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12 Stages of Grief: The Expanded Journey Through Loss

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Grief is a deeply personal and complex response to loss that manifests in various emotional, physical, and spiritual reactions.

Traditionally, the grieving process has been conceptualized in stages, with each stage representing different emotions and behaviors experienced by the bereaved.

The concept of 12 stages of grief, although not as widely recognized as the more commonly cited five stages, presents an expanded view of the emotional journey following a significant loss.

Understanding Grief

Grief

In exploring the multifaceted nature of grief, we distinguish its essence, categorize its forms, and discern between its typical and complex manifestations.

Grief is a natural response to loss, encompassing a range of emotions that individuals experience when they lose someone or something important. It is non-linear and can vary greatly in duration and intensity.

Loss can be physical, such as the death of a loved one, or symbolic, like the loss of identity or security.

Types of Grief

There are multiple forms of grief, each reflecting the uniqueness of an individual’s relationship to what was lost:

  • Anticipatory grief: Occurs before the loss actually happens.
  • Delayed grief: A postponed reaction to loss.
  • Disenfranchised grief: Not socially recognized or supported.
  • Inhibited grief: Suppressed emotions regarding loss.
  • Complicated grief: Persistent and debilitating, interfering with normal function.

Normal vs. Complicated Grief

Normal GriefComplicated Grief
Includes a wide spectrum of emotions and behaviors that are common reactions to loss.Is prolonged and severe, hindering recovery and affecting mental health.
Individuals usually move through their grieving process and resume their lives, even though the loss remains significant. Symptoms may include intense longing, difficulty moving on, and significant life disruption.

Understanding the intricacies of grief requires acknowledging its unpredictable course and accepting that each person’s journey through it is uniquely their own.

Various factors, including the nature of the loss, the individual’s emotional resilience, and available support systems, influence how one navigates through grief.

The 12 Stages of Grief

Stages of Grief

The early stages of grief often involve intense emotions and defense mechanisms as individuals struggle to accept and cope with loss.

These stages serve as a coping mechanism, helping them process the complex emotions they encounter.

1. Shock

In the immediate aftermath of a loss, individuals commonly experience shock—a protective emotional and physical reaction that buffers the initial impact.

Shock provides temporary numbing, which may allow people to function initially.

2. Denial

Closely linked to shock is denial, a defense mechanism that entails inability or unwillingness to accept the reality of the situation. This stage often manifests as avoidance, confusion, or evasion of the facts.

3. Pain

Following shock and denial, individuals often confront deep pain and sadness. The stark reality of their situation sets in, bringing intense emotional suffering.

4. Guilt

It’s not uncommon for survivors to also experience guilt, pondering “if only” scenarios and lamenting things they did or did not do before the loss occurred.

5. Anger

As the buffering effects of denial and shock begin to wear off, the pain can resurface as anger. This anger might be directed at other people, themselves, or even the one who is lost.

6. Bargaining

Bargaining

Bargaining may follow, with thoughts and negotiations about what one would do if only the loved one could be brought back, or if the event leading to the grief could be undone.

It represents an attempt to regain control over the uncontrollable through hypothetical scenarios.

7. Depression, Reflection, Loneliness

In this phase, individuals grapple with the reality of loss, often experiencing depression. It’s a period marked by deep sorrow and withdrawal from life where one reflects on the past and confronts inevitable loneliness.

Reflection becomes a key component, as the bereaved ponder their lives without the presence of the lost loved one.

8. The Upward Turn

As individuals navigate through grief, they may reach the upward turn. Signs of improvement appear slowly as the intensity of pain begins to lessen. 

In this stage, the initial turmoil of grieving subsides, giving way to a more stable and calm state of mind, and laying the groundwork for hope and change.

9. Reconstruction and Working Through

The phase of reconstruction and working through involves a more active rebuilding of one’s life. Here, one may begin to find realistic, practical ways to cope and adjust to a new reality, piecing together a life altered by loss. 

Reconstructing can involve a combination of strategizing, seeking support, and allowing oneself the grace to face the challenges of coping in the wake of bereavement.

10. Acceptance

In the acceptance stage, individuals come to terms with the reality of their loss. This understanding acknowledges the change in their lives and the permanence of the loss.

It is essential for mental health, as it allows people to adjust and find stability in their new normal. Acceptance acts as a foundation for rebuilding, enabling further progress in the grieving process.

11. Hope

Hope

Following acceptance, individuals may begin to explore hope after loss. Hope does not imply forgetting or replacing what was lost, but it allows one to look forward and envision a life enriched by memories rather than anchored by them.

