Understanding the Stages of Grief after Loss
Updated: May 6
While there is no one way to define our grief after you’ve experienced a significant loss, grief and loss has been studied extensively and a common model of how people grieve is called the Stages of Grief. We do know that everyone grieves in their own way, and that even the same loss can affect two unique people vastly differently. How you grieve, and your process for managing the pain of the loss, is affecting in many ways, including your relationship to the loss (usually a person, but can be something more nebulous like loss of one’s health, or home, or security), your past experiences with grief and loss, and your current circumstances.
The 5 Stages of Grief
One of the more widely accepted models of grief suggests that the grieving process will likely include 5 stages. You may go through each stage sequentially, while others will shift between stages or might not experience every stage. While every person’s grieving process is unique, it can often be helpful to know that what you are experiencing is normal and common, and will not be permanent.
Stage 1: Denial
During this stage of grief, you may be inclined to avoid the reality of the loss. In the case of a death, you may feel like you are “living a dream” and will just wake up. In the event of a divorce, loss of job or loss of a friend, you may believe that “this is just a phase” or something that can be easily rectified. During this stage, your mind is attempting to process the shock of the loss and make it feel manageable.
Stage 2: Anger
During this stage of grief, you may experience intense feelings that are difficult to manage or verbalize, and at times you may feel anger, rage, cynicism and blame towards others for the loss. It is during this stage that you may feel out of control and just grasping to make some sense of the loss. Anger can also be a way that you withdraw from others, pushing them away because you feel too overwhelmed with your feelings. Anger can present itself as anger towards others or anger towards yourself.
Stage 3: Bargaining
During this stage of grief, you may have a lot of thoughts about the “what if’s” of the loss. You may blame yourself for doing something, or not having done enough. You may become pre-occupied with what “could have been done” and you may find yourself pre-occupied with how you need to be better to prevent loss in the future. During this stage, you may be experiencing a large range of emotions and attempting to regain control.
Stage 4: Depression
During this stage of grief, you may begin to feel less activated than in the previous stages, moving from anxiety and anger to feeling overwhelmed and fatigued, and sometimes numb. You may begin to have more cynical thoughts about the world and its meaning, your own safety and security, and you may feel hopeless that this will ever go away. You may even have suicidal thoughts. You are beginning to understand your emotions but your mind and body are exhausted from the process. During this stage, you may begin to feel “heavy” because you are beginning to really understand your emotional experience.
Stage 5: Acceptance
During this stage of grief, you begin to feel a greater sense of control, and you have begun to make meaning of the loss in the greater context of your life. However, this is still a stage of the grieving process, and while closure may benefit you long-term, it can also be a painful and difficult time. During this stage, you may benefit from rallying your supports and resources to understand your needs, while also being patient with yourself as pass through the grieving process.
When to Seek Therapy
Most people will seek therapy as they begin to experience the depression stage of their grief, as this is the time when you tend to be more reflective on how the loss has impacted you, and it is during this stage that you may often experience the greatest feelings of internal distress. This is also a time when becoming more isolated, irritable or withdrawn can lead to conflicts in your relationships. It is at this time when you feel the greatest need for support, and oftentimes a professional can provide support that family and friends may not be able to, due to your grieving.
How We Can Help
Regardless of where you are in the grieving process, your pain and the changing emotions that you are experiencing can be difficult. If you would like to talk to someone more about how Catalyss Counseling can help you recover from your grief, follow these simple steps:
1. Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation
3. Begin moving towards a life with acceptance after loss
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Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:
Grief and loss therapy is important for learning to live again after your loss. But, we know that is not all you might need. So, we want to meet all of your counseling needs in the Denver area. Our supportive therapists provide depression counseling, therapy for caregiver stress, anxiety treatment, stress management counseling and more. We also have specialists in trauma and PTSD, women's issues, pregnancy and postpartum depression or anxiety, pregnancy loss and miscarriage, and birth trauma. For therapists, we can also provide clinical supervision! We look forward to connecting with you to help support your journey today.
Shannon Heers is a psychotherapist, guest blogger, and owner of Catalyss Counseling in Englewood, CO. Shannon helps adults in professional careers manage anxiety, depression, work-life balance, and grief and loss. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn and Facebook