Grief is a universal emotion. Everyone will face grief at some point in their lives. It might be the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the termination of a relationship, or any other change that affects life as you know it. Grief is also highly personal. It’s not really tidy or linear. It does not adhere to any timetables or schedules. You may cry, grow furious, withdraw, or feel empty. None of these things are unique or incorrect. Everyone grieves individually, although there are certain similarities in the stages and order of sensations experienced throughout bereavement.
Who Created the Five Stages of Grief?
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross devised the five stages of grief paradigm, which became popular after the publication of her book On Death and Dying in 1969. Kübler-Ross created her model to depict people confronting their own mortality due to terminal illness. However, it was quickly adopted as a generic way of thinking about grief.
Do the Five Stages Occur in Chronological Order?
The five phases – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – are sometimes discussed as though they occur sequentially, progressing from one to the next. People may say things like, “Oh, I’ve moved on from denial and now I suppose I’m approaching the angry stage.” But this isn’t always the case.
In reality, Kübler-Ross makes it plain in her literature that the stages are non-linear—people might experience these features of grief at different times, and they do not occur in any specific order. You may not go through all of the stages, and your feelings may be completely different with each bereavement.
Common Grief Myths
Because everyone grieves differently and for different reasons, you may feel that your own grieving process isn’t progressing “according to the standard.”
But keep in mind that there is no such thing as a right or incorrect approach to cope with a loss.
These are some of the things that may come to mind when considering your own or someone else’s method of grieving.
#1. ‘I’m doing it wrong.’
One of the most popular myths about grief is that everyone experiences it in the same manner.
There is no one technique to heal from a loss. You might find it helpful to remind yourself that there is no “I should be feeling this way.”
Grieving isn’t about going over or following a specific list of actions. It is a one-of-a-kind and comprehensive healing adventure.
#2. ‘I should be feeling…’
Not everyone goes through all of the following stages or feelings in the same way.
For example, perhaps the depression stage feels more like anger than sadness to you. And denial may be more of a sensation of shock and disbelief than a real anticipation that something out of the blue will restore the loss.
The emotions used to explain the phases of grief aren’t the only ones you’ll feel. It’s natural to not feel them at all.
This is not an indicator that your recovery path is flawed in any way. Your healing experience is unique to you, yet it is valid nonetheless.
#3. ‘This comes first.’
Remember that there is no set or linear order for the phases of grief.
You might progress through the steps sequentially or back and forth. Some days you may feel really depressed, and the next day you may wake up feeling incredibly hopeful. Then you may go back to feeling depressed. On some days, you might even feel both!
Similarly, denial isn’t always the first emotion you’ll feel. Perhaps your first emotional reaction is anger or depression.
This is normal and is part of the healing process.
#4. ‘It’s taking too long.’
Coping with a loss is ultimately a profoundly personal and unique experience. Many factors influence how long it takes.
Some people recover from grief in a matter of days. Others take months or longer to process their loss.
You might find it advantageous not to establish any deadlines for your process.
Some of these feelings will come and go in waves during sorrow. This intensity will gradually fade.
If your feelings persist or worsen in strength and frequency, it may be time to seek professional help.
#5. ‘I’m depressed.’
Going through the stages of grief, particularly the depression stage is not the same as having clinical depression. There is a contrast between clinical depression and grief.
This means that while some symptoms may be identical, there are significant variances between the two.
For example, in bereavement, the intensity and frequency of profound sadness will diminish over time. You may even feel this pain while finding temporary relief in good recollections from before the loss.
On the other hand, in clinical depression, without correct treatment, your mood will remain negative or deteriorate over time. It would almost certainly have an impact on your self-esteem. You may rarely feel pleasure or happiness.
This is not to say that you won’t experience clinical depression during grieving. Seek help if your emotions become more intense and frequent.
Are There 5 or 7 Stages of Grief?
In her book “On Death and Dying,” a Swiss-American psychiatrist named Elizabeth Kübler-Ross proposed in 1969 that mourning could be divided into five stages. Her findings stemmed from years of working with terminally sick patients.
The Kübler-Ross paradigm was named after her grief theory. While it was originally designed for those who were unwell, these stages of grief have been adapted for other types of loss experiences as well.
The five stages of grieving are the most well-known. However, they are far from the only popular stages of grief idea. There are several others, including those with seven stages and some with only two.
The Five Stages of Grief
The 5 Stages of Grief is a theory proposed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. It implies that we go through five unique stages after losing a loved one. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, despair, and eventually acceptance. 2
Denial helps us decrease the terrible grief of loss during the initial stage of the grieving process. We are attempting to survive emotional agony as we digest the truth of our loss. It’s difficult to realize we’ve lost someone essential in our lives, especially if we just spoke with them the week before or even the day before.
Our reality has entirely transformed during this period of grief. It can take some time for our minds to acclimate to our new reality. We dwell on the experiences we enjoyed with the person we lost, and we may wonder how to move forward in life without this person.
This is a lot of material to take in and a lot of sad visuals to comprehend. Denial seeks to slow down this process and guide us through it one step at a time, rather than risking feeling overwhelmed by our feelings.
Denial is more than just denying the loss. We’re also attempting to absorb and comprehend what’s going on.
Anger is the second stage of grief. We are attempting to acclimatize to a new world and are most likely suffering tremendous emotional anguish. There is so much to comprehend that rage may feel like an emotional outlet.
Keep in mind that being angry does not mean being overly vulnerable. However, it may feel more socially acceptable to admit we are terrified. Anger permits us to express emotions without fear of being judged or rejected.
