What are the 12 stages of the grieving process? I thought there were just 5 stages of grief. Now there’s twelve?!?
If this sounds overwhelming and depressing, keep reading. The “stages of grief” are models designed to help you understand and work through grief in a healthy way.
So with a bit of understanding, I hope you’ll see that this information is a tool to help you, no matter where you’re at in the grieving process.
You may never have suffered grief before (that’s great!), or you may be going through grief for the nth time (I am truly sorry). If you are going through grief again, you will realize that it isn’t the same as the last time.
Grief is different each time you experience it and different for every individual going through it. You don’t know what anyone is working through. Be kind to everyone and especially to yourself.
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What is the Grieving Process?
The grieving process refers to the way the death of a loved one affects an individual over time, and also the steps that person takes as they learn to cope with the loss.
So the grieving process is both passive and active.
Grief is passive in that the loss is thrust upon you. You have no choice – you will be emotionally affected by the death of a loved one. And grief is active in how you choose to respond to this loss. There are steps you can take to cope with the death of a loved one. That is what normal, healthy mourning is all about.
What Are Grief Stages?
The stages of grief are common for just about everyone. You may handle them differently, experience them in a different order, or even revisit one stage time after time.
Grief hits you in waves. That’s what they call “stages.” There is no rule following the grieving process. Whether you know about the five or twelve-stage models, grief is different each time.
The big differences will come in trying to figure out how many stages of grief are out there. How many stages will you go through? And, most importantly, when will you be done grieving?
We’ll try to give a realistic perspective on these questions. Read on.
Just How Many Stages Are There in the Grieving Process?
Are there 5 or 7 stages of grief? Some say there are 10, others 6, still others 12 or even more.
Just how many steps or stages of grief are there?
As we’ve studied the grieving process more, professionals have proposed different models. Here are the most influential.
The 5 Stages of Grief (Kübler-Ross)
The concept of grief “stages” comes from the groundbreaking work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book On Death & Dying.
The original 5 stages of grief are a framework to guide yourself through the process of grieving.
- Denial: By denying the diagnosis (or death), it gives yourself more time to absorb everything. “This is not happening to me,” or “the doctor is wrong” gives you some hope. Denying the issue is a form of self-preservation.
- Anger: This is a way to mask your emotions. It is a way to cover the pain of loss with revenge, bitterness, frustration, or resentment.
- Bargaining: By bargaining, you may be looking to regain control of the situation. All of the “if only I would have, I should have, or I could have” arguments will not change the outcome.
- Depression: Being depressed is considered a quiet stage of grief. Feelings of isolation and confusion may abound. This is a deep sorrow and sadness that is a normal part of the grieving process, as opposed to the more worrisome version of clinical depression.
- Acceptance: The stage of acceptance doesn’t mean a happy ending, or that you are never again sad about your loss. It just means you are ready to move on.
This model is still the most foundational and influential understanding of the grieving process. To learn more, read this article.
The 7 Stages of Grief
The 7 stages of grief are another popular model. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross added on to her 5-stage model to encompass a wider range of emotions. Her expanded understanding came through years of working with the terminally ill.
- Shock and Denial: This is the stage of disbelief and perhaps numbed feelings.
- Pain and Guilt: Your loss feels unbearable. You may feel that you are burdening other people in your feelings of grief.
- Anger and Bargaining: You may fly off the handle at those around you. Bargaining with God that you’ll do anything to change the outcome of this situation.
- Depression: Feelings of loneliness and isolation are common in this phase. Trying to process the plight you are undertaking could be consuming you.
- The Upward Turn: At this point, the other stages you have gone through tend to soften. You may have gained some measure of control over the shock and anger you’ve been feeling.
- Reconstruction and Working Through: Learning to live differently is starting to come together. You may be working towards new goals, making new friends, and moving on with your life.
- Acceptance and Hope: This stage doesn’t really end your grief. It is more than likely that you will feel some form of grief for the rest of your life. Acceptance and hope mean you are in the process of moving forward. You can see a future for yourself.
More Stages of Grief
The thing to remember about grief is everyone experiences it differently. It is a personal journey, unique to you. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
The models that you are reading are just theories. The stages may come and go in different orders; some stages you may not experience while other stages you may experience more than once.
There are other proposals for different numbers, but the next important one is the 12 stages of grief. Let’s take a look at each one, and as we do, we’ll explore how this model can help you better understand and heal from your loss.
12 Stages of the Grieving Process
Remember that these are not in a sequential order but rather in order of how many mourners slowly come to terms with loss.
1. Healing takes place over time.
You must allow yourself the time to heal. It is a long journey and one that can’t be rushed. Giving yourself the time you need to help in the recovery process.
2. Grief is universal yet distinctive.
Everyone feels grief at some point, yet everyone feels grief differently. The same, yes, but also different. This is important to keep in mind. Don’t let anyone tell you how you “should” be feeling. This is a personal journey.
3. Shock is the prelude to the grieving process.
Shock is often your very first response. When you go into shock, you feel numb. This is your body’s way of protecting you.
The depth and length of this stage can vary. The biggest factors are the degree of the relationship, cause of death, and whether it was a sudden or unexpected death.
4. Grief can cause depression.
You will experience bouts of depression and sadness during the grieving process. This is normal.
Reach out to your support group. Often this is friends and family, but it can even be a chat room of strangers. Talking about your grief will help you work through the depression stage.
5. Grief can cause health problems.
Grieving may cause you to neglect your own health. Watch out for this, and do your best to avoid it.
Keep up a healthy lifestyle of exercise, good nutrition, and sleep routines. If you are having serious health symptoms, it is imperative to seek medical attention ASAP.
