When we lose a loved one, our grief is an intricate and deeply personal experience. While grief is an undeniable part of the human experience, each individual passes through various emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different ways.
Over the years, psychologists and grief experts have studied the process of grieving, leading to the development of various models to help us comprehend its complex nature. Whether the model you look at includes 5, 7, or 12 stages of grief, your emotional journey is difficult.
However, models for grief can provide valuable insight into the intricate journey of healing and transformation.
Let’s delve into recognized stages of grief, exploring each stage’s significance and providing a deeper understanding of this universal process of coping and growth. Whether you’re seeking solace for yourself or need to support a grieving loved one, this exploration will guide you in navigating the profound depths of grief and finding hope along the way.
What is the Grieving Process?
The grieving process refers to individuals’ emotional, psychological, and physical journey when they experience a significant loss.
Grief is a natural response to the profound impact of losing someone or something dear to us, such as the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job. Even the process of stopping a drug addiction can look similar to grief inside the brain. (1)
The grieving process is highly individualized, as each person’s experience and timeline may vary. It involves a series of complex and often unpredictable emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that can be challenging to navigate. While grief is an inevitable part of life, understanding the grieving process can provide comfort, validation, and guidance to those grappling with loss.
By recognizing the stages and patterns commonly associated with grief, individuals can begin to embrace healing, find support, and ultimately discover a renewed sense of meaning and purpose amidst the pain.
Hopehospice.com shows a realistic experience of how grief feels for many individuals. There are all these stages that others say you will go through, but your life may feel more like a parabola of chaos and dysfunction.
Next, let’s look at some of the models of the grief process in which grieving individuals often try to see themselves and their grief journey.
The 5 Stages of Grief Model
The 5 stages of grief, originally proposed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying,” are commonly known as the Kübler-Ross model.
These stages represent a framework for understanding the emotional process of terminally ill patients or those facing the impending death of a loved one. It’s important to note that these stages are not linear, and not everyone experiences them in the same order or intensity.
The five stages are as follows:
This initial stage serves as a protective mechanism, allowing individuals to process the overwhelming news gradually. It involves feelings of shock, disbelief, and a tendency to reject or minimize the reality of the situation. In this stage of grief, you don’t let yourself experience feelings related to the loss yet. You’re still in a self-preservation place.
As the denial subsides, individuals may experience anger or frustration. This stage can manifest as resentment, blame, and a sense of unfairness towards others or the situation itself. Anger is a normal and natural response to loss, providing an outlet for emotional pain.
In an attempt to regain control or seek a different outcome, individuals may enter the bargaining stage. This involves making promises, seeking compromises, or pleading with a higher power, often hoping to reverse or postpone the loss.
As the weight of reality settles in, individuals may enter a period of deep sadness and introspection. Feelings of emptiness, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, and a sense of hopelessness are common during this stage. It’s important to distinguish between grief-related depression and clinical depression, seeking professional help when necessary.
A gradual acceptance of the loss characterizes the final stage. While this doesn’t imply complete resolution or the absence of sadness, individuals begin to find ways to adapt and move forward. Acceptance involves adjusting to the new reality, cherishing memories, and finding meaning and purpose beyond grief.
It’s crucial to remember that grief is a highly personal experience, and not everyone will go through these stages in the same way or experience all of them. The stages can also be revisited or experienced simultaneously, highlighting the complexity and uniqueness of each person’s grieving journey.
The 7 Stages of Grief Model
While the Kübler-Ross model initially proposed five stages of grief, some other models and frameworks explore additional stages and variations in the grieving process. One such model, known as the 7 Stages of Grief, expands on the original five stages and offers a more comprehensive understanding of the grieving journey.
The 7 stages of grief are as follows:
1. Shock and Disbelief:
This initial stage often accompanies the immediate aftermath of a significant loss. It involves numbness, disbelief, confusion, and a sense of being emotionally overwhelmed.
2. Denial Stage
Like the Kübler-Ross model, this stage involves a refusal to accept the reality of the loss. Individuals may find it challenging to acknowledge or comprehend the magnitude of the situation, leading to a temporary shield from the pain.
In this stage, individuals experience a range of emotions, such as frustration, irritability, resentment, and anger. These feelings may be directed towards oneself, others, or even the person or circumstance that caused the loss.
Similar to the Kübler-Ross model, bargaining involves attempting to negotiate or seek an alternative outcome. People may make deals, and promises, or engage in thoughts of “what if” or “if only” as they grapple with the pain of the loss.
Guilt can emerge as individuals blame themselves for things they did or did not do, often experiencing regret or remorse. This stage is characterized by self-criticism, thoughts of “I should have” or “I could have,” and a deep desire to find fault within oneself.
This stage is marked by profound sadness, a sense of emptiness, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities. Individuals may withdraw from social interactions, experience changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and have difficulty finding motivation or joy.
The final stage involves gradually coming to terms with the loss. Acceptance does not imply forgetting or being completely free of pain but rather a willingness to adapt to the new reality, find peace, and integrate the loss into one’s life.
It’s important to note that these stages are not strictly linear, and individuals may move back and forth between them or experience them in different sequences. There is no fixed timeframe for grief, as it varies from person to person.
The 12-Step Model of Grief
While no universally accepted model specifically outlines 12 stages of grief, some sources have expanded upon the original stages proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to create a more comprehensive framework. Here is an example of an extended model that includes 12 stages:
Immediately following a loss, individuals often experience shock and feel numb, disoriented, and overwhelmed.
