Grief spares none. Every human being undergoes the entire range of emotions at some point of time in life. Certain emotions and experiences are likely to be more frequent, while some would be less frequent. The difference is never about the possibility of certain experiences, but is about the frequency of experiences. Reasons for certain emotions and experience may differ from person to person, but the emotion would certainly be experienced by every human at some point of time in life. Grief, for instance could be due to one of many reasons. We will look in detail at this strong and profound emotion, the various stages and options for handling experiences.
Reasons for grief
While the reasons for grief differ from person to person, the outcome and experience has some striking similarities. For instance, bereavement in the family or among friends can cause grief at a level that is indescribable. It is an irreparable loss, and individuals experiencing this emotion will find it extremely difficult to come to terms to reality immediately. An individual who has been laid off from his job will despair and have to contend with multiple dilemmas. A breakup can leave lifelong scars, and trigger other emotions along with the grief of losing the love of one’s life. However, despite the fact that these emotions and situations are different, there are well documented studies that point out similar stages that one undergoes during grief.
Different stages of grief
Most individuals who experience grief as a result of any condition are likely to undergo various stages of grief. This was first identified more than five decades ago by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, a psychiatrist. Similar theories have been put forth by various psychiatrists, with the difference being the number of stages. However, there is consensus that individuals undergo multiple stages of grief.
Elizabeth’s model is still regarded as one of the most popular theories. According to this theory, the five different stages of grief are – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While these different stages are reportedly in a sequence, it is not mandatory that every individual will experience all the stages. Similarly, every person in grief does not necessarily experience grief in this sequence. It is also been determined that the duration of each stage differs from person to person.
The first stage – denial
Subconsciously and unwittingly, individuals always fail to come to terms with the situation. This is typically the first stage, where the individual denies the situation or the experience. This would happen despite overwhelming proof of a situation or an incident. This has got more to do with the fact that humans find it extremely difficult to accept situations or circumstances that are morbid or adverse. The stage of denial is effectively the defence mechanism of the body and the senses to dull or mitigate the impact. It is only when the individual leaves the denial stage, that he or she faces the full impact of the pent up sorrow. The transition from the first stage of denial to the next stage can be extremely demanding and challenging for the individual and support groups. Some of the most common reactions that are associated with the defence mechanism of individuals in situations of grief will highlight the fact. For instance, family members who have been informed about an impending break up are most likely to dismiss it as a small issue that will be overcome quickly. Similarly, individuals often find it difficult to accept diagnosis of findings about illnesses that are fatal in nature. Infallibility is the mask of denial, and is the first stage in grief.
The second stage – anger
In a large number of individuals, the natural response to inputs about situations is anger. This may appear to be irrational considering the situation. However, it is fairly common and the outcome of total helplessness. Anger in these situations is always directed or rather misdirected at individuals, who may not actually be the cause for the situation. A large number of people are known to take their anger out on cars, motorcycles, bicycles and other objects. Such behavior is the outcome of an inability to cope with the situation. It is also an indication of the considerable emotional investment of the individual to the subject. There could be variation in the expressions of anger. For instance, some individuals may be bitter and spiteful about a situation or a person. This is a possibility and is not necessarily the same among all individuals. The transition from the second stage of anger to the next stage is ideally the start of realization. In other words, it is at this stage that the individual begins to act logically. It is also at this stage that the underlying emotions are likely to surface, along with realization of the gravity of the situation. A significant number of members of bereaving families are known to weep inconsolably only at a very late stage. This is effectively the transition from the second stage into realization. Common reactions that are typically exhibited during this stage are best seen when news of an accident is shared with family members. Many are known to burst with anger and blame the deceased for not being responsible or careful enough. Similarly, a divorce notice can trigger intense anger with the individual dropping threats.
The third stage – bargain
This may come as a surprise. Individuals during the stage of grief are known to indulge in some kind of a trade-off in an attempt to salvage the situation. This stage is more of a desperate attempt to try and get back something that is either lost or about to be lost. This attempt is typically futile with little or no chances of making any kind of headway. For instance, individuals are known to instantly and impulsively offer to do something in return for relief from the situation or to turn back the clock. This stage is yet another example of how humans try to delay the situation or circumstances, as a result of the grief. Bargaining is more like clutching the last straw. Most common reactions in these situations are a silent prayer or promise to visit a religious place for pray for a particular time in return for advance favors. Similarly, many individuals are known to dissect the situations and imagine different outcomes with a series of ‘what if’ arguments. For instance, individuals blame themselves for the demise of a loved one, assuming that the outcome would have been different, if they had chosen a different line of treatment or hospital.