6. You might panic.
Panic is another completely normal part of the grief process. Don’t let it overtake your day-to-day routine.
Panic may include worrying over bills, your future, or facing the unknown. Learning to accept help from others is a good way for you to begin work on this stage.
7. Grief can cause guilt.
You and your loved one may have had unresolved issues, or perhaps you blame yourself for the death. We all have regrets in life but shouldn’t allow them to grow out of proportion.
Talking with someone can be a great way to ease your feelings of guilt. Start by talking to friends and family, and if necessary see a professional counselor. They are trained and ready to provide help for this exact situation.
8. Grief can cause anger.
You want to blame someone for your loss. The questions of: “Why him?” “Why me?” “How can this be happening?” may never be answered.
These unanswered questions can be so frustrating. Instead of continually returning to these unanswerable questions, the way forward is to learn to accept what has happened and grow through it.
9. Grief causes intense emotions.
Your emotions will be in turmoil after the death of a loved one. Feelings can be overwhelming and will come in waves. You will suffer highs and lows throughout this journey. You need to figure out constructive ways to vent.
10. Grief causes a lack of direction and purpose.
You may find that normal activities are impossible to accomplish. Daydreaming may become a favorite pastime. You can find yourself thinking about the past and about the future that will never be.
Practice being grateful for your memories and understand that they are a treasured and valued part of your story. At the same time, you will find comfort in discovering a renewed purpose for your future.
11. Hope brings healing. And vice versa.
It will take time and resolution, but eventually, you will see improvement. Your life will take on new meaning. You will begin to establish new relationships and treasure of old relationships. Memories will bring comfort and not sorrow.
For encouragement, remember examples from other’s grief and how they survived.
12. Acceptance means that your loss has changed you, but you have not been defeated by it.
As you learn to cope with the loss and come to terms with your grief, you will discover new strengths within yourself. This experience has changed you, and you’ve grown stronger through it.
You can begin to visualize the future with confidence. Be proud of yourself; you are overcoming the hardest thing in life!
Common Questions About the Grieving Process
You’ll still have a lot of questions. Here are some of the most common.
How does grief affect your body?
Grief affects your body in various ways. It can:
- Worsen pre-existing health problems
- Increase blood pressure and the risk of blood clots
- Cause insomnia, or extreme fatigue
- Affect your eating habits through over- or under-eating
It is important to be mindful of your physical health.
How does grief affect your brain?
Your brain will go through changes during your grieving time. These changes and disturbances are referred to as “grief brain.”
Your brain is experiencing a flood of information from overproduction of neurochemicals and hormones. Symptoms might include:
- Panic attacks
- Sleep disturbances, nightmares, and vivid dreams.
- Memory loss
All of these feelings are normal. If you find yourself not being able to work through it, seek professional guidance.
What is the hardest stage of grief?
Talk to a hundred different people and you will get a hundred different answers. Each person’s grief journey is individual.
The loss of control you may feel is extremely hard to deal with. The memories will wash over you. Your brain can’t seem to shut down and let you rest.
Most people find these as the hardest two stages of grief:
- Guilt: You may think there was some way you could have stopped the death from occurring. Knowing that you could have done a million and one things differently – but didn’t – you experience a feeling of guilt. This feeling keeps you mired in that “stage” and prevents you from pursuing further healing.
- Acceptance: Many people expect the acceptance phase to be a miraculous cure. The grief doesn’t end upon acceptance. You will always have feelings of grief pop up. They won’t come up as often as time progresses. Acceptance is still hard.
How long does it take to stop grieving?
There is no concrete answer to this question. It is natural to wonder if there is an end to it. Grief doesn’t come to a complete end, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel better.
One day you will notice that you don’t hurt as badly. Things tend to get better little by little. Your pain will become manageable, and you will feel more “happy” times than “sad” times.
It’s important to give yourself time to work through this journey. It is essential to permit yourself to be happy again.
To learn more, read How Long Does Grief Last? (A Timeline)
What is the final stage in grief?
Acceptance is considered the final step in the grieving cycle. Accepting your loss doesn’t mean you feel good about your loved one dying. Rather, it means you come to terms with the reality of your loss and learn to live your life in a new way.
This stage is more about accepting that you can’t change what has happened. Though you never forget the pain of losing your loved one, you have a new reality of living. That reality will certainly include treasuring all the memories you shared.
How do you accept the loss of a loved one?
Constance Siegel, Licensed Master Social Worker, has developed a model called “Grief Without Denial.”
This model consists of 6 steps.
- Take your time when grieving: There’s no way around it; grief takes time.
- Remember how they impacted your life: Focus on the positive.
- Have a funeral that speaks to their personality: Celebrate your loved one’s life in a special, unique way.
- Continue their legacy: Carrying on in your loved one’s footsteps is a great way to pay tribute to their life.
- Continue to talk to them and about them: You can’t see your loved one, but that doesn’t mean you need to stop talking to them. Their life was real, and it mattered. Talk about that.
- Know when to get help: It’s critical to give yourself time to grieve. It is just as important to know when it’s time to get help. If you need help, reach out to friends, family, or a professional.
Don’t avoid dealing with your grief. Working through grief is the healthy way to start the process of recovery.
More Grief Resources
Depending on where you’re at in the grieving process (or if you’re the one supporting a friend), you may find a number of our additional grief resources helpful as you navigate this difficult time.
- How to Grieve Well (Or poorly, for that matter)
- What Are the Five Stages of Grief? (A deeper look at the original 5 stages)
- Types of Grief: The 16 Ways People Grieve
- 100+ Illuminating Quotes to Help When Grieving a Loss
- How to Help a Grieving Friend
- 83 Practical Ways to Comfort Someone
- “Sorry for your loss”? 10 Alternative (and better) Things to Say