What are the stages of grief and how can you help those who are grieving?

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What are the stages of grief and how can you help those who are grieving?

In the course of our lives, each of us is confronted with grief sooner or later - whether it is the death of a loved one, the separation from a long-term partner or the end of a phase of life. Each person grieves in a different way. While some people shout out their grief loudly, others withdraw completely from the outside world.

Despite the individuality, the mourning process can be divided into five phases. The 5-phase model goes back to the Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. In the meantime, numerous other psychiatrists have taken up and refined the basic idea.

The ultimate goal of the stages of grief is to cope with the emotional pain. However, it is important to know that the stages of grief do not follow a linear pattern. This means that you can relapse from one stage to the previous stage. The duration of the individual stages of grief also varies from person to person. It may help you at this point to say that you should never feel bad about it. Accept the situation and tell yourself, "Everything that is there is allowed to be there!" Give these feelings a space within you.

The five stages of grief: what stages does a grieving person go through?

Coming to terms with a loss takes time. There is an old saying that all celebrations must first be over before one can think of a deceased loved one again without tears. Accordingly, the average mourning period is about one year. However, as mentioned at the beginning, this can not be defined universally.

By the way, you also often go through these phases after a painful Separation From a loved one. Because it feels the same to you at that moment as if you had lost that person forever. 

Until a grieving person can make peace with personal loss, they should go through the following emotional stages:

Phase 1: Denial

"This just can't be happening!"

After a loss has occurred, you initially find yourself in a state of shock. You simply cannot and will not (!) comprehend that the terrible event (e.g. a death or a death diagnosis) has actually happened. The inner denial acts as a protective shield of your psyche to keep you from collapsing.

The denial phase opens the mourning process. Characteristic are feelings of powerlessness and helplessness. Often it even happens that those affected openly deny that they are grieving. This phase can last for days, weeks or even months. It lasts until the affected person can no longer deny the loss.

Phase 2: Anger

"Why is this being done to me?"

After the denial phase comes anger. You are angry at the world, at God, or at the universe for inflicting such terrible suffering on you. In this phase, you tend to have uncontrolled outbursts of emotion. The anger phase is characterized by the search for someone to blame. The mourner is in the Victim role.

You may even destroy mementos of the deceased because he left you. You may blame the doctors and accuse them of failure or negligence. However, you may just as easily be torturing yourself with blame: Could I have helped? Did I miss something?

Phase 3: Negotiation

"How can I make it up to you?"

In the negotiation phase you try everything to make your soul pain bearable. You begin to have conversations with the deceased and seek out places where you felt close to him/her. You may also continue activities together. You imagine that the deceased is still a part of your life. The negotiation phase is therefore similar to the denial phase.

If it is a death diagnosis instead of a death, you use all your powers to avert the fate in a self-determined way. You stop smoking, eat healthily and become charitable. Behind this is the thought: If I live as it is expected of me, then God / the universe can not let me die!

Phase 4: Depression

"There's nothing I can do!"

In the fourth phase you realize that all attempts at negotiation are in vain. The loved one is irretrievably gone. The pain of loss now overtakes you relentlessly like a huge wave. You resign and withdraw. If it is your own diagnosis of death, your fighting spirit is now extinguished.

The depressive phase is characterized by isolation and despair, but also by realism. You begin for the first time to really come to terms with the facts and acknowledge them as truth. This step is enormously important in order to eventually make inner peace.

Phase 5: Acceptance

"I make peace with my loss."

In the final stage of grief, you have accepted your loss. The veil of depression lifts and you try to participate in life again. Of course, there may be setbacks in this process. Some days you are drawn back into depression. That is perfectly human. On good days, you are now able to comfort the other bereaved people.

Even though you are now making plans for the future, the deceased remains an important part of your life. However, the memories no longer make you sad, but happy. Gratitude for the time you spent together and memories of the good days replace the pain of loss. If it is your own imminent death, you make your remaining time now as worth living as possible.

Tips when others are grieving

5 tips on how you can help when others are grieving

Sometimes it is not so easy to find the right words to comfort others in their grief. Quite a few people are so insecure that they prefer to withdraw from the grieving person before they say something wrong. Therefore, we would like to give you a few tips on how to deal with mourners.