The fourth stage – depression
This stage is more of an anticlimax to the intense reactions of the previous three stages. During this stage individuals in grief feel sorrow and melancholy. The earlier stages are part of the body’s natural response to circumstances and situations of grief. This stage is when the individual retreats into himself or herself as realization hits higher levels. This stage of depression is unlike the depression seen or experienced normally. This is an overpowering experience following a sequence of different emotions and feelings in a situation of grief. There is less clarity of thought, with an inability to think beyond the feeling. During this stage all actions and decisions of the individual are mainly handled by family and friends. Counselling in any setting will help individuals to come out of this. For instance a qualified counsellor or therapist can help the individual come to terms. Similarly counselling by a family member or friend can also give some direction to the person in grief. Reactions and responses that are commonly observed during this stage are mainly indecision. For instance a bereaved family member may have absolutely no idea about how he or she will move ahead in the future.
The final stage – acceptance
This stage is the ultimate acceptance of the situation. This is a huge change from the first stage of denial when the individual was unwilling to accept despite clear proof of the situation. This acceptance is not exactly closure, but is all about a conscious understanding of the actual situation. During this stage, the individual actually realizes the impact of the situation on his or her life. The grief could be life-altering and consequently this stage of acceptance will certainly make the individual behave or experience difference. The manner in which the individual assesses events at that point of time may be a lot different from behavior prior to the event. This is because of realization that life has taken a turn from that point onwards. Acceptance is not necessarily a positive twist, but is quite clearly a stage that prepares the individual to move ahead in life. Reactions that are consistent with this stage could actually include positive statements such as hope for the future. For instance, a person who is just out of a divorce may exude confidence that he or she has come out of a toxic relationship.
From denial to acceptance, the transition undergone by an individual can be hard to understand from the outside. Most individuals managed to handle this and pick up their life. However, a small percentage of individuals are not as fortunate. As a result it is highly likely that some may remain stuck in one or many stages. This is where professional assistance is required to help the individual cope with grief. Failure to accept the situation can seriously impact the future of the person involved. This situation is often compounded due to the fact that it is the outcome of possibly tragic incidents. For instance, it is extremely tough to help a person who is bereaved. Similarly, individuals in a broken relationship withdraw into themselves, and this also makes it extremely tough to offer or suggest professional assistance.
In addition to the above model where grief is divided into five different stages, there are other models that talk of seven stages. Certain emotions are extremely personal and the feelings are experienced differently by different people. The intensity of grief and the gravity of the situation will make situations unique for different people. As mentioned earlier, it is not necessary that every individual should go through all the five stages of grief. However, every individual undergoes one or many of the different stages of grief. This could either be in sequence or in no particular sequence. What is common among everyone is the need to finally accept the situation and pick up life. This duration differs and is the sole determinant of how a person copes with the situation effectively. An individual who remains stuck in stages for a long time will require professional assistance.
Grief counselling and its impact
There are certain visible symptoms that make it necessary for families or acquaintances to step in and seek professional assistance, on behalf of an individual who is unable to cope with the situation. Symptoms that require assistance if extended for a long period of time, include the following :
· Lack of identity or lessened dignity
· A feeling of emptiness and despair with self-pity
· Withdrawing in to oneself and avoiding interaction with known circle of friends/family
· Disinterest in actions or plans that the passionate or concerned about earlier
· Attempts to avoid situations or hooks that remind the individual of the situation
· Unable to think of the individual or relation in happier times
· Constant desire to be with the lost one – this could include desire to seek the occult or strange practices
· Forever preoccupied with the situation surrounding the condition that caused the grief
These symptoms indicate that the individual requires professional assistance. Most individuals would be unaware that grief is classified as a clinical condition. The individual needs to attain or achieve closure which will help overcome the situation. This is precisely why mourning rituals help to a certain extent. It is essential to ensure that the affected individual receives social support or professional assistance to cope with the situation.