You know as humans we are all going to go through grief. It is a fact of life.
Life changes – hopefully for the better. However, sometimes our lives change for the worst.
We are all going to have deaths, losses, life changes, and other unexpected things that disrupt our lives in significant ways.
That is where grief enters the picture. Understanding grief and learning to grieve well is important.
Grief is the emotional process you experience while dealing with a big painful thing in your life. Grieving is a heart process, not a head process, and experiencing grief is normal.
It allows us to accept the painful thing while we take the time to work through what happened.
But what exactly is grief, and how does it affect you?
Let’s talk about the stages of grief. Before we start, I want to say that how we go through grief is up to us.
The Stages of Grief
The grieving process has five stages according to the Kübler-Ross Model. They are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, but let’s talk about shock first.
Shock is precursor to grief. The shock of an event often hits you like a lightning bolt. It feels like you were living life and everything was fine until that unexpected, painful event happened that disrupted your life.
Any event that is unexpected and has a significant impact on your life can cause shock. It is an instantaneous feeling of “I can’t believe this has happened. I can’t believe I am experiencing this right now.”
You might have just talked to your friend the other day. Now, they are gone forever.
You might have been looking forward to seeing your son or daughter grow up. Now, those future memories will never be made.
You might have been looking forward to growing old together with someone special. Now, you find yourself alone.
You might have really enjoyed your job. Now, you are laid off and have to find another place to work.
The shock of that event turns your world upside down, and then the denial starts as you enter the stages of grief.
Denial is the first stage of grief. The onset of this stage occurs as you get over the initial shock of the experience or news.
Denial can take the form of refusing to accept reality, choosing to close yourself off from the rest of the outside world, or making up a version of the events where things happened differently with a different outcome.
You will tell yourself the situation it didn’t happen, your loved one didn’t die, or the diagnosis was a mistake. You will make up every excuse you can think of to explain to yourself that this isn’t the way it is supposed to be and this denying process can go on for a very long time.
Severe cases of denial can literally last for decades! Some people spend years and years of their lives denying the truth just so they don’t have to face the loss of painful event in their world.
To properly grieve, you have to move through this phase to uncover your suppressed, underlying emotions.
Anger is the second stage of grief. It is natural to feel angry when your situation spirals out of control, when people cause you pain and suffering, or even when something that you think is wrong happens to someone else.
We like to be in control of our situations and what is happening in our lives. When we can’t be in control, it can create frustration and anger.
In your life, you are the only “you” and you want the best for yourself. You want to feel safe, successful, and good. Your natural response is to be mad when people cause bad things to happen which interfere with those things you want.
Seeing injustices or the unfairness of life in other people’s lives can also cause us to be angry. Think about something you saw in the news or something unrelated to you that totally got you riled up. That event didn’t directly affect you but knowing about it still caused you to be angry!
Lastly, you can also be mad at yourself when you cause something to happen that otherwise would not have. It is natural to experience anger when you fall short of your own expectations.
“This isn’t fair!” You shout at the world while trying to get your head around the issue at hand.
These are just a few of the situations which stir up the anger within us. After a while, the anger subsides, and we begin the bargaining process.
Bargaining is the third stage of grief. This stage takes us into the world of “what ifs” and makes us question what we could have done differently to prevent the horrible, grief causing event.
These “what ifs” can lead to an unending rabbit hole of possibilities. That horrible event would not have happened if I had just done that _____ thing, if I had just come ten minutes earlier, or if I didn’t allow them to go there. This list can go on and on and on.
It is important to realize that you cannot change events once they happen, but you can choose to understand why they happened and what you need to do now.
If you are in this phase, you need to deal with it appropriately. Write those “ifs” down and get support from friends, family, or counselors to talk about those possibilities.
Sadness is the fourth stage of grief. The emotion of being sad in this process is feeling down in the moment and accepting that this event happened to you. It is feeling the weight of it on your shoulders and carrying that weight as you accept the new reality.
This reality can be the fact that person is gone forever, you will not have those memories or experiences, your life has permanently changed, you missed that opportunity, or you will never get to hug your loved one again.
It is important to allow yourself to feel sad. Don’t stop yourself from feeling this way. Choose to understand and accept it.
Acceptance is the fifth stage of grief. This stage is about accepting the painful reality for what it is and that it occurred factually. It is now a part of your life and you have to move forward in the new reality of understanding that idea.
Accept that it is permanent. Accept that you cannot and could not have changed it. It happened the way it happened.
Types of Grief
There are several types of grief, and we don’t even have to experience grief while it’s directly tied to an event, circumstance, or situation. We can experience grief for things we are waiting for or which will happen in the future.
Anticipated grief occurs when we get ahead of ourselves in our thinking. It could be your parent or loved one is terminally ill. You anticipate them passing away, so the grief of losing them sets in before the actual event because of what you expect to happen based on what you know.
Try not to dwell too much on what could happen. We could spend our entire lives thinking and worrying about things that don’t even matter or won’t even happen. Many people do this and waste a lot of energy doing just that!
Choose to live in the moment and accept what is in front of you here and now.
Grief In The Moment
Grief in the moment happens on a smaller scale. It could be things like losing a friendship, someone you are close to moves away, or something negatively affects you of smaller or lesser significance.
These grief in the moment things usually hit us when we are reflecting on life and how fast times change around us. You might feel the same while life changes around you.
Love things for how they were and choose to remember the best parts of those memories. Then move on with the commitment to make more great memories and experiences. At the end of our lives, our memories and experiences are all that remain of what once was.
Delayed grief is unaccepted or repressed grief which affects us later. We can bottle up our past grievances and hold on to them so tightly we refuse to let them affect us.
The problem with this is we are so concentrated on that, we forget to move onward in life. We can stay in this state for years or even decades.
Delayed grief can also be triggered many years after the event that caused the grief. This is usually because we compartmentalize it or do not fully understand how deeply that past event actually affected us. To overcome delayed grief, acknowledge the grief in your life.
Acknowledge The Grief In Your Life
Take a moment to look back over your life. What happened in the past year? What happened prior to that? What losses have you experienced? It is ok to think about them. Everyone goes through loss. Is there anything you are avoiding? What are you refusing to think about?
Acknowledge the grief, loss, pain, and feelings. It will be hard, but you need to do this for you. Also, the thing you skip over and refuse to let into your thoughts is probably the thing you need to address the most.Everyone goes through grief. How we go through grief and process our emotions is up to us. - Dr. Doug Weiss Click To Tweet
Dealing With Grief
You can deal with the grief in your life by following these four steps.
- Talk it out: Talk about your grief with other people. To deal with your grief, you have to get it outside of yourself. Sharing your pain, loss, hurt, confusion, and other feelings with others is good and will help to lift your burdens.
- Get Help: Sometimes situations need extra help. If you find yourself in an especially painfully traumatic event, seeking professional help from trauma counselors and therapists who specialize in grief can greatly help your situation. If you need help finding a grief counselor call my office at 719-278-3708.
- Join A Grief Support Group: Sharing with others who are also grieving can help both of you heal faster. One of the easiest ways to find a group is through GriefShare.org. You can use their Grief Share Group Listings to find a group near you.
- Protect Your Now: Make a commitment to acknowledge the grief in your life, deal with it, and move on. Don’t become stuck in your situation and let another day pass day. It is important to spend some time remembering and grieving for the past, but life is meant to be lived for the present and the future.
About Dr. Doug
Douglas Weiss, Ph.D. is a published author and an expert in the fields of relationship counseling, intimacy anorexia, and sex addiction. He is the executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs and also the president of the American Association for Sex Addiction Therapy.