A common misconception concerning the process of grieving is that it is associated with the loss of an important person in your life. However, the pains of grief can be experienced over any major loss, such as the death of a pet, ending of a romantic relationship or friendship, divorce, loss of a job, diagnosis of a major illness or retirement. Along with the many types of loss that can precede grief, there are a gamut of emotions and behaviors that are related to the grieving process. There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. In order to be supportive and kind to yourself or a loved one during a time of loss, it’s helpful to understand the stages of grief and the many ways in which it can manifest from person to person.
The 5 Stages of Grief
The following 5 stages of grief can be experienced simultaneously and/or repeated with a swift resolution for some individuals and last an extended period of time for others.
1. Denial: During this stage, there is a general disbelief surrounding what has happened or is happening. People may behave in unusual ways for someone who is grieving, such as going to parties, taking a vacation, buying big ticket items or seeming to be happy.
2. Anger: A person during the anger stage tends to get visibly upset over minor occurrences and engage in sudden outbursts of screaming, harsh criticisms of oneself and others, and destruction of property.
3. Bargaining: In an attempt to change the outcome, bargaining is used as a tool to undo the loss or its impact. This stage may include the following: renewed or deepened religious beliefs; change in lifestyle; commitment to health living; and cessation of habits that are perceived as “bad” or unhealthy.
4. Depression: This stage of grief is generally the longest with frequent overlapping of the anger stage. It can include prolonged periods of crying and anxiety, refusal to participate in daily activities or engage with loved ones, increased periods of sleeping and loss of appetite.
5. Acceptance: The stage of acceptance is when a person truly moves on from a loss. If a previous stage of grief is revisited after achieving what was thought to be “acceptance,” then true acceptance has not yet been reached. It is common to test final acceptance before fully “letting go.”
The process of grief can be a long, difficult road, which doesn’t have to be traveled alone. If you or a loved one is experiencing a loss, it is wise to seek the advice of a professional therapist whom is extensively experienced in guiding clients through the grief process, such as Jan Rakoff, LCSW. If you are in the San Diego area, schedule a phone appointment or initial consultation today by calling 858-481-0425.