This stage involves a refusal to accept the reality of the loss. Individuals may resist the truth and continue to expect the person to return. Whether a loved one passed after a long illness or an unexpected death, it can be difficult to accept that someone won’t walk through your door again.
Like denial, this stage involves a struggle to comprehend and accept the loss. It includes feelings of disbelief and confusion about how this could have happened.
In this stage, individuals may feel a sense of disorientation, difficulty concentrating, and struggle to make sense of their emotions and the changes occurring.
Feelings of guilt and self-blame can emerge as individuals question their actions, words, or decisions leading up to the loss. They may experience remorse or a sense of responsibility.
Anger involve experiencing resentment and frustration. Individuals may direct their anger toward themselves, others, the situation, or even the person who has passed away.
Similar to the stages proposed by Kübler-Ross, bargaining includes attempts to negotiate or make deals to change the outcome. It may involve seeking a different outcome through prayers, promises, or hypothetical scenarios.
Intense sadness, feelings of emptiness, and a loss of interest in activities are common in this stage. Individuals may withdraw from social interactions and experience changes in appetite, sleep, and motivation.
This stage involves feelings of isolation and loneliness as individuals grapple with the absence of the person or thing they have lost. It may also involve longing for their presence.
10. Acceptance Stage:
Gradually, individuals begin to accept the reality of the loss. Acceptance does not mean forgetting or being completely free of pain, but rather a willingness to adapt, find meaning, and integrate the loss into their lives.
In this stage, individuals start to find hope and see glimpses of a future beyond the pain. They may discover new possibilities, find support, and regain a sense of purpose.
The final step represents a sense of renewal and transformation. Individuals begin to rebuild their lives and take an upward turn for the better. They may incorporate the loss into their identity and find new ways to thrive despite the grief. This is a time when an individual may look for new relationships in a healthy way of moving forward into hope.
Grief is a process unique to each individual, and it’s essential to honor and respect your individual journey of healing and growth, regardless of whether it fits into any model of grief stages.
Why the Grief Process Matters for Mental Health
The grief process is deeply intertwined with mental health, encompassing the emotional, psychological, and behavioral responses to loss.
Understanding and acknowledging the importance of the grief process is crucial for maintaining and promoting mental well-being.
Here are several reasons why the grief process matters for your continued good mental health:
Grief can elicit a wide range of intense emotions, such as sadness, anger, guilt, and confusion. Going through the grief process allows individuals to validate and give expression to these emotions.
By acknowledging and accepting these feelings, individuals can prevent emotional suppression or repression, which can have detrimental effects on mental health.
Grief necessitates beginning a healing journey. By acknowledging and working through the various stages and emotions associated with grief, individuals can gradually come to terms with their loss, find meaning, and rebuild their lives.
Active engagement with grief is essential for fostering emotional healing and promoting overall mental well-being.
Prevention of Prolonged Grief Disorder:
Unresolved or suppressed grief can sometimes lead to prolonged grief disorder, a condition characterized by an extended period of intense grieving and difficulty adapting to life without the lost person.
Engaging in the grief process can help prevent the development of complicated grief, ensuring that individuals have the support and tools they need to navigate their grief in a healthy and adaptive manner.
The grief process often involves seeking support from others, whether through friends, family, support groups, or a mental health professional. By reaching out and connecting with a supportive network, individuals can receive validation, understanding, and comfort during their grief journey.
These supportive connections can play a vital role in buffering the impact of loss and providing essential emotional support, thus promoting better mental health outcomes.
Integration of Loss into Identity:
Going through the grief process allows individuals to integrate the experience of loss into their identity. By acknowledging the impact of the loss and working through the associated emotions, individuals can find ways to honor the memory of the person or thing they have lost while adapting to life without them.
This process of integration is vital for fostering a sense of wholeness, resilience, and continued growth in the face of loss.
Engaging with grief and navigating the grief process can contribute to the development of resilience. By confronting and working through challenging emotions, individuals can develop coping mechanisms, emotional regulation skills, and a deeper understanding of themselves.
These aspects of resilience can extend beyond the grief experience, positively influencing mental health in other areas of life as well.
Recognizing the significance of the grief process for mental health underscores the importance of providing appropriate support and resources to individuals who are grieving. Whether it is through professional therapy, peer support groups, or compassionate understanding from loved ones, creating a safe space for the grief process can promote healthier outcomes, emotional growth, and enhanced overall well-being.
How Many Stages of Grief are Normal?
The fact is, everyone will have a different recovery process from loss. Some people may struggle with numbed feelings and stay in denial while others experience a deep sorrow that even a support group can’t help them with.
However, one thing most people experiencing loss can agree on is that it can feel overwhelming, like you’ll never find your way into moving forward into a new life with hope.
If you find yourself still experiencing intense grief a year after a loss, consider grief counseling. Or, go ahead and see a grief counselor as soon as you face a loss to ensure that you don’t let unresolved issues keep you feeling stuck.
We Can Help
During the challenging and emotional journey of grief, Renaissance Funeral Home and Crematory provides compassionate support and comprehensive services to help individuals and families navigate the grieving process.
Our experienced and empathetic team understands the unique needs of those who have experienced loss. We are committed to providing personalized care and guidance every step of the way and can help you connect with grief resources in the area.
From assisting with funeral arrangements and memorial services to making a preplan, we aim to create a safe and nurturing environment for you to create loving tributes to loved ones. Renaissance Funeral Home and Crematory supports individuals in honoring their loved ones, finding solace, and rebuilding their lives with compassion, professionalism, and utmost respect.