Whilst grief can be roughly divided up into five stages, the process of grieving is far more complex than this.
Most people experience grief at some point in their lives. Grief is most often associated with the death of a loved one, but people can grieve after any kind of significant loss in their life. This could include the loss of a job or a pet, being diagnosed with a terminal illness, or losing a partner due to a divorce or relationship breakup.
Everyone experiences grief differently, for some it is a short journey, whilst for others, it can last for years. Some people may experience each stage of grief once, whilst others may skip entire stages or cycle through the stages over and over again.
There is no wrong or right way to grief but understanding the stages of grief can be helpful if you or someone you know is grieving.
If you understand the natural process of grieving better, it can help you to recognise the importance that each step plays in the process of accepting the loss, healing, and adjusting to a changed life.
In this article, we will explain a little more about the stages of grief and how they may impact a person who is grieving.
How many stages of grief are there?
In 1969, a psychiatrist named Elizabeth Kubler-Ross came up with a theory that grief could be roughly divided up into five different stages.
Since then, her theory has been adapted several times, with the most popular adaptation including an additional two steps. However, her original five steps of grief are the most popularly and widely quoted.
It’s important to note, that although five different stages of grief can be identified, not everyone will experience every stage. Neither is grieving a linear process, and some people find that they cycle through the different stages of grief more than once.
What are the five stages of grief?
The five stages of grief according to the Kubler-Ross theory are:
When faced with a painful loss, many people enter a stage of denial to help them to cope when things feel overwhelming. This is a common defence mechanism; it is the body’s way of giving the mind time to begin absorbing and processing what has happened.
During this time the grieving person may feel confused, shocked, and numb to what has happened.
Signs that someone is in the denial stage of grief may include:
- Keeping very busy.
- Refusing to discuss what has happened.
- Shutting down completely.
- Sleeping a lot.
- Saying things like “I’m fine” a lot.
Many people who are grieving go through a stage of feeling very angry. Showing anger is a way of masking the pain and other emotions you may feel at your loss. Being angry also provides the mind and body with an emotional outlet during a time that can be full of internal emotional turmoil.
During this stage the grieving person may feel a lot of rage, this could be directed at the person they have lost, themselves, those around them, healthcare professionals, or even inanimate objects.
Signs that someone is in the anger stage of grief may include:
- Getting into arguments or fights a lot.
- Being sarcastic, cynical, or pessimistic.
- General irritability.
During the bargaining stage of grief, many people feel very helpless and insecure. They spend a lot of time reflecting on things they could have done differently. They may make assumptions about how changing their actions could have changed the outcome or prevented the loss, causing intense feelings of guilt or shame. When they begin bargaining, they are looking for ways to regain control and delay sitting with their emotions.
Signs that someone is in the bargaining stage of grief can include:
- Reflecting a lot on things that have happened in the past.
- Talking a lot about the things they “should have done”.
- Bargaining with God or other higher powers.
The depression stage of grief is usually less chaotic than the stages that came before. The mind has started to slow down by this stage, and we are beginning to face the reality of what has happened.
During the depression stage of grief, many people feel hopeless and overwhelmed by sadness or despair.
Signs that someone is in the depression stage of grief can include:
- Isolating themselves from others.
- Appetite changes.
- Crying a lot.
- Lack of motivation.
The final stage of grief is acceptance. During each of the other stages of grief, we are still fighting against the reality of the loss we have experienced. When we come to accept the loss, we may still feel the pain of the loss and still feel sad, but we have accepted the reality of the situation and are learning to live in the new normal that we now find ourselves in.
Signs that someone is in the acceptance stage of grief can include:
- Accepting their new reality.
- Taking ownership of themselves and their actions.
- Having a more positive outlook for the future.
What are the seven stages of grief?
The most popular variation on the five stages of grief is the seven stages of grief. The seven stages of grief include the original five stages plus an additional two stages. The seven stages of grief are said to be:
- Shock and disbelief
- Anger and bargaining
- Depression, loneliness, and reflection
The additional two stages are shock and disbelief and reconstruction. In this theory, shock and disbelief come before the denial stage of grief. The seven stages also include reconstruction as the sixth step, before acceptance. The reconstruction stage is the period where you are working through your emotions and grief to find acceptance.
How to learn more about grief
If you or someone you know is going through grief and you would like to know more about the grieving process and how you can help or support someone who is going through it, you may benefit from taking the masterclass in separation, loss, and grief that run at Care Business Associates.
For more information, or to book your place on our next separation, loss, and grief masterclass, give our team a call on 01772 816 922.