The Stages of Grief: The Stage Model
The 5 Stages of Grief Model (below) was introduced by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
These stages are not linear. Some people don’t experience any of them, whilst others may only go through one or some of the stages. However, many agree that these 5 stages of grief are what the grieving population are likely to feel and experience in some shape or form.
There is no set process or correct way to grieve and most people will find that they experience different stages at varying times, often revisiting stages. Grief is a highly individualised process and it follows no set course or plan. The grief journey is often referred to as like being on a rollercoaster of unpredictable emotions and is present throughout our entire life.
Let’s take a closer look at the 5 stages of grief:
A common initial reaction to bereavement and loss is denial of what has happened i.e. “This isn’t happening” or “They must have identified the wrong person” etc. It’s important to recognise that this is a normal human response as a way of attempting to rationalise overwhelming emotions. Life as you once knew it has changed in an instant. Denial can be a defence mechanism and coping strategy that buffers that immediate shock of overwhelming loss, causing us to avoid or numb our emotions. For most people experiencing grief, denial and shock are temporary responses that carry us through the first wave of deep pain, and in effect help us to survive the loss.
In the denial stage, you are not living in ‘actual’ reality; you’re living in a ‘preferable’ reality.
Denial helps to manage the pace emotionally, so instead of becoming completely overwhelmed with grief, we deny it, do not accept it, and reduce the full impact from hitting us all at once. Think of it as your body’s natural defence mechanism saying “Hey, there’s only so much I can handle at once.” Once the denial and shock starts to lessen, the healing process starts to begin. At this point, those feelings that you were once avoiding or numbing begin to surface.
When the reality starts to set in and pain re-surfaces, anger may be expressed by those grieving.
This anger can be directed at:
- Health Professionals (why couldn’t they have prevented this?)
- Loved one who is dying or has died (angry for leaving me; sense of abandonment)
When something bad happens (or is going to happen) such as death of a loved one or a form of loss, we sometimes try to make a deal or negotiate in a desperate attempt to return to normality.
I.e. Trying to strike a deal with God or our higher power to somehow avoid the inevitable and all the pain and suffering that comes with it. “If you do this… I promise I’ll never do ‘that’ ever again”.
Guilt is often associated with ‘bargaining’ and can be seen in some of the following statements:
- “What if I had answered the phone when he rang…”
- “If only we had sought medical advice sooner…”
- “What if we’d have got a second opinion from another doctor…”
- "If only I had been a better friend to them…”
We start to believe there was something we could have done differently to have helped ‘save’ our loved one.
Depression is a common experience for those who are grieving as they start to come to terms with their present situation and the reality of their loss is unavoidable. Feelings of emptiness can loom over like a black cloud and life itself can feel too overwhelming, causing low mood and a lack of energy and motivation. Feelings of numbness can set in as the sadness grows, causing us to retreat and pull inwards which can be isolating and lonely.
Here, we come to a point of adjustment and acceptance of our loss. Acceptance doesn’t mean we no longer feel the pain of loss, rather that we understand that what or who we have lost can never be replaced. We begin to move, grow, and evolve into our new reality.
If you are struggling with grief, don’t suffer in silence. Contact your GP who can signpost or refer you for specialist support.
Link to useful worksheets: https://www.therapistaid.com/therapy-worksheets/grief/none