The Five Stages of Grief & How to Navigate Them

Grief counselor reaching out and touching the hand of their client as they talk about grief and loss.

Grief can leave many people feeling isolated and alone. But the truth is, we will all feel grief’s touch at one point or another in our life. Navigating grief is part of life, but the five stages of grief affect us all differently. Grief counseling is not a magic cure, but it can be very beneficial to have a counselor next to you as you work your way through grief. Your feelings and emotions are valid during this hard time, and you don’t have to be alone in them. Contact a grief counselor today.  

 

Is Grief Only Associated With Death?

Many associate grief with the passing of a loved one, but that’s not always the case. Grief is about loss. There are a number of life events that can leave someone grieving other than the passing of a loved one.

  • Divorce or Separation
  • Losing a career
  • Being diagnosed with a life-threatening and life-changing illness
  • Losing an important pet
  • Caretaking for a loved one 

There are many forms of grief. Because we all experience life and loss in our own individual way. We also experience and navigate through grief in our own way too. 

 

What Are the Five Stages of Grief? 

Professionals have come up with a set of general stages most people experience while grieving. The pattern comprises of these five stages:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Denial 

It’s not unusual for someone experiencing a highly emotional situation to pretend that it didn’t or isn’t happening. As we experience a flood of overwhelming emotions, our brain may try to numb us as a defense mechanism. Denying something happened or is happening allows us time to gradually process this intense situation rather than be overwhelmed by it. 

People in this stage of grief may seem forgetful and not fully aware of their surroundings. Sometimes the best way to help a loved one during this time is to help them simply remember to eat, drink water, take a shower, and sleep. 

What this stage can look like for:

Loss of a loved one: “They’re not gone. They’ll open that door any minute now.”

Divorce/Separation: “They aren’t actually leaving. Once they calm down, it’ll go back to normal.”

Loss of Job: “They’ll need me soon and call me to come back.”

Illness diagnoses: “The results are wrong.” 

Anger

Anger is a normal reaction to grief and is a way to mask the pain, fear, sadness, and confusion. With emotions that are too hard to handle or understand, some people may become angry at the person who caused them grief or anyone around. It is possible for some people not to go through this stage in their grief, while others can become stuck. If someone lingers in this stage, the anger can turn into bitterness or resentment. When people begin to transition out of this stage, they usually begin thinking rationally and will face their emotions rather than ignore them.

What this stage can look like for:

Loss of a loved one: “If only they would have been stronger, or the doctor would have found out earlier!”

Divorce/Separation: “They’ll regret leaving me!”

Loss of Job: “I hate the company anyways. I hope they go bankrupt.”

Illness diagnoses: “Why me? This is unfair. I don’t deserve this!”

Bargaining

Bargaining is an attempt to postpone sadness, hurt, and confusion. This is a defensive measure to try and protect ourselves from overwhelming emotions. People in this stage will say or think “if only” and “what if” statements. Bargaining is an attempt to regain some control or create a feeling that you can affect the outcome.

What this stage can look like for:

Loss of a loved one: “If only I had seen the signs earlier, they’d still be here.”

Divorce/Separation: “If only I had been more romantic, they wouldn’t have left.”

Loss of Job: “If only I had pushed myself harder to get more done, they wouldn’t have let me go.”

Illness diagnoses: “If only I had seen a doctor earlier, I could have stopped this.”

Depression

While anger and bargaining are very “active” stages of grieving, depression may seem like more of a “quieter” stage. When someone enters the stage of depression, they may isolate themselves further to try and cope or make sense of it all. Depression caused by grief can also cause common signs of depression such as fatigue, lack of motivation, or a foggy mind. This may seem like the unavoidable outcome after a loss. It’s not. If you find yourself suffering from depression, seeing a grief counselor can help you work through this.

What this stage can look like for:

Loss of a loved one: “What’s the point of going on without them?”

Divorce/Separation: “I can never be happy or find someone again.”

Loss of Job: “That job was my life. Now I don’t know where to go from here.”

Illness diagnoses: “Life just ends in a terrible way.”

Acceptance

This stage may seem like the final stage of grief, but it’s not always as uplifting or happy as we may think. Acceptance doesn’t mean that someone has moved on. It’s more about someone finding a way to understand what this life change means in their life now. Acceptance is a way of understanding that there has been a change but that there can still be many good days and still be bad days, and that’s okay. 

What this stage can look like for:

Loss of a loved one: “I will always be grateful to have had the time I spent with them while I could.”

Divorce/Separation: “In the end, this was the right choice.”

Loss of Job: “This is an opportunity to try something new and find a new path I never thought about before.”

Illness diagnoses: “I still have time to be with my loved ones and try to tie up any loose ends.”

Woman hugging her crying girlfriend, supporting her after receiving bad news

Does Grief Always Follow the Same Order?

Not at all. There may be five stages of grief, but that doesn’t mean that two people feel identically the same. You’re not alone, but at the same time, the way you grieve is highly individualistic. Grief can move between stages in any order, and some stages may occur more than once. It is also not unusual for someone to experience multiple stages at the same time.

 

Do the Five Stages of Grief Repeat? 

Most experts today believe that an individual can go through the stages in any order and repeat or revisit stages at any time. Usually, when someone revisits a stage, it happens during times of intense emotional distress. Triggers that bring up memories or experiences linked to one’s grief can cause a wave of sadness, anger, or fear to return.

 

Can Someone Get Stuck in One of the Five Stages of Grief?

Sometimes, people can fall into a depression that is hard for them to see out of. Or someone will hold onto their anger in an attempt to make sense of what happened to them. Some people may find it hard to move away from denial and find acceptance. 

Reach out to a grief counselor to help navigate through intense emotions, especially if you feel trapped in one. Grief may be part of life, but that doesn’t mean we have to identify with it and can’t find ways to heal or cope.

 

Grief Counseling Can Help 

A grief counselor can help you or someone you love navigate through the stages of grief. Counselors will help you build skills to cope with each stage of grief and the overwhelming emotions each brings. 

Grief is hard, but there is help.  Find a counselor today.

Need someone to talk with? We can help.

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