more than once and for different lengths of time. Recognizing where you are in the process and knowing when to seek help can be helpful.

The 7 Stages of Grief

Shock and Denial

The first of the phases, shock and denial, is typically the stage when emotions are most profound. The fact that you have experienced a loss may be evident, but you may still have underlying feelings of shock, disbelief, or panic. During this stage, many people experience physical symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, difficulty sleeping, decreased appetite or heart palpitations. Feeling emotionally “numb” is also common. Some people may describe this stage as feeling as if they are watching someone else’s life on a movie screen or as if they are detached from the reality of what has happened. 

Pain and Guilt

Once your shock starts to fade, you'll notice the pain. This is when it first starts to hit you that your loss is real. The pain may be extremely difficult to handle, and it may feel physical as well as emotional. You may even start to feel guilty about something you could or should have done for the person (even if it's illogical). During this stage, it is normal to wonder if you could have done something that would have prevented the loss or feel remorse for not being able to make peace with a loss loved one. Perhaps the person feels self-blame or shame in this way. Although these feelings can feel overwhelming, they are natural emotions related to guilt and it is important to acknowledge these feelings as part of the healing process.

Anger and Bargaining

It is not uncommon for someone who is grieving to experience feelings of anger or frustration. Some people may feel resentment towards the person responsible for the loss, such as a drunk driver. Others may have feelings of anger directed toward God or a higher power for not preventing the loss. You might wonder how in the world this is happening to you. Some who grieve experience anger toward the lost loved one and may blame that person for leaving them. During this time, some people who are grieving may try to bargain for a chance to have things end with a different outcome. 

grief

Depression, Reflection, and Loneliness

During this stage, a grieving person generally begins to reflect upon the loss they experienced and how it has affected their life. The reality of the loss may be felt more during this stage, as attempts to bargain for more time are not realized. Withdrawal from others to deal with feelings of grief alone is a common occurrence during this stage. A person might also experience hopelessness or confusion about their own future. While personal time is important, it is also crucial to have a support system of people to lean on during this stage of grief. Some people may benefit from being in nature and having more space to think clearly. Research shows that therapy can help alleviate depressive symptoms.

The Upward Turn

Finally, just when you think there can't possibly be anything good coming ever again, you'll start to feel a little better each day. It may be so slight that you don't even realize it at first, and you won't feel happy all at once. What you may feel is a little less pain, a little less sadness, and more of being okay. This is the last stage of the phases of grief.

Reconstruction and Working Through

Mourning is a process. The process is not always about feeling stressed or overwhelmed, though. During the reconstruction and working through phase of grief, a grieving person begins to start to work through the aftermath of loss. This stage is as much a part of the grieving process as all the others. However, it seems to take a different turn, as during this stage, you can begin to feel a sense of control over your life.  

Acceptance

Acceptance and hope is the final stage of the grieving process. Accepting a loss does not mean that you simply “get over it” or are content with what happened. Rather, it is the part of the process during which you can acknowledge the loss and feel okay with moving forward with your life and what the new normal is for you. You might now be able to experience memories without suffering through despair.

During this stage, you will likely find relief, as it becomes easier to talk about the loss you have experienced without experiencing as significant an impact as you did earlier in the grieving process. You may be more likely to open up about what you’re feeling and thinking with family members or friends. While you may have moments of feeling sad or regretful, this stage typically represents an ability to accept what has happened and to reflect upon good times, rather than the sad thoughts associated with loss. 

Therapy Can Help With The 7 Stages Of Grief

These phases are different for everyone. You may only spend a few days in a type of disbelief, while others may spend weeks. You may never go through a bargaining stage, while someone else spends a lot of time there. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, and there's no timetable. Getting through this pain, however, can be extremely difficult to do on your own, and friends and family members do not always have the insights or tools needed to help. While they are usually good-intentioned, they might point to grief as something that needs to be overcome.

It can impact your current relationships, leaving a numbness in your life even around important people like a spouse, child, or doctor. Seeking professional help, like what you can get from BetterHelp, can make a huge difference in your life and in your healing process.

grief

Understanding The Stages Of Grief Can Help You Process Your Emotions

If you're stuck in a stage of grief, or if you feel depressed, therapy can help. Navigation for grief will be different for everyone. Sometimes being able to talk to someone else, share your memories or stories, and express pain can be incredibly healing form of treatment. Counselors can also help you learn strategies and examples of activities to cope with the difficult emotions you're struggling with. Read below for reviews of some BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing similar challenges.

Counselor Reviews: Grief And Death

"Sarah is a kind person that listens intently, focuses on issues, and then helps find successful strategies to deal with those issues. Never once did I feel that she was judging me or talking down to me. She was easy for me to open up too, she was professional, and she took me seriously. Together we discussed issues of loss from the passing of my father, which had become more than I could handle alone. She not only validated my feelings of loss, but she also helped me find ways to mitigate those feelings, break them down into their roots and causes then address those. Coping with loss is hard work, but Sarah helped me find the tools I needed within myself to do that hard work and ultimately find success. I am a stronger person now. I am happy and confident. I may not know what is around the next corner, but I know that whatever it is, I can handle it."

"John has been very helpful in helping me set realistic goals to understand and work through my grief. No loss is ever easy, but being able to talk to someone who understands that it's not easy has been helpful."

Conclusion: Counseling For Your Loss

Loss is one of the most difficult hardships we'll endure. The stages of grief may feel out of our control—and can release a lot of painful emotions. It's helpful to know the signs of grief and have trips to take care of yourself. However, working with a therapist can help you move from grief to a balanced and healthy life with renewed joy and happiness. Take the first step today and make a positive choice for yourself.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.