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  • Writer's pictureHeather Steele

Navigating Through Grief: Understanding Its Stages and Finding Support

Throughout my years of experience, I've seen firsthand how deeply grief can affect individuals. It's a journey that's both personal and universal, with each person experiencing it in their own unique way. Today, I want to share some insights into the nature of grief, its stages, and how seeking professional help can guide you toward healing.

What Exactly is Grief?

Grief isn't just feeling sad because you lost someone or something important. It's like a big mix of feelings that might catch you off guard. Sure, there's sadness and missing someone so much it hurts. But grief can also show up as anger, worry, confusion, feeling totally numb, or like a hazy, confusing brain fog. Sometimes, it's feeling kind of relieved or thankful, especially if the person who passed away was in a lot of pain.

Everyone's grief looks different, and that's perfectly okay. You shouldn't feel bad about how you're feeling. And remember, there's no timer on grief. It takes as long as it takes to feel a bit like yourself again.

How Grief Commonly Affects People

Grief is more than just emotional pain; it can manifest through physical symptoms and mentally in ways that disrupt daily life. "It feels like I'm carrying a heavy weight all the time," one client shared with me, highlighting the constant burden of loss. Another mentioned, "Getting out of bed feels like a monumental task, and I just can't find the energy or motivation to face the day." These expressions underscore the profound impact of grief, from interfering with sleep to making it difficult to concentrate at work or enjoy activities that once brought happiness.

Understanding the 5 Stages of Grief

The journey through grief often follows five stages. These stages aren't steps on a ladder but more like signposts along a winding path. You might move back and forth between them, and that's okay.

1. Denial

Definition: Denial in grief is a defense mechanism that numbs us to the intensity of the loss. It's our mind's first way of coping with overwhelming emotional pain.

What It Can Look Like: In this stage, individuals might refuse to accept the reality of the loss. They may act as if nothing has happened, expecting the person they lost to walk back through the door at any moment. Comments like, "I expect them to call any day now," illustrate the disbelief and shock that characterize denial.

People's Reactions: It's common for people in denial to avoid conversations about their loss or to engage in activities that pretend everything is normal. This stage helps to pace the individual's grief, allowing them to only acknowledge as much as they can handle at the moment.

2. Anger

Definition: Anger serves as a masking effect for the underlying pain of the loss. It can be directed at inanimate objects, strangers, friends, or family. Anger may even be directed at the deceased.

What It Can Look Like: This stage might manifest in outbursts, irritation at small inconveniences, or a pervasive feeling of frustration. "Why is this happening to me?" or "It's not fair!" are common expressions of the anger stage.

People's Reactions: People might seek someone to blame, including themselves. This anger is a surface emotion, under which lies the pain of the loss. Recognizing this stage as a natural part of grief can help individuals process their emotions more healthily.

3. Bargaining

Definition: Bargaining is the stage where individuals hope that they can avoid or undo the loss. It's often accompanied by a torrent of "what if" and "if only" statements.

What It Can Look Like: During bargaining, people might obsessively go over things they think could have been done differently to prevent the loss. They may make deals with a higher power, promising to change if only the loss could be reversed or alleviated.

People's Reactions: This stage reflects a desperate need for control over the uncontrollable. It's a way to hold onto hope when faced with the finality of loss, often leading to feelings of guilt or regret for what could have been done differently.

4. Depression

Definition: Depression in the context of grief is not a sign of mental illness but a natural response to loss. It represents the quiet preparation to separate and to begin accepting the reality of the loss.

What It Can Look Like: Individuals may withdraw from life, feel numb, live in a fog, and not want to get out of bed. The loss feels immense and consuming. "I don't care anymore," or "What's the point?" might express the profound sadness and sense of emptiness experienced.

People's Reactions: The intense sadness can make everyday tasks feel insurmountable. It's a period of reflection, loneliness, and acceptance of the reality that life has changed permanently.

5. Acceptance

Definition: Acceptance is not about being okay with the loss but rather accepting the reality of the situation. It's understanding that the loss is a permanent part of life and finding ways to adjust and move forward.

What It Can Look Like: In this stage, individuals start to find a way forward. They may begin to plan for the future, take up new hobbies, or reconnect with friends. "I'm learning to live with it," signifies the acceptance of their new reality, even if it's still painful.

People's Reactions: People may start to reach out for social support, take on new roles or identities, or simply engage in life again. It's a period of adjustment and redefining one's life without the deceased.It's important to note that these stages are not linear and may be revisited throughout the grieving process.

How a Professionally Trained Therapist Can Help

Grieving is a highly personal process, but you don't have to go through it alone. A professionally trained therapist can offer support, understanding, and strategies for coping. We can help you work through the intense emotions that come with each stage of grief, providing a safe space to express and explore your feelings. Together, we can find ways for you to honor your loved one's memory while moving forward in a healthy way.

So, What's Grief Counseling All About?

Losing someone can shake up your whole world. It's not just the person you're missing. Sometimes it feels like you've lost a part of yourself, your future plans, or even the feeling of being safe and secure. These are what we call secondary losses, and they can sneak up on you or hit you all at once.

The first step to handling these losses is to recognize they're there. Then, it's about finding someone to help you through it. That's where grief counseling comes in. It's a special kind of talk therapy that helps you deal with all these tangled emotions and the changes in your life.

In grief counseling, we use different ways to help you heal. For example:

  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) helps you accept what's happened and deal with your feelings in a healthy way.

  • Art Therapy lets you use creativity to express and work through your emotions.

  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) focuses on changing negative thoughts and patterns that might make grieving harder.

  • Group Therapy gives you a chance to share your story with others who understand what you're going through, so you don't feel so alone.

Our team knows how tough grief can be, and we're here to help you find your way through it. Learn more about counseling vs therapy.

Ready to Take a Step Forward?

If you're feeling lost in your grief, I'm here to say it's okay to ask for help. Here at Morrisville Counseling and Consulting, PLLC, we're ready to walk with you on this journey. Here's how to start:

  • Reach Out: Give us a call, and let's chat during a free 15-minute phone consultation.

  • Make a Plan Together: We'll figure out a plan that feels right for you.

  • Start Healing: Whether it's in person or online, we'll begin our sessions and take those first steps towards feeling a bit lighter.

Grieving is hard, but you don't have to go through it alone. Let's find a way to honor your loss and move forward together. Reach out today, and let's start this journey to healing.


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