Grief is a multifaceted response to loss. There are many other kinds of loss and what is particularly surprising is that any change — even positive change — involves loss. Getting promoted or married are changes that we think of as positive, but these changes also involve elements of loss.
Even subtle losses in life can trigger a sense of grief. When we speak of grieving, we may typically associate it with the death of a loved one—which is often the cause of the most intense type of grief—but any negative life changes and loss can cause grief, including:
Divorce or relationship breakup
Loss of health
Losing a job
Loss of financial stability
Death of a pet
Loss of a cherished dream
A loved one's serious illness
Loss of a friendship
Loss of safety after a trauma
Selling the family home
Grief is the suffering we feel when you experience loss. The more significant the loss, the more intense our grief will be. When we speak of the loss, we often think of the emotional response to loss. However, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, and philosophical dimensions.
In 1969, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.” While loss affects people in different ways, many of us experience the following symptoms when we’re grieving. The 5 stages of grief and loss are: 1. Denial and isolation; 2. Anger; 3. Bargaining; 4. Depression; 5. Acceptance. These stages may overlap, or come in a different order and people who are grieving may not experience all of them.
Denial: When we first learn of a loss, it’s normal to think, “This isn’t happening.” You may feel shocked or numb. It can feel as though we were experiencing a bad dream, the loss was unreal, and we were waiting to "wake up" from the bad dream. This is a defense mechanism, a temporary way to deal with overwhelming emotion.
Anger: As reality sets in, we’re faced with the pain of your loss. We may begin to feel Anger at the loss and the unfairness of it. We might direct it toward other people, a higher power, or life in general. To be angry with a loved one who died and left you alone is natural, too. Feelings of abandonment may also occur.
Bargaining: During this stage, we dwell on what we could’ve done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are “If only…” “What if…”. We may beg your "higher power" to undo the loss, saying things along the lines of, "If you bring her (or him or it) back to me", in return I will …”
Depression: Once it becomes clear that Anger and Bargaining are not going to reverse the loss, Sadness sets in. We confront the inevitability and reality of the loss and your own helplessness to change it. Signs of depression include crying spell, sleep or eating habit changes, or withdrawal.
Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, you have processed their initial grief emotions, are able to accept that the loss has occurred and cannot be undone or changed. We are peace with what happened. Although you still feel sad, we are able to start moving forward with our life. We have processed our initial grief emotions, are able to accept that the loss has occurred and cannot be undone, and are once again able to plan for our future and re-engage in daily life.
Many of us experience the following emotional symptoms when we’re grieving. You may feel like you’re going crazy, feeling like you’re in a bad dream, or questioning your religious or spiritual beliefs. Feelings we experience when we are grieving include:
Shock and disbelief
We often think of grief as a strictly emotional process, but grief often involves physical problems, which include:
Grieving is an individual experience and everyone’s experience of grief is unique, complex and personal; there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. There is no set timetable on grief. The grieving process may take time. Healing may happen gradually. Although the pain of grief can often cause us to withdraw, having the face-to-face support of other people is vital to healing from loss. Some of us may find it uncomfortable to talk about our feelings under normal circumstances, but it’s important to express them when we are grieving. The journey of healing can be easier when we do it with those who care about us helping us along. Comfort can come from just being around others who care about us. The key is not to isolate ourselves. If your grief-related thoughts, behaviors, or feelings are extremely distressing, making it difficult to function after a loss, talk to a mental health professional. Counseling can help you work through intense emotions and overcome obstacles to your grieving. Counseling is also an effective way to learn to cope with the stressors associated with the loss and to manage symptoms. Moreover, counseling can also help you work through unresolved grief from a past loss.
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