Grief is a universal experience — we all feel some type of grief during our lives, whether it’s through the loss of a loved one, job loss, pet loss, divorce, loss of a friendship, or the loss of another emotional connection. Losing something or someone you love is something no one ever wants to experience. It’s never easy, and it often leaves one different than they were before.
Grief is one of the most difficult feelings and processes to move through, but it is possible, with the right help and support, to overcome it. Something that has helped people better understand their emotions and themselves as they process their grief is the seven stages of grief. This list is a guide created to help people recognize what they’re going through and learn about how grief can change over time.
Are There 7 or 5 Stages of Grief?
There are various theories on whether there are 7 or 5 stages of grief. The current thought process is that grief is not linear. An individual can go through seven stages, five stages, or just a couple, and in a straightforward or random order. Each person’s grieving process is going to look different, so every healing journey will follow a different route.
The original five stages of grief are very widely known from the book, “On Death and Dying,” written in 1969 by Swiss-American author and psychiatrist Elizbeth Kubler-Ross. She wrote this book based on her work with terminally ill patients. At that time, the five stages were clear-cut and linear and defined as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
While these stages were constructed for terminally ill individuals, it has since been adapted for other types of loss. This is why we now have seven stages to help encompass more common phases of grief.
What Are the Seven Stages of Grief? 7 Stages of Grief Explained
Though people might have different start points, end points, and feel each phase with a different intensity, the seven stages of grief is a list that attempts to comprise the full spectrum of grief and lay it out in a simple and digestible way. By doing this, even if people don’t completely identify with the process as it’s laid out, it can help people understand what they’re feeling and how grief can evolve over time. The seven stages of grief include:
- Shock and Denial: During this time, you may experience feelings of numbness or disbelief surrounding what happened. Examples of common emotions that occur during this stage can include sadness, confusion, and mourning.
- Pain and Guilt: You might feel remorse or guilt over things that you did or did not do for your loved one, considering things you said or feel you didn’t say enough for example. The loss of your loved one might feel unbearable, and life may feel scary during this time. Emotions that people commonly feel during this stage may include desperation, sadness, and guilt.
- Anger and Bargaining: This stage can involve an array of actions and emotions, including lashing out at loved ones, blaming others for what you’re feeling or what happened, or asking God or another higher power for relief from your painful feelings. You might feel especially angry or resentful during this time.
- Depression: You may go through a time of loneliness, deep sadness, isolation, reflections, and processing of the loss during this stage. You might feel many intense emotions associated with depression, like sadness, emptiness, and heaviness.
- The Upward Turn: During this time, people can tend to feel more relaxed and calm, the depression and anger beginning to lift some. You might start to also feel an increase in motivation and energy.
- Reconstruction and Working Through: During this stage, your mind will start truly healing. Life starts to feel less overwhelming and more manageable again, and you start to reconnect with loved ones. Your motivation and energy increase, and you may start to feel more encouraged about life ahead.
- Acceptance and Hope: Finally, this stage involves beginning to accept reality and directing your thoughts toward hope and your future. Acceptance is a gradual process, and this phase won’t just appear all at once, but it’s all an important part of moving past grief and adjusting to a new version of life.
Though this is a framework that many people can identify with when processing their grief, it is still just a framework. You may experience many different combinations of these feelings or even go through only a few of these stages on your journey toward healing. However grief looks for you, talking to a mental health professional such as a grief counselor can be a very helpful tool, providing you with guidance as well as space to grieve at your own pace.
What Stage of Grief Can Be the Hardest? Which of the Seven Stages of Grief Do People Get Stuck on the Longest?
There’s not really a specific stage that is the hardest for people to get through or one that people “get stuck in” the longest. You may spend longer feeling angry or shocked than another person experiencing grief, and they may spend longer feeling guilty than you do—every grieving experience looks different, and that’s okay.
Because of this, it’s usually best not to compare your grieving process to those of others, and vice versa. It can be helpful to talk out what you each have gone through and allow yourselves to feel supported and understood, but there also needs to be space for those processes to diverge from each other at times. Working through grief is a very difficult process, and no one should feel pressure because their journey looks different than those of others.
Does Everyone Go Through 7 Stages of Grief?
No, not everyone goes through all seven stages of grief. As addressed above, grief is not linear, and some people will go through the seven stages, circle back and forth, skip stages, or even only experience a couple of stages. There is no one way to grieve, after all.
How Long Does it Take to Go Through the 7 Stages of Grief?
Again, while grief is considered a universal experience, everyone certainly experiences it in a different way. It has no time frame. For some, grief can last a few weeks or months; for others, going through the stages of grief can take years. Many factors can play a part in how you experience grief, including the closeness of the loss, your support system, your previous mental state, and whether you’ve experienced grief before, among others.
If you are struggling with the weight of grief and feel overwhelmed, seeking help from a mental health professional is the best course of action. They are equipped to deal with the deep and painful emotions you’re experiencing and can provide you with a safe space to voice those feelings as well as tools to help you process them. They can even lead you to valuable outside resources like support groups to help you cope with grief.