Understanding The Stages Of Grief

Everyone experiences grief differently. However, most people go through several stages of grief as they deal with a loss. Psychologists who work with people as they grieve have come to several conclusions about how the distinct stages manifest and how they work together to help people move on to a new way of life.

Types of Loss

Most people associate the word 'grief' with the sadness that surrounds the death of a loved one. Yet people can experience grief after many other losses, including a breakup, losing a job or a home, having a part of the body like an arm or leg removed, being diagnosed with a serious illness, or having to drop out of college. If the loss is significant enough to you, you'll likely go through several stages of grief.

The Grief Process

You may go through 4 stages of grief or up to 7 stages of grief. In any case, the progression is rarely an orderly movement from step one to the last step. You may experience them in any order and any number of times. You may feel sad at the beginning, move on to anger, and then return to sadness for example. The important thing to remember is that it's your time to grieve. You need to allow yourself to do it in your own unique way.

Grief is Processed in Different Stages. Which Stage Are You In Right Now?
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Kubler Ross Stages of Grief

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, introduced the concept of the five stages of grief in 1969. What are the five stages of grief? According to Kubler-Ross's model, people go through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance as they process their loss. She was also interested in the way people communicate their grief to others through their words, emotions, and behavior.


When you're in denial about the loss, you try to convince yourself or others that the event hasn't happened or isn't permanent. You know the facts, of course. If your spouse has died, you might accept that it happened but then believe for a time that his death means nothing to you. If your parents have divorced, you might try to get them back together even after they've moved on to other relationships. Following a job loss, you might go back to work thinking they didn't really mean it when they fired you.


Anger is a common reaction to loss, and it's one of the Kubler-Ross' stages of grief. You may be angry with the person who left you, or you may feel angry with yourself. You might express the anger by shouting at people through sarcasm, or by showing irritation at everything from major letdowns to minor problems. This stage can also happen at any time, even after you go through a period of acceptance. The benefit of the grief stages is that they help you deal with the loss and move on. Anger can energize you to do just that.


At some point, you may find yourself bargaining, trying to get back what you lost. This part of the 5 stages of grief might be directed at a higher power, the person who left or fired you, or anyone who might seem to have power over the situation. You offer to do something if the authority will give you back the person or situation you lost.

People often promise their God that they will live a better life if only they can take back what they lost. A child may promise to pick up their toys and stop arguing with their siblings if their parents will get back together. Bargaining is a stage that sometimes brings up uncomfortable discussions that go nowhere.


Next in the five stages of grief is depression. The depression can present with any of the symptoms of clinical depression. You may feel sad and cry often. You might notice changes in your appetite or sleep patterns. You might have unexplained aches and pains. This stage can be too painful in a breakup in a relationship and in the death of a loved one. If you're moving through these stages of grief, divorce can seem like the end of your life, so it's natural to become depressed. It is a situational depression that may soon pass naturally as you move toward acceptance.


The last of the Kubler Ross 5 stages of grief is acceptance. You understand what you lost and recognize how important that thing or person was to you. You no longer feel angry about it, and you're finished with bargaining to get it back. You're ready to start rebuilding your life without it.

Complete acceptance brings complete peace, but often, this stage is never complete. Instead, you might feel sad during death anniversaries or angry when you feel current circumstances would work out so much better if you just had that thing or person with you now. When you accept the loss fully, you'll understand the stages of grief better.

The Seven Stages of Grief

Kubler-Ross refined her model to include not just five but seven stages of grief. The 7 stages of grief model is a more in-depth analysis of the components of the grief process. These seven stages include: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing, and acceptance. Kubler-Ross added the two stages as an extension of the grief cycle. In the shock phase, you feel paralyzed and emotionless. In the testing stage, you try to find realistic solutions for coping with the loss and rebuilding your life.

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Other Variations

Several different grief models have been proposed over the years. In addition to the 5-stage and 7-stage models, you may hear about the 4 stages of grief and the 6 stages of grief. John Bowlby, a British psychologist, studied the stages of grief and loss long before Kubler-Ross presented her 5 stages of grief. His work was with children with attachment issues. One of these, of course, is grief. Bowlby's four stages of grief are: 1) shock and numbness, 2) yearning and searching, 3) despair and disorganization, 4) reorganization and recovery.

The six stages of grief model is simply an extension of Kubler-Ross' original 5-stage process. The only difference is that shock is added as a first stage before denial. What are the stages of grief then? That is a question only you can answer. The stages of grief you go through might be different from the ones someone else experiences.

Getting Stuck

Sometimes, the grief process doesn't go well. The bereaved may become stuck in one stage of grief, unwilling or unable to move through the process. In a worst-case scenario, the person can continue to be angry, sad, or even in denial for the rest of their life. When this happens, they usually need to talk to a grief counselor before they can move out of that stage of grief. Otherwise, the intense pain might continue over the course of many years. In addition, they may miss opportunities to build a new life that can bring them happiness in the here and now.

Grief is Processed in Different Stages. Which Stage Are You In Right Now?
An Online Counselor is Here to Help You Through Grief

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Even if you don't become stuck in one particular stage of grief and loss, you might get stuck in the grief cycle. You do move through the stages, but then you move back to the previous ones, never quite able to free yourself from the tragedy. This return to earlier stages usually means you haven't completely dealt with them yet. In cases of extreme loss, this may be necessary for a time. The shock, denial, anger, and bargaining can eventually lead to healthy acceptance of the loss.

Help When You're Grieving

Grief counseling helps people who are overwhelmed after a loss. If they are stuck in one stage of grief, this type of counseling can help move them towards recovery. The counselor assists and guides you as you talk about the loss, identify your feelings, and separate from and learn to live without the person you lost.

Along the way, they will help you understand the stages of grief. They will support you by providing information about grief in general as you go through the process. They help you identify and hone the coping skills you're already using. If the method you're trying to use for coping isn't working out, the grief counselor can help you identify that problem and introduce you to coping skills that work better.

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Talking to a grief counselor online at BetterHelp.com allows you to work through your grief in a safe and comfortable setting of your choice. You get to speak to a licensed and/or certified professional who understands all the stages of grief and how to deal with them. BetterHelp.com offers paid counseling online for people who are grieving, depressed, have anger management issues, or are dealing with any other mental health or emotional problem. By choosing online counseling, you skip the wait you might have for your first appointment with a local counselor. Instead, you can start receiving professional support and guidance right away. Soon, you'll be on the road to acceptance and ready for a fresh start.

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