Experiencing grief is an entirely normal and natural response to loss. Grief is a form of emotional suffering that often includes, strong and intense feelings of denial, anger, sadness, lethargy, sleep problems, confusion, and feelings of rawness. While these emotions may feel significantly intense, they are very normal reactions and part of the “grieving process”. Grief reactions can stem from:
Dealing with grief is a part of life that everyone experiences, but there are ways to cope with the loss. Coming to terms with the grief that your experiencing, finding meaning and forgiveness, and integrating the loss so you can live again are the ultimate goals of working through the grieving process. The process of integrating your grief may include:
A Swiss-born Psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross introduced the “five stages of grief” model that many practitioners utilize as the paramount conceptualization of the “grief process”. Her idea stemmed from her work with terminally ill clients and, although it may not be a complete explanation, it continues to provide a solid foundational understanding of grief. It’s helpful to examine and note that grief is not a linear process and that many of the feelings, stages and process of grief can be repeated, skipped, or suppressed multiple times before an individual fully experiences the entire “grief process”. When it comes to grief, often the only way out is truly through. The five stages of grief include:
Denial is a psychological defense mechanism that individuals, couples, and groups utilize to keep unconscious fears, anxieties, and traumatic experiences hidden from conscious awareness so that regular activities, certain beliefs, or activities can continue uninterrupted. Denial and shock are often bedmates in this part of the grief process. Denial aids in pacing your feelings of shock, so our feelings are staggered and the full impact is experienced over many months or years instead of all at once.
Everyone has experienced feelings of anger from time to time. For the purposes surrounding grief, anger can be thought of as a “secondary emotion” containing more vulnerable feelings underneath the surface of the anger. Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, sadness, or guilt may manifest in more active and palpable anger feelings. Anger is a necessary and normal reaction to loss and we invite you to suspend judgment around your feelings of anger and simply understand that this is just another facet of the process of grieving.
Bargains relate to the psychological defense mechanism of “undoing”; It is an emotional reach or an attempt to somehow make things okay again. This is one of the most vulnerable parts of the grief process as psychological desperation begins to take hold and other defense mechanisms such as regression often accompany bargaining. Once again, this is normal and although can be a very vulnerable part of the grieving process it is a stage to be understood and allowed for.
Depression is a commonly conceptualized form of grief. Most, associate depression immediately with grief – as it makes the “most” emotional sense. Depression can have various manifestations and iterations: withdrawing, brain fog, feeling overwhelmed by little tasks, the inability to feel joy, and isolation are all common symptoms of depression. Often this can be a note-worthy time to seek out counseling to help your grief process continue to materialize so that prolonged or complicated grief does not take root.
This is the final stage of the grief process. It’s important to note that the “acceptance” piece of grief centers around self-acceptance and the belief that you have been able to find some sort of meaning, find some measure of peace within yourself, and know that you will be okay. This stage in no way shape or form takes away from the loss or denies the loss that you experienced, but more can internalize it and metabolize it in a way that feels more emotionally congruent and sustaining.
In complicated grief disorder, individuals can continue to suffer from extended grief reactions over long periods with little to no relief from the challenging emotions, symptoms, or depression. When grief becomes chronic and debilitating it is often combined with some measure of trauma associated with the loss. This trauma may be conscious or acknowledged or may stay more hidden and out of the realm of your conscious awareness. Counseling for complex grief often combines work around grief combined with trauma-informed care, exploration, and sensitivity.
It’s estimated that approximately 10-20% of those individuals grieving the loss of a loved one will experience an extended period of complicated bereavement.
If you have had a significant loss, have a variety of complex grief, or are struggling with exactly how to process your grief or simply live again, you don’t have to go through it alone. Our team of counselors at Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S & Associates has genuine empathy and a deep understanding of the grief process, surrounding challenges, and potential complications associated with this very difficult part of the human experience.