The 7 Stages of Grief

Grief is a natural – and highly individualized – response to loss, whether that be the death of a loved one, end of a relationship, or loss of a job or something else important to us. It’s a complex and deeply personal journey, marked by a range of emotions and obstacles. While five stages of grief are widely acknowledged, modern perspectives on the grieving process have expanded to incorporate a more nuanced approach.

Why Do We Think of Grief in Stages?

Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross popularized the concept of the stages of grief in her 1969 book On Death and Dying, in which she identified five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Breaking grief into stages provides a sense of control, allowing individuals to foresee and validate their emotional reactions.

Kübler-Ross’ model was based on her observations of terminally ill patients, but was later expanded to apply to a broadened experience of grief. In recent years, other experts have suggested that grief is more nuanced, and may include additional stages, including shock, guilt, loneliness, and reconstruction.

The Stages of Grief

At Barn Life Recovery, we acknowledge the seven stages of grief below as part of our treatment approach:

1. Shock or Disbelief

In this initial stage of grief, you may feel stunned or unable to grasp the reality of a loss. It could take a few moments, days or even weeks for our mind to process the loss. You’ll know you’re progressing through this stage when you feel a decrease in the intensity of shock, and a gradual acknowledgment of the loss.

How to best handle this stage

Be patient with yourself, allowing yourself time to absorb the shock. You might also want to seek support from friends and loved ones, or try to get back into your familiar routines to help ground yourself.

2. Denial

In this stage, you may struggle with accepting the reality of a loss. Denial becomes a defense mechanism, in which we try to protect ourselves from overwhelming emotions. The length of time in this stage will vary, often lasting days, weeks, or longer. You’ll know you’re working through this stage when you find yourself more willing to acknowledge the loss, even though you may still have feelings of disbelief.

How to best handle this stage:

Allow yourself to experience and express your emotions, without judgment. It’s also helpful to discuss the loss with friends, family, or a support group to help you work through the reality of the loss, process your feelings, and steps for moving forward.

3. Anger

Anger is a natural reaction to the perceived unfairness of a loss. This stage is characterized by bursts of rage or irritability, directed towards others, yourself, or perhaps even the person or thing that you’ve lost. This stage can be an intense one, but feelings of anger tend to diminish over time. As you move through this stage, you may still experience moments of anger, but they won’t feel as overwhelming.

How to best handle this stage:

Find healthy outlets for expressing anger, such as journaling, exercise, or reaching out to a friend. Be sure to also show yourself compassion and forgiveness for any moments of anger you experience.

4. Bargaining

In this stage, you’ll engage in thoughts or behaviors that attempt to change the outcome or regain control over what has happened. Examples of bargaining statements include: “If only I had done this one thing differently, things would have turned out better” or “I would give anything for one more day with this person.” The length of time spent in this stage will vary, based on your coping mechanisms and beliefs.

How to best handle this stage

Acknowledge your feelings of helplessness, and do your best to surrender to what you can’t change. As with other grief stages, seek out healthy ways to express and cope with your emotions.

5. Guilt

In this stage, you’ll experience feelings of self-blame or responsibility for the loss. This is where you may become inundated with thoughts of “what if” or “if only.” It can be a deeply sad or painful time, as you dwell on past actions or decisions that may have led to the loss. This stage often lasts for an extended period of time, especially if unresolved issues or regrets contribute to feelings of guilt.

How to best handle this stage

Give yourself compassion during this time, acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes. Be gentle with yourself, doing your best to find forgiveness for yourself and others involved.

6. Depression

This stage is essentially a period of mourning, where you may feel deep sadness or despair as you come to terms with the impact of the loss. Depression isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience, and we’ll each interact with it in our own way. You may experience persistent feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and difficulty concentrating. The depression stage can be prolonged, lasting for weeks, months, or even longer.

How to best handle this stage

Ways to address depression include seeking professional help, leaning on your support network, and engaging in self-care activities.

7. Acceptance

In this stage, you’ll finally come to terms with the reality of a loss. As you begin to move forward, you may feel a sense of peace or resolution. You’ll begin to integrate the loss into your life instead of trying to avoid or deny the reality of the loss. You may now find yourself able to honor the memory of what or who you lost, and find new meaning and purpose in life beyond the loss.

How to best handle this stage

Embrace the idea of integrating the loss into your life rather than specifically trying to “”move on” or “get over it.” Let yourself grieve at your own pace and continue to seek support from loved ones or a
licensed professional as needed.

It’s important to note that the time spent in each stage of grief can vary significantly from one person to the next. Factors that will determine the severity and time spent in each stage of grief include the nature of the loss, your coping mechanisms, your support network, and personal beliefs.

Grief Support in Orange County, CA

Experiencing grief or symptoms of depression and anxiety? At Barn Life Recovery, we provide a safe and supportive environment, helping others learn to Love Life Again. In addition to our outpatient and partial hospitalization programs, we offer free community support groups. Learn more about our approach to see if we’re a good fit for you.

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Barn life is probably one of the most amazing facilities you could ever attend when it comes to mental illness. This was the first place that popped up when I was searching for help and I’m so thankful that it did. The environment is very therapeutic, the staff is awesome, and the group discussions and activities were so helpful in me understanding what I was experiencing. Do not hesitate to be a part of this place. It’s literally a game changer. I was only there for 6 weeks but I wished I stayed at least 6 months. Ever since returning home, I’ve been much happier and my perspective has changed dramatically. I’ve done things and participated in events at my college that I never thought I would be able to do. This place is truly amazing and I’m forever grateful that I found this place.

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My daughter has been at Barn Life Recovery now for two months. It was my last resort to send her 9 hours away from me. She has been in drug and mental health rehabs in and out for two years. This was my last stitch effort to save my daughter and get her back to herself. Alyssa and I spoke multiple times before deciding. Their willingness to do everything for her and the different teams they have work with them is amazing. My daughter is happy again and clean and sober. She loves it there in their outpatient program. They restore your faith in humanity. They help restore someone who is broken in so many places to themselves. They have put the light back in my daughters eyes. They are committed to helping each person who truly wants the help. They assist in helping them get jobs and be responsible members of society. I recommend their program to anyone wanting to recover from drug, alcohol and mental health.Thank you to all the people at Barn Life who have made my daughter smile and bring the light back to her eyes. I am truly grateful.DawnaLee

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