The Five Stages of Grief

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By Tess Thompson

Grief is not a basic emotion, but a person normally experiences one or more basic emotions in the process. When we talk of grief, we must distinguish between normal and complicated grief. The difference between the two is marked by the various stages of grief that one actually goes through. Complicated grief typically sequences through all the stages and is normally based on a situation which is difficult to explain to others.

Although bereavement and grief are often interchangeable terms, bereavement is associated with a state of loss and grief is the reaction to the loss. It is associated with emotional distress like sadness and sorrow that one experiences and also has physical, social, and philosophical undertones. Grief also depends largely upon a person's perception and reasoning.

Over the last four decades there has been a fair amount of research on the subject, and many researchers have arrived at a conclusion on the various stages of grief. Opinions differ on the subject, with some experts insisting upon adding one or two emotional responses here and there. Sometimes the stages vary due to the fact that different stages have been called several names.

Commonly, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are considered to be five stages of grief.

  1. Denial of the event pertains to a period where the grieved does not accept the loss as real. It is characterized by lack of crying. During this phase, most people carry on with life as if the lost individual is still with them.
  2. Anger to follows, with attempts to "get even" with the person causing grief or blaming the deceased for leaving.
  3. Bargaining is a strange response where a grieving person tries to make deals to get back what they have lost with God, to stop or change the loss-- for instance, with a spouse who is leaving.
  4. Depression is characterized by a sad feeling of gloom, hopelessness, frustration, inadequacy and mourning. This is the stage when suicidal thoughts start entering the mind.
  5. Acceptance is the last stage in the 5-stage theory. This is different from resignation. It is marked with approval.

Some other researchers like to name the surge and flow back of grief differently:

  1. Shock and Numbness - Unable to come to terms with reality.
  2. Yearning and Searching - Emotional responses like hatred, jealously, resentment.
  3. Disorganization and Despair - Pain of bereavement.
  4. Reorganization - Process of assimilating loss into the existing cognitive structure.

Every human being is different and deals with grief in various ways. Some are carefree and others are excessively or abnormally emotional. Wellness, physical or mental, depends largely on how we perceive a loss.

Understanding the different stages is simply meant to help in realization that there are certain things that are common in all of us. Nearly everyone passes through these stages, and those who take charge of the situation are able to maintain emotional health. Irrespective of the manner in which you look at things, ultimately it is a positive mental attitude that helps in managing emotions overcome grief.


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