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What Are The 7 Stages Of Grief?

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

Eight times out of ten, we actually associate grief more with losing a loved one that has passed away. When in fact it can actually be to do with a complete change of circumstances. It could be a pet that we've lost. It could be a job that we've been made redundant from. It could be divorce or breakup. So, there are many different circumstances that we can go through that can create emotional unrest.

We experience grief and bereavement for something that we had once had. And the life that we now have, we have to learn to accept and move forward with. Now that is always easier said than done.

Let's see how we can actually identify with what we are experiencing and maybe there will be something in this article that you can find to help you move forward.

Grief is something that we experience when we lose something that we've identified strongly with, in our lives. That could be a relationship with somebody, or it could be a circumstance or an event.

One of my earliest memories of understanding grief, was when my grandfather passed away and seeing how my mother, as well as the rest of the family, reacted. I was nine at the time.

These were new emotions to me. I was learning something new for the first time and when I look back now at maybe some of the things that happened and the circumstances when I started to look at the stages of grief, I can see how clearly they played out.

I think it's important to understand that grief itself can be completely consuming. It can change your behaviour. It's often completely new to somebody when they're going through it and it is also extremely personal to that individual person's circumstances.

Here's an analogy of what grief feels like - Imagine you're in a room and you have a gigantic ball or a balloon that takes up 90% of the space as you move around the room, you're going to bump into it at every moment at first, but all the time, the bowl or the balloon starts to reduce in size so that eventually you can move around the room much more freely, although occasionally you're still going to bump into it. Over time, the ball or balloon continues to shrink and it continues to shrink down quite small so that you can continue to move around the room without bumping into it for days on end. And then as time passes the ball or balloon eventually becomes so small that it's only on rare occasions that you would bump into it and trigger an emotional response.

That is grief. It never really completely goes away. I know the feeling of grief from the time I lost my dad. Now, I also identify how maybe my mother was feeling when I was nine years old and my grandad passed.

The feelings of grief don't just go away. It's why we get triggered by certain songs that come on the radio that remind us of people that have been lost or certain circumstances that will remind us of a previous life or previous time in our lives, where we had that certain circumstance or that person close to us. I suggest being mindful of that, it does get easier with time, but it doesn't ever completely go away.

The stages of grief were first written about by Elizabeth Kubler Ross. And she said that there were five stages to grief. They have now been expanded to seven, through adaptation and over time. We're going to have a look at these now and talk through some of them. You may very well identify with them or know someone that is experiencing these stages.

The First Stage - Shock and Denial

It can take time to come to terms with what has just happened and the brain can sometimes play tricks on us. For example, you can wake up and think I'm off to work today, but actually, that job no longer exists or you were made redundant.

It could be that you turn to talk to somebody and they're not there anymore to have the conversation with, or you go to phone someone about something. This is something that I have definitely done myself. That's just part of grief. It's a normal process that everybody goes through. You might think you can see them everywhere. These things happen and it takes time to get over that shock and that denial. You're not necessarily trying to deny it yourself, but your brain is doing that because it's continuing with the habitual routine of what you had got used to.

The Second Stage - Pain & Guilt

It is going to hurt. It's going to feel upsetting and there's going to be emotional outbursts. You're going to break down at times or crumble. Of course, you are. This was something that you love, something that you enjoyed having and it's okay to express those emotions. You have to express them. Don't suppress them, make sure that you do let them out, but then be mindful that you will start to potentially feel guilty. You may be saying 'what if I'd done ______, would I still be there?' 'If I made this choice or told them this, then they wouldn't have gone and done that?' So, we start to blame ourselves and start to think that it was our fault that this particular thing or event happened.

Take the pandemic as an example. It is not anybody's fault. It's just a force of whatever that has just happened. Ultimately it's about accepting that and not blaming yourself or other people for what has actually happened.

The Third Stage - Anger & Bargaining

We can feel completely angry. We've gone past the pain, the hurt and the upset.

And now we're angry about what's happened. We may be saying things to ourselves, like, 'why did you do this to me?' or 'I can't believe that you've left me in this situation', or 'I'm really angry. That was a terrible company.'