Note, however, that each person grieves in his or her own way. This applies not only to the stages of grief, but also to the type of help that is sought.

1. take grief seriously

Going through the stages of grief is associated with great emotional pain. Comments that it's not so bad and that death is part of life are inappropriate. Hold back on such comments, even if you mean well. The mourner is suffering. Show him that you see his pain and take him seriously.

2. you can't force anything

Seeing a close person grieve is hard to bear. Therefore, it is obvious to do everything possible to make the person feel better as soon as possible. However, the stages of grief cannot be shortened! Don't push someone to talk about his or her feelings if he or she doesn't feel ready to do so. The same goes for graveside visits or other activities.

By exerting pressure, you aggravate the grieving person's emotional state. Since this is certainly not your intention, you should respect the pace of mourning.

3. offer yourself as a listener

You can't make up for the loss of the grieving person, unfortunately. You have to go through the stages of grief. During this process, however, good listeners are very helpful. Offer your ear to the grieving person. It is best to just listen without giving any advice. Being allowed to express oneself is very liberating for most grieving people.

4. relieve the person

After a serious loss, normal everyday life often falls by the wayside. Those affected feel powerless and unable to act. Therefore, offer your help with various errands. It may relieve the grieving person if you take over the bureaucratic telephone calls (funeral home, local court, etc.). Also the removal of the apartment of the deceased would be a topic for help. But do not impose yourself!

5. comfort and acceptance rituals

Lighting a candle together for the deceased or baking his/her favourite cake on his/her birthday: there are a multitude of possible comfort rituals. Show yourself to be open for this.

The FriedWald mourning study has shown that comfort and acceptance rituals in the mourning process play a decisive role.

Acceptance rituals include the laying out, the burial and the funeral feast.

to overcome your own grief

What can you do to overcome your own grief?

The best way to overcome the pain is to go through the five stages of grief. There is no way to bypass this process. However, you can make it a little easier on yourself: Allow your feelings. Everything you feel is right and allowed to be. Listen to your heart and don't do anything that is not (yet) good for you.

Many mourners plunge into blind actionism. Instead of dealing with their own pain, they numb it by being helpful to others. What is well-intentioned, however, can intensify one's own depression. This can be seen from the following study produced.

In the following we would like to give you a few suggestions on how you can (better) deal with your grief. Keep in mind, however, that due to the individuality of the grieving process, not every tip works for every person.

First things first: allow your grief. Do not try to prevent the stages of grief.

Attend the funeral and memorial service to realize the loss and to say goodbye. Experience shows that most people eventually regret not attending the funeral because they did not want to.

Talk to people close to you about your grief.

Put your feelings on paper. These can be diary entries as well as letters to the deceased. Writing can be incredibly freeing. Just give it a try!

Provide distraction if your thoughts are centered around your loss all day. Exercise, meet with friends, or start a creative project. Be careful not to confuse distraction with displacement!

6. you may be well, even if you have lost a loved one. Some people torture themselves with self-reproach because they think they are not suffering enough. However, there is no bar in this regard, and that is a good thing. So, with a clear conscience, engage in pleasurable activities if it feels good to you.

Every farewell is also a new beginning: What did the death of your loved one teach you? Was there perhaps something you would have liked to say to him or her? Then use this experience as an opportunity to let your loved ones know how important they are to you every day.

When does therapy make sense?

Are the depressive phases of grief becoming unbearable or are you even having suicidal thoughts because life without the deceased no longer makes sense to you? In this case, you should urgently seek professional help from a psychotherapist.

Overcoming the stages of grief with coaching

The phases of mourning can be an occasion to change one's life. After all, there is hardly a more stressful experience than the confrontation with death. If you would like to help other people in similar situations in the future, training as a Greator coach could be the right thing for you.

Of course replaced Coaching no therapy, yet you can provide valuable impulses. Giving your own life a new meaning often helps to leave the phases of grief behind.

The Greator Coach training lasts a total of nine months and consists of two parts. In the first part you work on your own life issues, which can be very healing immediately after a loss. In the second part of the training you get to know the most important coaching tools.

Does that sound interesting to you? Then inform yourself here free of charge and without obligation about our coaching training.



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Reviewed by Dr. med. Stefan Frädrich

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