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Understanding and Coping with the Stages of Grief

Objective

To identify ten specific phases of grief and practice strategies for coping.

What to Know

Accepting grieving and going through it as a process will help you make/find closure with the past and move on. It takes real courage and bravery.

Many researchers worked on analyzing the grieving process to help people overcome difficult times and start taking risks again, live their lives as fully as possible, recover after loss, and find closure with the past. 

Grieving is a natural process that helps you let go, have closure, and move on in with your life.

If you dare to live your life fully, there is no way to avoid loss. It can be a loss of a person, a relationship, a job, a possession, a feeling, even an idea (if you believed in something deeply). 

The experience of loss is difficult to go through. Some people try to avoid it, deny it, repress it, and split it off from the rest of their lives. They pay a high price for that. The grieving process has its biological, psychological, and spiritual function and meaning.

 It helps you withdraw and detach your energy from the lost object, person, or event. It helps you end that attachment and accept your own human fragility, vulnerability, and the tough parts of life.

Researchers divided the grieving process into phases to make the process easier to understand. Rather than being rigidly divided, phases can blend into one another. 

Sometimes from Phase 1, you can jump to phase 3, then come back to Phase 1, and so on. Everyone is different. Knowing the phases can help you understand what is happening, know that it is normal, that it will pass, and that the next phase will come, no matter how irrational they might seem.

What to Do

It is good to know the normal, typical phases of grief, but it does not mean you need to be experiencing or sharing your grieving process all the time. 

You can make choices, depending on whether you feel strong or vulnerable, about who you are with and to who you reveal your feelings. It is OK to put your feelings aside sometimes.

The Phases of Grief

1. Shock. You might freeze, become numb or mute, and not register what happened. You might be disorganized and confused; your body might become extremely rigid or extremely limp. Some people might be in this phase for seconds, some for hours. Follow the advice of the people you trust. If it is a police officer or a doctor who gave you bad news, follow their instructions. Let professional people take care of you.

2. Denial. Once confronted with the news, you might not believe it. You might deny it despite all the facts. “No, no, it didn’t happen. No, this is not possible, this is not the truth.” It is OK to do that. Let yourself say “NO, it didn’t happen,” for a while.

3. Fight/Flight/Freeze. You might feel the need to fight with the person who gave you the bad news, or with somebody you believe is responsible. Resist the urge. You might run away as far as possible and hide. That is OK. After running, sit down, breathe, and ground yourself. You might faint. You need time to absorb what happened.

4. Pain Strikes. Sometimes the pain comes unexpectedly, and it is unbearable. You might feel like every bone in your body hurts. Still, your body is made to endure, and the pain will eventually stop.

5. Exaggerated Emotions. You might have a panic attack, burst into tears, feel enraged, or experience a range of other emotions. Just do your best to control your emotions and not act impulsively. You might speak to a therapist or grief counselor who can help you process feelings. Be aware of guilt, taking everything that happened on your shoulders.

6. Rationalization. This is the phase when you try to explain rationally what happened or make up your own theory about the event. This is normal, and you might develop several theories and elaborate on each one of them at length. You might change your theories, but what you are really doing is trying to convince others—and yourself— to understand and process the loss.

7. Acceptance. This phase is when you acknowledge that the loss was beyond your control. It is sometimes difficult to accept your limitations and boundaries, the idea that “things just happen.” You did the best you could. Accept that bad things happen.

Remember the loss, and how you came to accept it.

 Healing is a process, and everyone goes through it differently. 

Nancy Duarte Life Coach

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