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The 5 Stages of Clinical Grief and Loss

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

The five stages of grief model (or the Kübler-Ross model) says that those experiencing grief go through a series of five emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Understanding the different stages of grief allows the grieving person to avoid a serious mental health condition known as complicated grief.

The Stages

Life is complicated, and the stages do not occur in a set sequence, instead, it jumps from one stage to another depending on the person, the environment and the triggers. But those who have recently suffered grief or loss, such as bereavement, will often cycle through these 5 stages. Therapists use these stages to guide them to determine and to personalize the treatment for those who are grieving. Regardless, as your read further, just remember that your grief is as unique as you, and that there are no right or wrong ways to grief your losses.

Stage 1 - The Denial Stage

Denial helps us cope with the overwhelming state that we find ourselves mired into when we lose something or someone that is very important to us. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle. As you accept the reality of the loss and start to ask yourself questions, you are unknowingly beginning the healing process. You are becoming stronger, and the denial is beginning to fade.

Stage 2 - The Anger Stage

Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless, embrace it in its entirety. The more you truly feel it, the more it will begin to dissipate and the more you will heal. There are many other emotions under the anger and you will get to them in time, but anger is the emotion we are most used to managing. The truth is that anger has no limits. It can extend not only to your friends, the doctors, your family, yourself and your loved one who died but also to God. You may ask, “Where is God in this? Underneath anger is pain, your pain. It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger. Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss. Sometimes, anger can be directed inward, leading to self-harm. At other times, it can lead to physical fights with others. In such cases, you need to start counselling and therapy to gain tools that can help you cope better with the anger and the underlying pain that arises.

Stage 3 - The Bargaining Stage

Before a loss, it seems like you will do anything if only your loved one would be spared. “Please God, ” you bargain, “I will never be angry at my wife again if you’ll just let her live.” After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce. “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others. Then can I wake up and realize this has all been a bad dream?” We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. We want life returned to what it was; we want our loved ones restored. We want to go back in time: find the tumour sooner, recognize the illness more quickly, stop the accident from happening…if only, if only, if only. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. We may even bargain with the pain. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt. People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months. They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.

Stage 4 - The Depressed Stage

After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present. Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever. It’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a great loss. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, wondering, perhaps, if there is any point in going on alone? Why go on at all? Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of. The first question to ask yourself is whether or not the situation you’re in is actually depressing. The loss of a loved one is a very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response. To not experience depression after a loved one dies would be unusual. When a loss fully settles in your soul, the realization that your loved one didn’t get better this time and is not coming back is understandably depressing. If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way. Embrace the sadness and through the sadness connect back to the wonderfully blessed memories that you have shared with the departed. Like a sweet and sour dish, allow the depression to be tinged with sweetness, prayers and acceptance.

Stage 5 - The Acceptance Stage

Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the loss of a loved one. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually, we accept it. We learn to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live. We must try to live now in a world where our loved one is missing. In resisting this new norm, at first many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved one died. In time, through bits and pieces of acceptance, however, we see that we cannot maintain the past intact. It has been forever changed and we must readjust. We must learn to reorganize roles, re-assign them to others or take them on ourselves. Finding acceptance may be just having more good days than bad ones. As we begin to live again and enjoy our life, we often feel that in doing so, we are betraying our loved ones. We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections, new meaningful relationships, new inter-dependencies. Instead of denying our feelings, we listen to our needs; we move, we change, we grow, we evolve. We may start to reach out to others and become involved in their lives. We invest in our friendships and in our relationship with ourselves. We begin to live again, but we cannot do so until we have given grief its time.

When it comes to dealing with grief and loss, you need a therapist that understands the stages of grief and the pain of the loss. Humanity griefs for many things, not just the loss of a loved one but also the loss of a beloved pet, divorce, separation, losses of things like photos or data from a laptop.

As minor or transient as these losses may appear, if you continue to remain in the mourning state after a month, you need to see a therapist who can help you complete your grief cycle and prevent you from entering into a complicated grief terrain. Complicated grief can affect your quality of life, your productivity and reduce your will to live. Since prevention is better than cure, after 3 weeks if you are still feeling the loss as if it happened yesterday, then please do seek help. Our therapists are knowledgeable and can help reduce your sufferings. Call 0184710020 for an appointment.

Do you have a friend who is suffering greatly from grief and loss? Unable to sleep, keep talking about the bereaved, forget to eat, unable to work and so forth? If yes, do your friend a favour and give her a gift that can clinically lift his/her spirit, call us to make an appointment for your friend it is the best contribution that you can offer to your friend and the family. #complicatedgriefandloss #griefandloss #bereavement #stagesofgrief #5stagesofgrief #asiahypnosis #360wellnesshub.

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About the Author


Dr. Lennie Soo

Founder and Clinical Director of 360 Wellness Hub.

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