Denial and isolation
Grief and mourning are universal and experienced by people from all walks of life, across many cultures. The 5 stages however, are not necessarily experienced in that order or in their entirety. It is not an ‘exact science’ and people will spend unique amounts of time on each of the stages. People will also ‘feel’ each stage with differing intensities, too.
Mourning occurs in response to many situations and experiences. It can be in response to the loss of a close relationship, or death of a valued person; or an animal; or learning of their own terminal illness, for example.
There are five stages of grief that were first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.
The key to understanding the stages of grief, is not to feel like you must go through every one of them, in the precise order. Instead, it is more helpful to look at the stages as guides in the grieving process. The 5 stages of grief can then help you understand the emotions, why they occur and where you are in the process.
Denial & Isolation
“This isn’t real.”
“This cannot be happening.”
These are some common phrases or thoughts when experiencing death or learning of a terminal illness, for example.
Denial is essentially a defence mechanism, and a common one. Blocking out the facts of a situation enables you to numb any emotion associated with it.
For most people experiencing grief, this stage is a temporary response that carries them through the first wave of pain.
When reality emerges, we may not be ready for it. Cue the feeling of anger. Anger is an emotion ‘born’ or deflected from vulnerability and fear.
Anyone can become a target for our anger. Friends, family, total strangers, inanimate objects. We look for others to blame and be angry with to deal with our pain.
A common reaction to feelings of helplessness, anger and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements. This is considered a form of ‘bargaining’. These can be statements like:
- If only we had done this when there were alive…
- Why didn’t I tell them how much they meant to me when they were here… (If only)
- We should’ve sought medical attention sooner… (If only)
- If only we got a second opinion from another doctor…
Guilt often comes along for the ride with bargaining. We can start to believe there was something we could have done differently to have helped save our loved one.
Depression tends to emerge during process of grieving. We start to feel more abundantly the loss of our loved one.
As our panic begins to subside and the emotional fog begins to clear, the loss feels more present and unavoidable. In those moments, we tend to pull inward as the sadness grows.
We may choose to retreat and be less sociable; sometimes isolating ourselves. This is a natural part of the grieving process but can be very difficult (and lonely) to deal with.
When we arrive at the ‘acceptance phase’ of the grieving process, this is not where we no longer feel any pain or loss. This is that instead or resisting the emotions that come with grief, we are accepting the reality of the situation. The emotional defences of denial, bargaining and anger are less likely to be present.
Everyone grieves differently, in the way in which they show grief and the time taken.
Some people wear their emotions on their sleeves whilst others internalise their emotions. Just because someone is not crying all the time does not mean they are not grieving. Try to not be judgemental. Grieving is a personal process with no ‘right way’ of doing things.
How can I cope with bereavement?
How to help a child with bereavement…
How can I express my sympathy for someone’s loss? https://mylastrequest.co.uk/blog/how-can-i-express-my-sympathy-for-someones-loss/
Bereavement and family conflict…