Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified 5 emotional phases that occur after a grief event. These emotional experiences include: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.
While grief is most often correlated with the experience of someone passing away, grief is present in all aspects of our lives. We experience grief anytime there is change and, surprise - things are always changing. This means we are in a constant state of grief and always in or moving through one of Kubler-Ross' identified emotional phases. Our grief may feel different for when we have lost a loved one versus when we change our job, but regardless of the situation Kubler-Ross' stages continue to be relevant.
It may seem strange to be in a constant state of grief, but if we look at the stages of grief we may see more clearly how often we find ourselves in these experiences.
Denial occurs most often right after the event. You may find it hard to believe what has happened, that it makes no sense, or try to continue living as though nothing has happened. Oftentimes you feel numb, shocked, or like you are living in "survival mode." Denial is a protective mechanism that helps us move through the early aftermath and ease us towards the healing that will come throughout the process of grieving.
During this stage you are likely to feel frustrated, irritable, and anxious. The anger felt in grief can be overwhelming, exhausting, and scary - especially if we experience anger after denial where we felt so little through our numbness. The anger felt in grief is valid and acts as a tether to reality, helping us come to terms with what has happened. It is important to feel and express the anger in a healthy and supported way.
The bargaining stage involves a struggle to find meaning as you try to reconcile your experience. Many times this stage includes feelings of guilt and an attempt to restore our lives to the way things were before the grief event. You may find yourself living in the past and focusing on ways to negotiate out of feeling hurt.
Depression after a grief event tends to have feelings of overwhelm, helplessness, and hostility. Depression is a feeling most people attribute to grief and it is likely that others will relate to or understand the depression stage better than the others. You may find that in the depression stage you withdraw, isolate, live in a fog, or question the purpose of your own life. This is often the stage where people admit they are grieving.
Acceptance is the last stage of Kuber-Ross' model and is an integration of the learning and healing you have experienced in all other stages. While you may never feel "okay" about the grief event, you are now able to recognize that the event happened, that it was difficult, and that you are going to be okay. While the grief event is not a "good" thing that has happened, you are able to accept that you will live with the experience. You may find yourself coming out of the fog of grief, having more good days than hard days, and making plans for the future.
Each of these stages is an integral part to healing after a grief event. Each stage will take as long as it needs to take and no stage will be skipped. Any change that creates feelings of grief is worthy of being grieved, knowing that there will be the opportunity to find acceptance. It is okay if you are struggling to move through your grief, and there are professionals ready to support you in that process. As we talk more about grief in the next few blogs, we invite you to consider less obvious grief events that have occurred and where you find yourself in the process of Kubler-Ross' stages of grief.
If you would like to work with a professional as you process your grief, please reach out to our office.