Grief is universal. At some point in our lives, each of us would have to deal with grief. This may be in response to the death of a loved one. It can be the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job. To these life-changing experiences, there is no “normal” response: some people may withdraw; others may get angry and some others may feel depressed. While grief is entirely personal and non-linear, there are common features with how people grieve.
The Stages of Grief
In 1969, Swiss-American Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described the five stages of grief in Psychology in her book “On Death and Dying.” This theory of grief was based on several years of working with terminally ill individuals. These five stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
This theory of grief, now known as the Kubler-Ross model is not the only theory of grief there is; several others exist as proposed by renowned psychology experts – including one with seven stages.
It is, however, important to know that people who grieve do not necessarily experience all stages of grief, and some may even experience one of those stages alone. This emphasizes the uniqueness of each person’s response to loss.
This is usually most people’s initial reaction to loss. It is one of the most used defence mechanism in human psychology. Grief can be overwhelming and this mechanism gives you time to process and eventually accept the situation.
For example, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say “No, she’s not that unwell, she’ll come around soon; the doctors probably judged too quickly” in response to the death of a loved one, or “he’ll call me tomorrow to apologize, he is probably angry at something” in response to a breakup or divorce.
There is nothing wrong with this as it just indicates that we find it hard to adapt to the absence of what we once had. As you move out of this stage, you will begin to confront those negative emotions as part of your journey of grief.
Anger helps us to mask the other emotions that come with loss. It is not uncommon to find yourself rage and hate on your ex-partner just after a divorce or on your former employer after a sack.
Anger may even be directed at inanimate objects. Breaking household objects, destroying your ex-partner’s properties, or damaging things that belong to your former company all describe the anger that some people feel while grieving.
Some people get stuck in this stage for several months to years leading to deep-seated resentment; while for others, the anger subsides, then they begin to rationalize the events leading up to the loss.
“If only I had taken her to the hospital earlier, she would not have died,” or “If only I loved her more deeply, she would not have gone” are examples of bargaining during grief.
Bargaining is a coping mechanism in psychology, which people adopt to delay the hurt and sadness that comes with loss. At this stage, you try to think of ways in which the experience or event could have been averted – even when it is beyond your control.
This stage comes with a lot of guilt and regret, which may linger for a long time leading to potentially harmful behavioural problems if not handled cautiously.
Grief and loss come with deep hurt and sadness. This often sets in after the earlier stages subside. It could be a difficult and overwhelming experience; you may feel confused and drained as it seems impossible to adjust to the loss of that loved one or diagnosis of a terminal illness.
This is where strong emotional support from family and friends is crucial. With good support, some people may get through this phase in a short time; however, for others, it may culminate in major depression and addiction.
If you feel stuck in this phase and can’t seem to shake off the sadness after a long period of grief, it may be time to talk with a grief counsellor or mental health professional.
While acceptance does not always imply that you are now happy and have moved on from loss, it does mean that you have accepted that the event has happened or is happening and have used that experience to shape your perspective positively.
Instead of continuously blaming yourself or someone else for the death of your loved one, you may choose to be thankful for the good times you shared with them and the lessons you have learned from the loss.
Acceptance is a gradual process and is often liberating. It takes control off of the situation and places you in control of it.
Dealing with Grief
Grief is a painful and overwhelming experience for everyone; however, it remains a personal journey. There is no “correct” way to grieve, neither are their normal timelines for it. To get through this difficult journey, it is important to get as much emotional support as possible, take good care of yourself physically and emotionally, and stay hopeful about the future.
If you’d like support, one of our psychologists could see you. You will need a referral from your GP. During the pandemic, clients are having up to 20 sessions with a psychologist a year and receiving a Medicare rebate.