The Seven Stages of Grief

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By Tess Thompson

Grief is the response to a loss. The loss could be felt for the death of a loved one, a business loss, loss of friendship or a spouse, or some other thing that is considered dear. Almost everyone suffers some emotional distress due to a loss.

Grief however, is specifically a feeling of intense sadness and sorrow caused by loss of a loved one, especially by death. In most cases, grief is a transient emotional reaction that passes with time, but complicated grief is a reaction to bereavement that lasts more than one year. Although complicated grief is not a medical diagnosis, it has a detrimental affect on the overall emotional health of a person.

A grieving person passes through many phases with a different emotion at each stage. These stages can be applied to any significant loss, due to death or otherwise, and may or may not occur in the same sequence as detailed by the experts. Moreover, in instances of transient grief, an individual may go through only one or two of the stages that generally pertain to complicated grief. Some experts prefer to include the process of emotional healing as they realize that healing is part of the process of grieving.

  1. The initial reaction is usually a state of shock and disbelief on hearing news of a loss or death. Somehow, the gravity of the situation does not register. People in this stage tend to disbelieve the information and try and disregard the facts. They may also try and prove that the harbinger of the news is not a reliable source of information.
  2. The next stage is denial, which lasts for a short period of time in most cases. With some, however, it can endure over a period of time. There is denial of the situation, and people in this stage refuse to accept or are unable to accept the reality of the situation.
  3. Bargaining is what most of us do on hearing of a loss. The general sentiment is to put the clock back and reverse the loss or bargain with God. It is characterized by comments like "take me instead".
  4. Guilt usually overlaps bargaining. Although the obvious reaction is to blame oneself, the underlying emotion has undertones of reconciliation with the loss.
  5. Up until this next stage, emotions are felt within oneself. It is when anger is expressed outwardly that the grief process starts to manifest.
  6. Depression, as such, is not a standalone stage of grief. It is a frequent occurrence during the entire grieving process, and may keep on recurring at every stage as well.
  7. Eventually when reality starts setting in and there is a realization that things cannot be reversed, acceptance and hope start moving in the thought process-- sometimes inadvertently. This is the moment when the grieving process moves towards its end.

The positive end of the grieving stages is reconciliation and an attempt to move on with life. Coming out of the grieving process is basically a realization that certain things in life happen despite our best efforts to avoid them. Even if we try, we can never prepare ourselves for grief, because doing so would amount to denying ourselves the joy of living. If a loss does happen, it has to be accepted as part of the various challenges of life and must be met with a positive mental attitude.


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