Anger is often the first feeling we feel when we begin to express our grief. This can make us feel lonely in our experiences. It can also cause us to be seen as unapproachable by others in situations where we could benefit from comfort, connection, and reassurance.
When coping with loss, it is not uncommon to feel so desperate that you are willing to do anything to lessen or minimize the agony. During this stage of grief, you may try to bargain with the situation, agreeing to do something in exchange for relief from your agony.
When bargaining begins, we frequently direct our desires to a higher power or something larger than us that may be able to influence a different conclusion. During the grieving process, bargaining can take the form of a variety of promises, including:
- “God, if you can heal this individual, I will change my life.”
- “I pledge to be better if you let this individual life.”
- “I’ll never be furious again if you can save him/her from dying or leaving me.”
When we understand there is nothing we can do to affect change or achieve a better final result, we become acutely conscious of our humanity.
Bargaining stems from a sense of powerlessness and provides us with a false sense of control over something that appears to be out of our hands. During negotiation, we have a tendency to focus on our personal flaws or regrets. We may reflect on our relationships with the person we are losing and recall all the times we felt alienated or may have caused them sorrow.
It is typical to reflect on moments when we may have said something we did not mean and wish we could change our behavior. We also make the dramatic assumption that if things had gone differently, we would not be in such an emotionally terrible place in our life.
When we are grieving, our imaginations calm down and we begin to look at the realities of our current circumstances. Bargaining no longer feels like an option, and we are faced with what is happening.
We begin to experience the loss of our loved ones more intensely during this stage of grief. Our terror begins to lessen, the emotional fog lifts, and the loss feels more present and unavoidable.
As the sadness develops, we tend to withdraw from within. We may feel ourselves withdrawing, becoming less sociable, and reaching out to others less about our problems. Although this is a normal part of the grieving process, dealing with sadness following the loss of a loved one may be exceedingly isolating.
If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on local support and treatment options. More mental health resources can be found in our National Helpline Database.
Acceptance is the fifth and last stage of grief. When we reach a point of acceptance, it is not because we no longer feel the anguish of loss. Instead, we are no longer opposing the truth of our position, nor are we attempting to change it.
Sadness and regret may still be evident throughout this stage. However, the emotional survival tactics of denial, bargaining, and wrath are less likely to be present throughout this stage of the grieving process.
Additional Grieving Process Models
Although Elisabeth Kübler-5 Ross’s Stages of Grief model is widely recognized, there are other models to explore.
These models can help people who are grieving the loss of a loved one. They can also be used by professionals in the healing professions to help them give excellent care to bereaved people seeking knowledgeable guidance.
The 7 Stages of Grief
Another prominent paradigm for expressing the various complex sensations of loss is the seven stages of stages. These are the seven stages:
- Shock and denial: This is a state of shock and numbness.
- Pain and guilt: You may feel that the loss is unbearable and that your feelings and needs are complicating other people’s lives.
- Anger and bargaining: You may strike out, telling God or a higher power that you’ll do everything they want if they’ll just give you respite from these feelings or this predicament.
- Depression: This could be a period of solitude and loneliness while you process and ponder the loss.
- The upward spiral: At this time, the stages of grief such as wrath and agony have subsided, leaving you in a more calm and relaxed state.
- Reconstruction and healing: You can begin to put the pieces of your life back together and go forward.
- Acceptance and hope: This is a gradual acceptance of the new way of life and a sense of possibilities for the future.
What Is the Most Difficult Stage of Grief?
There is no single stage that is unanimously regarded as the most difficult to bear. Grief is a highly personal experience. The most difficult stage of sorrow differs from person to person and even from scenario to scenario.
The 4 Stages of Grief
John Bowlby, a renowned psychologist, studied the emotional relationship between parent and child.
Early attachment experiences with important individuals in our lives, such as caretakers, help shape our sense of safety, security, and relationships, according to him.
Bowlby’s attachment theory proposed a model of sorrow based on Bowlby’s attachment theory, claiming that there are four stages of grief when a loved one dies:
- Shock and numbness: Loss feels unfathomable at this point. We feel overwhelmed when attempting to cope with our emotions, which is closely related to Kübler-Ross’s theory of denial. According to Parkes, there is also bodily distress experienced during this phase, which can lead to somatic or physical symptoms.
- Yearning and searching: As we process loss in this stage of grief, we may begin to seek consolation to fill the emptiness our loved one has left. We could accomplish this by reliving memories through images and looking for signs from the individual to feel connected to them. During this stage, we become preoccupied with the person we have lost.
- Despair and disorganization: During this stage, we may find ourselves doubting and angry. The fact that our loved ones will not return feels genuine, and we may have difficulty understanding or finding hope in our future. We may feel aimless and withdraw from people during this stage of the grief process.
- Reorganization and recovery: At this point, we are more optimistic that our hearts and brains will be restored. As with Kübler-Ross’ acceptance stage, our pain or longing for our loved one does not go away. However, we progress toward healing and connected with others for support, finding tiny steps to reestablish some normalcy in our everyday life.
The Stages of Grief FAQs
What is the hardest stage of grief?
Depression is typically the most severe and prolonged stage of mourning.
How long is a healthy mourning period?
There is no defined timeline for grieving. You may begin to feel better in 6 to 8 weeks, but the entire treatment can take months or years. In subtle ways, you may begin to feel better. It will become simpler to get out of bed in the mornings, or you may have more energy.