Understanding the 5 Stages of Grief

Based on the research and writings of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

The five stages of griefElizabeth Kubler-Ross said, “Learn to get in touch with the silence within yourself and know that everything in this life has a purpose.” Let’s follow her advice and come to understand how we and those we care about experience grief.

The first thing to understand about grief is that we all feel it at different times and for different reasons. Losing a loved one is a common cause of grief and sorrow, but some people are impacted by loss more than others. “Emotional response, and trauma, must be seen in relative not absolute terms. The (Kubler-Ross) model helps remind us that the other person’s perspective is different to our own, whether we are the one in shock, or the one helping another to deal with their upset.” Read more by Alan Chapman.

Once we can accept that we all move through grief in different ways, we can embrace our own journey through the stages of grief. These stages were created and coined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross: learn more about her research and work through her foundation. The first stage is “Denial.” Denial is a refusal to accept the change or trauma that has happened or is happening. When a loved one dies, it is natural to feel disbelief and reject reality at first. Dramatic changes in our lives, like death, kind of overload our system, and our brain tries to put things back to the way they were before by ignoring the traumatic facts.

When we can deny reality no longer, the next stage we enter into is “Anger.” Remember, these stages manifest in different ways for every person—many people feel anger at themselves, assign blame to others, or express sudden, irrational anger as an outlet. Knowing about this stage of grief can help us support and validate loved ones who are suffering as we remember that their anger and blame may be directed at us, but are not really about us.

After we experience anger we enter into the stage called “Bargaining.” This stage, basically, is when we try to find a solution to the “problem” that is causing our grief. This solution, however, is temporary and unsustainable. Many people bargain with God or the Universe to bring their loved one back or take the pain away. We soon realize these bargains will not solve the grief we are experiencing, and upon this realization we move into the next stage.

Depression” is the fourth stage of the cycle. We finally understand what has happened, realize there is no one to blame and there is most likely no easy solution, and so we slip into unhappiness. It is natural to experience sadness, regret, fear, and hopelessness after a trauma like a death has occurred. Actually, depression is a sign that acceptance is near and our emotions will balance out again.

The last stage of the grief cycle is called “Acceptance.” Of course, this stage varies with every person, but when we reach acceptance we can begin to recover from the pain and suffering we have experienced so intensely up to this point. Acceptance does not mean peace or happiness, it’s the ability to focus on other day-to-day things, to think of a future without our loved one. It is simply understanding that grief is real and lasting and acceptable to experience.

Whether you are journeying through this cycle yourself or you are trying to support someone else as they experience it, it’s important to be aware of the typical stages of grief and what they really mean. Read more about the five stages of grief in this book, “On Death and Dying.”

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6 thoughts on “Understanding the 5 Stages of Grief

  1. Although I respect the work that Kubler-Ross did to open the stigma box of death and dying, the “5 Stages” are quite outdated. My clients often get confused that they have not yet experienced these stages, or that they are “stuck” in a stage. It’s much more useful to think of phases. There are countless other phases that one goes through besides “five”. A griever may feel that they are going through all these phases in a day or perhaps never hit a phase (such as anger). Grief is not depression in the clinical sense. Grief is normal, a true expression of love.

  2. My father recently passed away and I am experiencing the grief. This has helped a little. Knowing he is heaven now and to know he is peace has helped me a great deal. We were very close for father daughter relationship.

    1. Hi Andrea,

      We are sorry to hear of your loss. Grief is a heavy weight to bear. We send our condolences and love to you.

  3. My son lost his father in July and has since been through the denial stage. I am noticing lots of signs that he is in anger stage and would like to know some ways to help him through this and to find an appropriate outlet. He meets with a grief support group once a week and talks to a counselor as well, but I know he needs more support and understanding at home. So if anyone has any suggestions or input please.

  4. Recently my best friend/neighbor and Godlt sister died of cancer. I had helped to raise her three daughter since birth. They are 11 and Twins of 9. Their Dad who has always been in the picture has decided that I can have no contact with the girls. I understand his grief as my husband past away 8+years ago. They were there for me through it all. Now I can do nothing to help with his grief. I can do nothing but suffer through my grief without them.

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