12. Finding Meaning

The process of finding meaning can be personal and unique, serving as a beacon that guides one through grief to a sense of renewed purpose and mental well-being.

Therapists Specializing in Grief

Coping with Grief

In addressing the multifaceted nature of grief, individuals and their support networks can adopt various strategies to navigate through this challenging time.

Whether through personal coping mechanisms, assisting others, or seeking professional intervention, understanding the appropriate approach is vital to the grief process.

Personal Coping Strategies

One may employ a variety of personal coping strategies to endure the stages of grief, whether it’s the 5 stages of grief, 7 stages of grief, or an extended 12 steps of grief. It’s essential to recognize that these stages are not linear and can happen in any order.

Individual therapy can offer personalized guidance through these stages, enabling one to process grief in a safe, supportive environment.

Additionally, incorporating exercise into daily routines not only promotes physical health but also serves as a potent tool for mental well-being during the grieving process.

Grief Counseling and Therapy

Grief Counseling

For those seeking more personalized care, grief counseling and therapy provide avenues for one-on-one interaction with a mental health professional or therapist. These sessions are designed to help individuals cope with their grief through tailored strategies. 

Unlike support groups, counseling allows for a deeper exploration of personal grief reactions, potentially uncovering underlying issues that group settings may not address. 

When necessary, professional help can extend to include various therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), to facilitate coping and adjustment.

The Role of Support Groups

Support groups offer individuals a sense of community and solidarity, often becoming a listening ear during times of sorrow.

They operate on the principle that sharing one’s experience with others who have endured similar losses can be inherently therapeutic.

Grief support groups typically facilitate group discussions, allowing members to express their feelings openly and receive collective empathy, which can significantly aid in the healing process.

When to Seek Professional Help

Professional help may be necessary when individuals find themselves overwhelmed or unable to function due to grief.

Signs to look out for include:

  • Persistent feelings of depression
  • An inability to carry out daily responsibilities
  • When grief-related thoughts consume one’s day-to-day life
  • The intensity of grief continues to escalate without relief
  • Physical symptoms such as persistent fatigue or sleep disturbances affect daily life

Counseling can provide the tools needed to cope more effectively with these feelings. Connecting with a professional can help ensure that the grief process does not hinder one’s overall health and well-being.

By using online directories such as Find-a-therapist.com individuals can contact licensed therapists and counselors with the training and experience in addressing grief.

If you’re not comfortable searching for a therapist on your own, you can utilize online platforms like BetterHelp. These platforms match you with a therapist based on your preferences and needs, which are assessed through a short questionnaire.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

How does the 12 stages of grief model differ from the traditional 7 stages model?

The 12 stages of grief model builds on the foundation of the traditional 7 stages by adding stages that might be experienced by individuals. 

These additional stages offer a more nuanced view of the grieving process, accounting for feelings such as searching for meaning and realizing hope which are not explicitly labeled in the traditional model.

What is considered the most challenging stage in the grieving process?

While the grieving process is highly individual, many people find the initial stages of shock and denial especially challenging, as they come to grips with the loss. 

Other stages like depression can also be particularly difficult as individuals confront the deep sadness associated with their loss.

Can the stages of grief occur out of the traditional sequence?

Absolutely, grief is not a linear process and the stages of grief can occur out of traditional sequence

Individuals may revisit certain stages multiple times or may not experience some stages at all, reflecting the highly personal nature of the grieving process.

How can the 12 stages of grief be applied to a breakup situation?

The 12 stages of the grief framework apply to the loss experienced in a breakup situation. 

Individuals may find themselves cycling through feelings of denial, anger, bargaining, and eventually moving towards acceptance and hope as they learn to live with the end of the relationship.

References

Stroebe, M., Schut, H., & Boerner, K. (2017). Cautioning health-care professionals: Bereaved persons are misguided through the stages of grief. OMEGA-Journal of death and dying74(4), 455-473. Link.

Avis, K. A., Stroebe, M., & Schut, H. (2021). Stages of grief portrayed on the internet: A systematic analysis and critical appraisal. Frontiers in psychology12, 772696. Link.

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About the author

Eliana Galindo
Eliana is a dedicated psychologist from Colombia who has gained extensive experience and made significant contributions in child development, clinical psychology, and rehabilitation psychology. Her work as a rehabilitation psychologist with disabled children has been transformative and compassionate. In the child development field, she creates nurturing environments through assessments, interventions, and collaboration with families. In clinical psychology, she supports individuals overcoming mental health challenges with empathy and evidence-based approaches. Inspired by her experiences, Eliana is motivated to write about mental health, aiming to raise awareness and advocate for a compassionate and inclusive approach to well-being.

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