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Loss is a universal experience. Everyone will mourn their loved ones throughout their life, but grief is something people may not feel comfortable discussing. Read this guide to learn about the seven stages of grief. You’ll better address and process your feelings after a loved one passes away, leading to better healing.
What Are the Seven Stages of Grief?
You may have heard of the five stages of grief. It’s a model to explain how people process loss, but it’s not the only one. These are the seven stages of grief people may experience too.
1. Shock and Denial
Denial is a common reaction to bad news. You might feel a numb shock after hearing how your sibling was in a car accident or how you have a chronic disease diagnosis. It’s how the brain puts your feelings on pause to accept and process the news slowly. Mentally digesting terrible information gradually protects your cognitive functioning and potentially helps you avoid an overwhelming flood of emotions.
This stage may last longer for people who don’t have a long history of accepting and feeling their emotions. They may have learned unhealthy coping skills during their life if their family structures enforced letting feelings go, stuffing the emotions away or shaming each other for expressing negative feelings.
2. Guilt and Pain
Once your brain can’t avoid the reality of someone’s passing, pain and guilt follow. There are waves of pain as you realize experiences you’ll never have again with that person and the joy they brought to your life that’s suddenly gone.
Guilt may accompany your pain because you’re reflecting on your life. People often regret how they treated their loved ones or what they didn’t do for them. The seven stages of grief are complicated but not impossible to get through. This stage hurts in ways people may need to experience before moving forward.
3. Bargaining and Anger
Whether you believe in a higher power or not, bargaining can follow your regrets. It’s natural to feel angry that the diety let your loved one die. It gives people a sense of control when all they feel is unstoppable loss.
People may bargain for a deity to punish them instead of killing the people in their lives. They might promise never to do certain things again if the higher power reverses whatever loss occurred. The sense of some control can be comforting for a while.
It’s also normal to feel angry toward your deity or higher power. You may have spent a lifetime believing in their goodness or protection. Now, it’s seemingly gone. Directing anger outward may protect you from more guilt and vent your grief when done in healthy ways.
At this grief stage, you’ve been through many emotions. Your brain is exhausted, which might send you into an intense period of depression. You may feel so exhausted you can’t take care of yourself or unable to feel anything other than sadness.
Give yourself time and space to feel this stage. You don’t have to fix it right away. Depression can be a healthy way to process loss. If it becomes unmanageable or causes thoughts that scare you, therapists and helplines are only one call away.
5. A Calmer State
The emotional energy required to both feel and process intensified emotions eventually wears people out. They enter a calmer state that might also feel like numbness. Life stills, so it’s easier to accept your new reality without the loved one who passes away.
People may stop by to give you things that help during this period of numbness. A bath kit might relieve your stress while providing comfort through muscle relaxation. Pre-made meals let you conserve your energy instead of buying groceries or cooking.
During this grief stage, people also begin a routine that vaguely resembles their old life. They may start showering and eating again or reaching out to loved ones. Even if you’re only moving through life robotically, it’s the start of the upward swing in your grief journey.
6. Personal Reconstruction
Acceptance comes after you start rebuilding yourself. You may have lost someone who felt integral to your identity, like a parent or a friend who was more like a sibling. You’ll begin making choices to restructure yourself without even realizing it.
You might change who you call when you want to vent or the hobby you do to pass the time. Maybe you redecorate your living space to feel like you’re getting a fresh start. You could also start new recurring events like visiting a gravesite or meeting with others to reminisce on who you lost.
The final part of the seven stages of grief is acceptance. You have to come to peace with who you are and what life looks like without your loved one. You also need to accept you had no control over their death and currently have no power to change your past with that person.
Sometimes, this stage requires cycling through other parts you feel like you got over. It’s okay to feel a fresh wave of grief or undergo another period of depression. You’re reworking neural pathways to joy and understanding. It takes practice for your mind to live in a new reality after such a loss.
Which Stage of Grief is the Hardest?
Everyone experiences the stages of grieving differently. A young child might not have the cognitive abilities to process their feelings like adults. Someone over 40 is more likely to undergo severe grief symptoms than a younger adult.
Stages of grieving may also change depending on preexisting mental health conditions and if someone has the luxury of time to process everything. If one stage feels more challenging for you than you see in others, it just means you have different brains and likely differing relationships with the person who passed.
How Do I Know What Stage of Grief I Am In?
You’ll better understand what stage of grief you’re experiencing if you try reflecting. At first, the initial wave of denial or anger might be obvious. It’s harder to notice depression or numbness if the symptoms are small or more manageable.
Try reflecting periodically as you go through the stages of grieving. Journaling or talking with a therapist could help you track the ups and downs of your healing.
Process Your Loss With Greater Understanding
Everyone will lose someone they love. It’s an unfortunate part of life, but it’s not impossible to get through. Once you know about the seven stages of grief and reflect on your ongoing experiences, you’ll better navigate your grief in healthy ways.
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