Grief is a natural response to loss and it can affect us on a mental, physical and emotional level. It is the overwhelming feeling of suffering when something or someone you love is taken away. Grief can be associated not just with the death of a loved one, but any loss can cause grief, be it a person, animal, relationship or a significant situation (Smith, 2019).
In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, described five popular stages of grief. People may not experience such stages in the below order and some may not even experience any of the stages. The following 5 stages are those which are most common when experiencing grief:
Denial brings about avoidance, confusion, elation, shock and fear. It is the stage whereby one finds it extremely hard to believe the loss they are experiencing. At this stage, one may experience lots of thoughts and questions about the meaning of life, about whether they are truly experiencing the situation, and how one can move on without this significant other or situation. To some point, however, it helps one to minimize and survive the overwhelming pain loss brings about. In this stage, we deny the loss and we do not accept the reality we are facing, and this helps us pace the full impact of grief (Gregory, 2019; Clarke, 2020).
In adjusting to a new reality, one may experience anger and it brings about frustration, irritation and anxiety. In experiencing extreme emotional discomfort and a lot to process, anger seems as an outlet to express these emotions. One loses the ground, one may feel confused, overwhelmed, alone, stuck and also disconnected from reality. In life, one is taught to be able to control anger and therefore, one might naturally not express what one is feeling and this is not the healthiest approach. It is encouraged that one truly feels the anger, and the more one is able to feel it and express it, the quicker it dissipates, and the quicker the healing. Also, expressing anger can be the path for one to reconnect with reality and people (Gregory, 2020).
When coping with loss, one may feel helpless and vulnerable, and one will do almost anything to minimize the pain grief brings with it. From this stems the need to regain some form of control, and one may do this through bargaining. It may take the form of either “If only” statements (Axelrod, 2020), or it can be a promise to some sort of higher power or something bigger than us and in which we are able to influence a different outcome (Clarke, 2020). For instance, “I promise that I will be kinder if this person is healed and lives”. In this process, one tends to reflect on the past, and such bargaining may focus around one’s guilt, personal errors and regrets.
In processing grief, with time our imaginations subside and we gradually start to look at the reality of the situation we are in. In realizing that the person or situation is gone or over, we connect with an emptiness. We may feel overwhelmed, engulfed by a fog, and in its haziness we withdraw from people and life, feel numb, and find it difficult to complete daily tasks (Gregory, 2020).
Here, emotions begin to stabilise and you come to terms with the new reality. It is not that we no longer feel the pain of the loss, but at this stage, the fog starts to disappear and the loss becomes something we can live with. Days will start getting better, and as you move along, you adjust, re-adjust, grow and evolve into your new reality (Gregory, 2020).
The experience of loss is a very personal and individual one, as each one experiences it and copes with it in one’s own unique way. Others might not be able to fully understand what you are experiencing, but allow them to be there for you and comfort you during this time. Allowing yourself to feel and acknowledge the grief as it comes brings along the natural healing process.
Michela Aquilina is a trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist who is currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy at the Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute Malta (GPTIM) and is working as a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist with Willingness Team. Michela offers therapy to young adults and adults who are experiencing various challenges and issues relating to mental health and psychosocial, emotional wellbeing.
Axelrod, J. (2020). The 5 stages of grief and loss. PsychCentral. Retrieved from: https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/
Clarke, J. (2020). The five stages of grief. Verywell Mind. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/five-stages-of-grief-4175361
Gregory, C. (2020). The five stages of grief: An examination of the Kubler-Ross model. PsyCom. Retrieved from: https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.grief.html
Smith, M. (2019). Coping with grief and loss. HelpGuide. Retrieved from: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/coping-with-grief-and-loss.htm