Stages of Grief

Grief is experienced when there is a significant loss, which leads to physiological distress, anxiety, confusion, yearning, obsessive dwelling in the past, and apprehension about the future. Intense grief can affect mental and physical health. Grief can also take the form of regret for something lost, remorse for something done, or sorrow for a mishap to oneself. Elisabeth Kuler Ross a psychologist who described a hypothetical grief model to show the psychological state of mood and coping. The stages are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

These stages can reoccur and overlap and this model is called a grief cycle model.

The process of grieving is different for everyone. Some experience all the stage and some may not experience all the stage. The person can go back and forth from one stage to another.  The individual can go through a rush of different emotions or they might not at all react. Both of the responses are fair and common among humans. It takes few months for some to overcome grief and it takes years for some to overcome. Time varies from one person to another.


Denial is a defense mechanism that helps the individual survive when there is a sudden shock. It is an immediate reaction that makes an individual doubt the reality of loss. Often, when people hear someone pass away, they respond by saying, “I can’t believe he is gone.” Here are a few examples of how people detach from reality.

  • When facing the death of a loved one, the individual might wish for someone to say it was a mistake and that the person is alive.
  • When going through a breakup, the individual wishes that the partner will regret his breakup decision and come back.
  • When a person loses a pet, he or she may believe the pet is at a neighbor’s house and will visit in the evening.

Some of the things that the individual feels at the stage are: feeling numb, nothing matters, difficulty accepting reality, and moving on.


During the stage of anger, the individual might question, “Why did this happen to me?” “Why did I do this to deserve this?” “Why did this unfair thing happen to me?” We might be angry with ourselves, others, even God, life, and everything around us. Some people suppress their anger an emotion, as in many cultures, anger is viewed as a negative emotion, so people tend to suppress and avoid expressing it. Anger helps the individual reconnect with the world after the denial stage. Irritability, bitterness, anxiety, rage, and impatience are also other ways of expressing anger and coping with the loss.


In this stage, the individual tries to negotiate “what if” or “if I had this or did this” to prevent the loss. The individual thinks of different ways to do something or sacrifice in order to restore what they lost. Expressing guilt and regret at this stage is common. This stage shows that the person is willing to look into and confront themselves with the reality of what happened.


Depression can be experienced in different ways. The individual is stuck, feeling hopeless and helpless. The depression experienced in the process of grief is not a sign of a mental health condition; it is just a natural response to grief. Understanding the reality of loss can help the individual feel sad, and despair can make the individual feel

  • Fatigue
  • Self-pity
  • Distracted
  • Lack of appetite
  • Lack of interest in or pleasure in doing anything

Accepting the reality of what happened doesn’t necessarily mean that you are okay with what happened. It is an understanding to move on and not feel how you initially felt about the loss. Acceptance is acknowledging the loss that you have experienced and learning to live with it and alter your life accordingly. During this stage, the individual will reach out for help and talk about their thoughts and feelings with friends and family. This doesn’t assure that the individual won’t feel sadness or anger towards the loss again.



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