You may be angry and you may resent what has just happened. And there may be some bargaining. You may say to the powers that be, or in your mind, 'if I do this, can I just have that back?' or 'I would give anything for them to just be here one more time' or 'I promise I will not drink anymore, or I won't do _____ anymore, If I could just have them back.' maybe 'If I could just have that job back, I promise I wouldn't be late anymore. I would definitely do things differently.'

You start to bargain like this with a certain circumstance, but it doesn't often change things in the reality of here and now. part of the situation leads us to reflect on what's happened again, so it's only natural that this will happen.

Stage Four - Low Mood or Depressed State

Your behaviour may completely change. You may feel extremely lethergic, like you don't want to do anything and you don't have any motivation for anything. Remember, this is the grief and the bereavement. It is not you. This isn't your usual state.

Allow yourself to go through the emotions, but remind yourself that it isn't you. Think about how you usually are, how you're going to move forward, try and be hopeful, even though it's difficult. Celebrate the things that you managed to do in the day. Allow yourself to process that and feel a little bit of achievement from even the small things that you do by understanding that this particular stage is going to feel extremely difficult and make sure you share how you're feeling with others.

Stage Five - The Upward Turn

In bereavement or grief, there is a part where things start to turn around. You've hit rock bottom. You have felt extremely low, but now things are starting to turn. This is part of the resilience wave. You know, there is only one way and it's up and it's how you help yourself to come out of that and this upward movement is the next part.

Where you start to do more things and where you start to feel a little bit brighter.

If this doesn't come or it's a long way off, please speak to a professional. Let them know how you're feeling, because if stage four is taking a little bit too long, then it could become worse. So if you are still in a very low mood and it's months down the line and there isn't this kind of upward turn, then you really do need to seek some professional help.

Stage Six - Reconstruction & Working Through Things

Changing things that used to be part and parcel of what happened before. For example, you may need to change billing cycles. You may need to speak to banks about payments. It could be that you need to clear away your loved one's belongings.

As we start to reconstruct and work through things and start to make new processes and new structures in our life, then that can help us through the process. We're starting to move towards the future now by putting things in place and tying up loose ends. Those areas that haven't been organised or resolved since the change of circumstance.

Stage Seven - Acceptance & Hope

Accepting that our mortality is a part of life, accepting that it has changed and things are not going to be the way that they were, is part of the last stage. There is better to come, there are good things on the horizon and staying focused on that and planning things. We you were down you wouldn't have felt like planning anything, but in this stage, it feels like there is light at the end of the tunnel, that we are able to plan, meet family, go for a meal. All these little things will start to add up and they will help you to feel more hopeful.

But remember just because there are seven stages doesn't mean that we flow through them in that order. You could fall back into one, then start to move forward. So, there's no linear progression when it comes to grief and you may end up just having a really low day. Everything's been okay for a couple of months, but then you're really low because you've heard a song that has triggered you or it's just a different day. It may be coming up close to a birthday or a time of year where that particular event or occasion happened. This can lead to a heightened, emotional state. And that's okay. Remember that ball I was talking about earlier, it's going to be there at some points and it is going to bring on an emotional response if we bump into it.

Just be kind to yourself. Understanding that that is going to happen down the line. Grief is something that we all go through. I understand that you may have not been through it before, so also be mindful of what you attach yourself to. If you are unhappy with the life that you now have because the past circumstances have changed, many people often seek out something to replace it, whether that is drugs, drinking, gambling, or something that changes how we feel about the here and now, but remember it is only going to be a short term change. It's not going to help you long term. Please make sure that you talk to people around you. You just need them to listen to you without judgement.

Understand that there is help that you can get, you can talk to other people and they are not going to think that you're being ridiculous or silly, and yes, sometimes other people haven't gone through what you've gone through, although if they can just listen to you so that you can move through it and not try and hide away from it, then that is often all that is needed.

Remember it's important to address it and not suppress it when it comes to emotions, make sure that you get the help you need.

I hope that this article today has really helped you to understand grief a little bit more for someone that may be going through it or that you are going through yourself.

This article was written by a qualified counsellor.


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