Whether we like it or not, we will all experience grief at some point in our life. We shouldn’t be too sad, however—after all, what meaning would life have if there was no end to it? Indeed, life is all the more beautiful due to its ephemeral nature.
Nonetheless, grief can be overwhelming and quite difficult to overcome. Oftentimes, it generates a lasting trauma. Moreover, we all experience grief in different ways because there are many different factors involved. For example, what did the person who died mean to you specifically? What kind of relationship was it? Was it simple, complex, maybe even violent?
Facing your grief can be a challenge, particularly because there are certain aspects of grief that are not generally discussed in our society. To help you better understand grief and how to overcome it, this article will cover six important steps in your journey to surmount your grief.
6 Stages of Grief
To be perfectly honest, how many stages of grief there are is a subject that’s up for debate. It’s one that psychologists, academics, and counselors continue to discuss.
For the purposes of this article, however, we’re going to look at six distinct stages of grief. You should understand, however, that these stages may occur in a different order for different people, and you may return to certain stages throughout your journey of grief.
Grief can be tough, and you don’t need to go it alone. If you would like more resources on the subject of grief, you may want to check out these helpful resources.
The death of a loved one will often put us in a state of disbelief, if not total shock. This is especially the case if the death was particularly sudden or unexpected (and/or of tragic circumstances).
The feeling of shock can be so strong that you may be unable to speak or articulate how you feel. You may remain in a state of shock for days or even weeks as you struggle to process this new reality where your loved one is no longer around.
With time, however, people generally move out of the shock phase on their own.
Following the shock that is frequently experienced after losing a loved one, the bereaved (i.e. person grieving) will typically move into the denial stage.
Denial is one of the first stages in many different classifications of recovery—for example, with addiction issues. Denial and shock can also go hand in hand. The shock is a defensive mechanism, and while you are in shock, you may not be able to face the reality of the situation because it is too painful for you to handle. So, denial is often a side effect of shock.
On the other hand, denial can often be of a more willful variety. You may have left the shock phase but still refuse to come to terms with what has happened. Unfortunately, it is impossible to truly overcome your grief while remaining in the denial stage.
Guilt is a powerful emotion and generally occurs following the denial stage, though not everyone who grieves may experience it. Ultimately, the type of guilt you experience and how intense it is will depend on the relationship you had with the deceased.
Don’t be fooled, however. Even if you had a wonderful relationship and don’t really have anything to feel guilty about, it’s common to feel at least some degree of guilt. For example, you may simply regret not having spent more time with this person before they passed away.
On the other hand, relationships that were troubled are more likely to cause heavy feelings of guilt. You may feel completely overwhelmed by guilt, and it can really bring you down. Try not to worry about it, though. Guilt is a normal part of the process, and it naturally takes some time to move past it. Try to remind yourself that your guilt won’t do anything to help (neither for you nor the deceased).
Not everyone will experience guilt, and not everyone will necessarily experience anger. And remember that these stages may be experienced in a different order. As mentioned, grief is a unique process that depends on the individual as well as their relationship with the deceased.
That said, anger is a common stage of grief and often follows guilt. In fact, you may even be angry at yourself for feeling guilty—it can be a vicious cycle. But no matter where your anger comes from, it’s important to recognize that this is a normal part of the grieving process.
Just make sure you stay in control of your anger and that you find healthy coping mechanisms. Bottled up anger is never a good idea. If your grieving process is particularly tough, and especially if you are lashing out at others, then you should consider seeking professional help.
Commonly following the guilt and anger of grief is depression. The loss of a loved one may plummet you into a pit of darkness like you haven’t felt before. Whether you were very close or you were quite distant, it doesn’t necessarily matter. Death tends to have us thinking deep thoughts about our own mortality, and this may lead us to depression’s doorstep.
You may experience certain regrets and a sense of meaninglessness. In this way, depression can be debilitating. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be, and depression from grief tends to be a temporary stage like the others. If your depression is lingering, however, or you are already clinically depressed, you may wish to seek the help of a licensed counselor.
Ah, acceptance. You will get to acceptance eventually and it will feel like a breath of fresh air.
But to make your way to acceptance may take weeks, months, or even years. You generally have to work through the other stages before you can finally accept the situation. Fortunately, when you do, you’ll be in the right space to move on.
No, acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean that you feel amazing emotionally, or that you won’t have any sadness or regret, but it generally means that on the whole you have accepted the loss and can move on with your life.
This article has covered six stages of grief: shock, denial, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance. Not everyone will experience all of these stages or in this order, but these are common components of the grieving process.
Better understanding the stages of grief may help you when you’re right in the middle of it. Grief can feel completely overwhelming when you’re in its hands. You may feel so much anger, sadness, and guilt all at once, a horrible emotional cocktail.
Eventually, however, you’ll hang in there and make it to acceptance, and you’ll be able to happily move on with your life again.
This post was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.