What Are the Stages of Grief? All You Need to Know
If you aren’t familiar, you may be wondering what are the stages of grief and what to expect when you lose something or someone important to you. However, if you know anything about losing a loved one, you may be aware of the five stages of grief.
There are more than just five stages of grief though. The original stages were updated to include two more, for a total of seven. If you want to understand the seven stages of grief and what to expect, the list below will help you out.
7 Stages of Grief
Most people expect the stages of grief to go in order, but that isn’t always the case. Grief treats everyone differently, and the order that grief affects someone might be different. Some people skip some stages or they get mixed together as well. It depends a lot on the person experiencing the grief and the support system they have.
For some people, it can be beneficial to analyze and understand the emotions they are feeling, or it can help someone to understand what someone else is feeling.
The first stage of grief is shock. This generally occurs first, because it is what occurs when someone first hears the news of the loss of a loved one. Your mind rejects the information at first because it is too hard to deal with.
Sometimes, during this stage, people may almost seem normal. This is because the news hasn’t been able to sink in yet, and they haven’t processed the news.
People experiencing shock may seem normal on the surface, but do have subtle hints. They may grow pale, sweaty, clammy, or feel cold. They may also have other signs like shallow breathing, rapid or irregular heartbeats, or feeling thirsty even when hydrated.
It will almost feel like they are holding their breath, or waiting. They will move in slow motion and be much quieter than normal.
Denial is the next stage. Those feeling denial will often be numb or try to act like everything is fine. They may even feel distant, as if it is someone else’s life they are watching, instead of their own.
For however long this stage lasts, the person will often be unable to sleep, reduce their eating, and may become nauseous.
Some people expect denial to be something along the lines of someone actually refusing to acknowledge that the loved one is gone. This can happen to some people. They will brush off the loss of someone or pretend it is a joke.
However, more often than not, it is a lot more subtle than this. It isn’t necessarily the loss they are denying, but their feelings, or the possibility that someone could be gone at all.
For the person experiencing the denial, they may feel like they are in a mental fog, struggling to concentrate, feeling depressed or a lack of motivation, forgetfulness, and they may even struggle with making basic decisions.
Shock and denial may oftentimes be intertwined or so similar they can be hard to tell apart.
Anger is next. It can be pointed anger, where they are mad at the person that caused the loss, like a drunk driver or a murderer. But it can also be just an all-encompassing anger where they lash out at everyone around them, even themselves. This is most common when there is no specific person to blame or when the person suffering grief feels helpless.
At times, the anger may be so strong, they even feel anger towards the person that left, for abandoning them in the first place. This can also be where people start to doubt their religion or lash out at their religion, such as experiencing anger at God or a higher power.
Anger is one of the hardest of the seven stages to hide. Though most people work to keep this stage hidden, it often doesn’t work and leads to more lashing out. Sometimes, this is where people start picking fights or leaning on crutches like alcohol and drugs.
Anger can also be more subtle, looking like emotions such as pessimism, cynicism, sarcasm, irritability, passive-aggressiveness, impatience, and frustration.
Bargaining is next. This is where people start appealing to the higher power they believe in, such as God. They may ask why they weren’t taken instead of their loved one, or that they will change if their loved one is brought back.
If someone is in the process of dying, such as in a coma, facing a serious illness, or in critical condition at a hospital, they may start this process even before the death occurs.
This is usually when guilt comes in, especially survivor’s guilt if that is a factor at play. The person experiencing grief may start to feel guilt, blame, and shame. They may feel they are the reason that their loved one died, or that they didn’t talk to the person enough. They may even feel like they should have said something else during their last conversation.
Most of the time, their thoughts will cycle, creating a spiral of “what if” questions surrounding how their loved one would have lived if they had just said or done something else.
Sometimes, if they are unable to handle their own blame and guilt, they will project this onto others. They may start to accuse others of being the problem or making their lost loved one miserable.
All of this blame, guilt, and bargaining can leave them feeling the need to be perfect from here on out, or they may constantly be afraid or worried, and unable to stop reflecting on the past or future.
The next step is depression. Someone experiencing depression may struggle with the energy to go on with their life, get out of bed, or even continue living if the situation gets bad enough. They will often distance themselves from their life, such as cutting off friends and family, doing less of their hobbies, and just letting their homes fall apart.
Their appetite may decrease as well, but their reliance on crutches can increase or start up again. Most of the time, people experiencing depression will describe it as sadness, helplessness, hopelessness, or a feeling of being overwhelmed.
Though they are actively pushing people away, this is often the period where people will need the most support. Having good friends that will stick with you despite being pushed away can be what keeps you going and makes a difference in the outcome of your depression. At the same time, it is also important to take time for themselves and think clearly.
Remembering good times with their loved ones during this time can be important.
Testing is the next stage. This is often called many names, including an upward turn, or working through their grief. This is where the person experiencing grief starts testing to see if they can start to feel happy again after experiencing something so profound.
They start to grow into a person again, being social and trying to move on with their new life after profound grief. They will start to incorporate coping mechanisms into their life that are a little healthier, such as counseling, therapy, and taking time to reminisce about their lost loved one.
Finally, there is acceptance. This is where you start to no longer hurt as much and move on with your life without much thought. The pain doesn’t end, but you have moments of being happy and normal between bouts of missing your loved one.
Those experiencing acceptance will often find they are more present at the moment than before and they will finally be able to forgive themselves. It becomes easier to think about the good times with their lost loved ones without sadness, and it is easier to talk about them without feeling the grief overwhelm them.