Loss is a normal part of life. Whether you’re facing a divorce, the loss of a loved one, or a severe illness, learning to live with grief is an integral part of emotional repair as you age.
Just as no two people age quite the same way or at the same pace, grief is also an incredibly personal, individual journey that can look and feel different for everyone. The grief process is not set in stone, and there’s not a right or wrong way to grieve.
The Stages of Grief
Although we all have our own grief journeys, there is a map that outlines the stages and patterns of grief to help us identify where we’re at in the process.
When facing a loss of some kind, our first reaction is often denial. We tend to tell ourselves things like, “No, that can’t be true,” “Maybe the doctor made a mistake and misdiagnosed me,” “Maybe they mixed up my test with someone else’s,” or “I don’t believe her. My spouse wouldn’t cheat on me.”
When you’re in denial, you’re not facing actual reality but rather your preferred reality. As counterintuitive as it may seem, denial is actually healthy and eventually helps us accept and face our grief. Denial helps to cushion the initial shock until you are able to acclimate to it.
In essence, dental helps to buy you time. Often the shock of a loss is so great in the beginning that the full impact of it can be staggering. Denial is a natural defense mechanism that softens the blow and allows you to face the loss bit by bit instead of all at once.
Once the initial shock starts to fade, denial can lessen, allowing the suppressed feelings to come to the surface.
When you exit the preferable reality that is created in the denial stage and enter actual reality, it’s common for anger to start setting in. During the anger stage, it’s common to think, “Why me?” or “Life isn’t fair.” You may also lash out at those around you or blame others for your loss.
But, it’s important to realize that anger isn’t actually the primary emotion you’re feeling. It’s secondary to feelings of betrayal, abandonment, frustration and fear. These deeper feelings make us feel more vulnerable, but the anger gives you a sense of power — if only just for the moment — motivating us to take action on our own or something else’s behalf.
Not only does anger help you feel like you have some measure of control in a situation that you would otherwise feel powerless in, but it also helps to temporarily shield you from the deeper truth.
People often think of anger as a negative emotion, but it’s actually a healthy and necessary part of the grieving process that helps to bind you to reality. It’s important to really feel your anger and recognize that it’s a natural step toward healing.
When you’re facing a loss, you might find yourself thinking that you’d be willing to do just about anything to reverse it and go back to the way things were before. This is called the bargaining stage.
Experiencing a loss can make you feel incredibly helpless and vulnerable. Bargaining is your way of looking to regain some level of control over the situation — that you have the ability to affect the outcome. Bargaining is a falsely hopeful stag that helps to postpone the sometimes overwhelming feelings of confusion, hurt and sadness that accompany loss.
Bargaining can also be coupled with feelings of guilt. If you’re facing the loss of a romantic partner, for example, you might think, “If only I had made more time for him, he wouldn’t have left.”
In order to heal, it’s essential to examine these feelings of guilt further and more consciously to determine your accountability in the situation, or if familiar patterns of self-blame are behind them.
Once you move past denial, anger and bargaining, you also move past all of the mechanisms designed to shield you from the full impact of the loss. Overwhelmed with the feeling associated with the loss, it’s common to become depressed.
Not to be confused with clinical depression, the depression stage of the grief cycle can be totally natural and appropriate for many people. The intense feelings of sadness during the depression stage can leave you feeling vulnerable, fatigued, confused or distracted. You may have trouble eating or sleeping, or not be able to enjoy things that used to bring you joy.
Although depression is a normal part of the grieving process, it’s important not to let yourself get stuck here. If you find yourself wavering in the depression stage, talk with a psychologist or other mental health expert who can help you work through it.
The final stage of grief is acceptance. A lot of people are under the misconception that acceptance means that you’ve moved past the loss or gotten over your grief — that it’s an uplifting or happy stage.
If you’re in the acceptance phase after you’ve just lost your spouse, for example, instead of saying, “He can’t really be gone,” or, “If only I had worked fewer hours, he would still be here,” you may say something like, “I’m so grateful that we had so many years together.”
Unfortunately, acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re over it and ready to move on. It simply means that you’ve accepted it. Instead of being passive or attempting to change the situation, you’re merely present, learning to live with and adjust to your new reality.
Turn to Blair Wellness Group for Grief Support
Feelings associated with grief can be overwhelming and incredibly uncomfortable. Although you may just want to ignore it, sometimes, acknowledging and talking about your feelings can help you move through them and cope.
Dr. Cassidy Blair of Blair Wellness Group is a licensed clinical psychologist who can provide you with the support you need throughout the grieving process. We serve clients in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Brentwood, West Hollywood, and the surrounding areas. Schedule your appointment today.