The loss of someone or something dear to us can cause immense pain known as grief. Even though it is a part of each one’s life, grief is a subjective emotion and each one’s ways of dealing with it differ. There are a few recognized stages of grief which help us identify the emotions of the griever.
The emotional suffering and acute pain after losing something dear or a loved one is known as grief. The loss can cause overwhelming emotions. It bears along unexpected emotions of retaliation, guilt, hopelessness, etc.
Grieving is a subjective experience. There is no right or wrong method to grieve. Each one’s grieving process depends on their coping style, life experiences, resilience, faith and significance of the loss. Some people move on with life in a few weeks while some take years to get to terms with the loss.
Grief can be result of many life incidents other than death, such as:
- Divorce or relationship breakups
- Deteriorating health
- Financial instability
- Pets going missing
- Insecurity after trauma
- Moving out of a family home
Research proves that many can recover from grief on their own with a healthy support group and a positive outlook. Although, if relations with the deceased were difficult, the grieving might be more complicated due to the various emotions attached to the deceased.
What are The 5 Stages of Grief?
As psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross presented in her book On Death and Dying, there are five stages of grief which are as follows:
The stage of denial attempts at reducing the harshness of the situation. People deny the news and go numb because the trauma leads them into shock where they are unable to perceive the truth.
If it is news of an incurable illness, the person attempts to deny it by saying the lab got the blood work mixed up. Likewise, if it is news of the death of a loved one, the family denies it by saying the wrong person has been identified.
Denial helps pace the overwhelming impact of grief. Once the denial begins to fade away, the suppressed sadness surfaces and the process of healing begins. It can be seen in the form of avoidance, fear, elation or confusion.
Once the reality of loss and trauma begins to enter daily life, anger may surface. This anger is often directed towards other family members and close friends or even colleagues. Questions like “Why me?”, “Where was God during my bad time?” and “Was it my fault?” begin to intrude upon the thought.
According to researchers, the stage of anger is necessary to fasten the healing. When everything seems to be falling apart, a strong emotion like anger proves to be a safety net, something to hold onto. When grief is overwhelming, it can be seen in the form of anxiety, irritation and frustration.
The stage of bargaining provides a false hope. It is a desperate attempt to get life back to the way it was before the unfortunate incident. Scenarios of “What if” and “If only” begin playing out in the mind. “What if I had taken my husband to the doctor a year ago, his cancer would have been detected at the initial stages and he would still be alive”. “If only I were the one driving the car, she would not have been fatally injured”.
Guilt is often an add on to bargaining which keeps eating into the conscience.
Depression is the most accepted form of grief. It occurs when the realization of the loss settles into the soul. It is expected to come in the form of withdrawal, numbness, hopelessness, lack of motivation for daily tasks, anhedonia or even suicidal thoughts.
Even if the situation may understandably be depressing, moving out of the depressive phase is essential.
Going through the earlier stages with the passage of time helps stabilize emotions. Coming to terms with the new reality, making some adjustments and moving on with life is acceptance.
Acceptance does not mean the memory of the loss or trauma won’t bring sadness. There will be bad days when grief is overwhelming for you all over again. But this time the intensity will be less.
The above theory of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was based on her work with terminally ill patients. It received criticism due to the misunderstanding that each grieving individual must pass all the five stages in the exact sequence in order to heal.
Kubler-Ross clarified stating, not each one experiences all the five stages and some may experience neither of them. And the stages are certainly not in sequence. Each one can experience them in any order.
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Common Misconceptions about Grieving
There are certain myths attached to grief which are not psychologically true. Some of them being:
|The pain will go away if ignored
|Ignoring the pain will only suppress it and make healing difficult.
|Feeling frightened, lonely and helpless are natural responses to trauma and loss. Showing true feelings increases the chances of faster healing.
|No tears means no sense of loss
|Crying is a response to sadness but it is not the only right response. Each individual may express grief differently.
|Grieving lasts for a year
|Grief does not come with a time limit. The length of the healing process determines the duration of grieving.
|Moving on means forgetting the loss or trauma
|Moving on occurs after acceptance and the strength to live with the memory of the loss or trauma.
|Close ones are your best support
|If grief is too much to handle despite the support of close ones, a professional grief counselor will be your best support.
|Medication helps with grief
|During the troubled phase of grieving medication may cause dependency and lead to addiction.
|Only death deserves grief
|Loss of any kind, may it be loss of a house, a pet, a job, a relationship, deserves grief.
|Last stage is to overcome and forget it
|Cause of the grief can not be forgotten. The aim is to adjust to the loss and continue life despite that loss.
The symptoms of grief may present themselves in physical form as well. Often grief which is not expressed emotionally is suppressed and is unconsciously expressed physically in the form of:
- Loss of appetite
- Aches or pains
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Reduced immunity
Since grief is a personal as well as a universal experience, the above symptoms are present in most grievers in different measures regardless of the cause of their grief. These symptoms persist till the grief has been dealt with on the emotional level. Therefore it is always advisable to reach out for help when grief gets overwhelming.