What Are the 5 Stages of Grief in Order?

Reviewed on 3/26/2021
Grief is an emotion of loss, it may be a family member, a friend, a recent breakup or divorce, or loss of a job.
Grief is an emotion of loss, it may be a family member, a friend, a recent breakup or divorce, or loss of a job.

Grief is an emotion of loss, it may be a family member, a friend, a recent breakup or divorce, or loss of a job.

A psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book, On Death and Dying, has described grief by classifying it into five distinct stages that a person goes through after the loss of something dear to them. She wrote the book based on the experiences of working closely with terminally ill patients. The five stages of grief explained by her are:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Stage 1: Denial

Denial is what you experience when you first hear the news of a sudden loss, something which you had not expected and imagined. You are shocked and stunned. You are not able to digest the fact that this can happen to you. Hence, you deny the fact that it has ever happened. You try to absorb the information, but your mind does not allow it.

Stage 2: Anger

Anger is what you can go through once you come to terms with the loss. The deep sense of sorrow and resentment may find its way in the form of anger directed toward others, such as the one you have lost or your boss (if you have lost your job), people around you, or even toward God. Not everyone goes through this stage. Some people can control their anger more than others. Anger can make you unapproachable to others, and you may feel OK with that for some days.

Stage 3: Bargaining

Bargaining in grief means you ask the higher power or God to bring back what you have lost in exchange for something. You get a false belief that you can mend things through negotiation. It is like giving false hope to yourself and postponing the feeling of hopelessness. You are most vulnerable and feel helpless during this stage.

Stage 4: Depression

The earlier stages of denial, anger, and bargaining are full of activity in your brain. As soon as you realize that you cannot change things, you become quiet. You begin to isolate yourself from people around you and go into a shell. You feel alone and empty even when you are surrounded by your family and friends. Nothing seems to make you feel better.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Acceptance is when you come to terms with reality. You accept that this can happen with everyone and you need to move on in life. You realize that there is nothing you can do to retrieve what you have lost. However, you feel that life still has something to offer to you.

How long do you experience the various stages of grief?

The five stages describe by Elizabeth-Kubler Ross may not apply to everyone. Some may skip a stage, whereas others may get stuck at a stage.

Since childhood, each person is exposed to different surroundings. They have been with different people, and they may or may not have a good support system in their lives. The experiences gained by each one also varies enormously. The coping mechanisms also differ. As a result, you may experience a particular stage for a long time whereas others may move on from one stage to another quickly. Some people may take time to progress to the acceptance level as much as months to years, but others may transition in a few weeks. Some may repress their grief at stage one and may have mental health issues later in their life.

If you want to move on in life but find it difficult to come out of the depression, consider seeking professional help, such as a mental health therapist or counselor. Venting out your feelings in front of them may help you feel better. They may also help you learn techniques, such as biofeedback training, that can help you come out of the depression faster than you could do alone.

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References
Newman L. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. BMJ. 2004;329(7466):627. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC516672/

Kübler-Ross E. On Death and Dying. Macmillan. 1969.

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