Everyone will face major losses in their lifetime, whether it is the end of a friendship, romantic relationship, or death of a loved one. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross helped explain the complexity that one goes through when dealing with and learning how to move forward from a loss with her theory of the five stages of grief. Though her “stage” theory is often disputed, what is known is that grief is complicated and is not a single emotion, but a complex set of emotions, with various feelings dominating throughout the entire process. There is no “correct” sequence of grieving, so every individual has their own unique experience.
Often the initial feeling is denial, or an inability to process what has just happened. It is characterized by feeling numb, shocked, or as though life has become meaningless. When a person starts to acknowledge the feelings they have been suppressing through denial, they can move on to other feelings. Anger can be an important tool for helping a person survive the initial shock of a loss. Whether a person is angry with themselves or someone else, the anger is way of feeling again and beginning to deal with the emotions surrounding the grief, rather than the numbness of denial.
For some, bargaining is a phase of grieving, which can involve pleading with a higher power or constantly wondering “what if” and wanting to go back to the way things were before the loss. Depression, or intense sadness and loneliness, is very common for those in grief. Depression may feel as though it is endless, and may greatly interfere with participating in day-to-day life. It is important to remember that acceptance can often be found, eventually. This does not mean that one is “fine” or “over it” or that they will never feel sad about it again, but that they have accepted the loss as part of their life and are working to move forward. It is important to remember that “healing” from grief is more akin to mending from an amputation than recovering from an illness. In grief, one does not regain health, but learns to live with what is missing.
Michael Winters is a Psychologist in Houston focusing on marriage counseling and therapy. Michael received his PhD from the University of Memphis and has been practicing since 1991.