• When we experience a significant loss of any kind, the psychological processes involved often happen in a series of stages.
  • One of the most compelling is the bargaining stage of grief—a time during which an individual struggles to comprehend how to accept the loss of a loved one, possession, job, or something else.
  • The bargaining stage of grief may involve pleading with a higher power, such as a god, spirit, fate, karma, or another person, begging for the lost item, person, relationship, or other “thing” to be returned to them.
  • Though the thought process is irrational, the bargaining stage of grief is entirely normal, and after a certain time, especially with help from a grief or bereavement counselor, the individual will be able to accept their loss.

The bargaining stage of grief is a process in which an individual who has suffered a loss might seek to regain control of their inner narrative, as they slowly process what has happened to them or someone they care about. Bargaining involves psychological negotiating with oneself, other people, or even a higher power in order to try and change past or future events. 

The bargaining process is just one of the five stages of grief. Everyone experiences the stages of grief in a very unique way—and it’s common for one particular stage to be more difficult to pass through than others. In fact, some of us will not go through every stage, or we might experience them out of order.

Regardless of how we individually go through the bargaining stage of grief, it’s often an internal experience defined by panic and extreme discomfort. This mental unwillingness to confront reality is hard to process when we’re “in it,” but over time, especially with help, it’s possible to pass through this difficult stage of grief. 

Which Stage of Grief Is the Hardest?

There really is no stage that is the hardest or one that all people get stuck in the longest. That said, for some people, the hardest stage might be the “depression” stage while for others this might be the bargaining stage of grief or “anger.”. 

The five stages of grief include: 

Grief is truly an individual experience and no two people will experience it the same. 

What Does It Mean If Someone Is Bargaining?

The bargaining stage of grief focuses on thoughts that take place within the mind. These thoughts occur as someone tries to explain how things could have been done differently or better. 

In a sense, these negotiations are an individual’s thoughts attempting to exchange one thing for another. These negotiations occurring during the bargaining stage of grief can be thought of as negotiations with:

  • God
  • Another higher power
  • Oneself
  • Other people
  • Fate or karma

The bargain is not something that can actually occur but is a fantasy that temporarily assists in bringing more control in the person’s mind. They’re able to believe, as a way of coping, that they have the ability to change the past or future.

The bargaining stage of grief can happen almost anytime after a loss and may sometimes resurface long after a loss, including instances of survivor’s guilt. 

Want to talk to a grief counselor?

Start working with one of our top-rated providers. We have availability now and accept most major insurances.

What Does Bargaining Look Like?

As mentioned, grief is a unique experience for everyone. During the bargaining stage of grief, the mind is wanting something different and these are just some of the emotions an individual can feel:

  • Shame and guilt
  • Anger
  • Resentment
  • Feelings of betrayal from a higher power (God)
  • Insecurity
  • Sadness

It all depends on someone’s personality, and how they respond to grief and loss

What Are Examples of Bargaining in the 5 Stages of Grief? 

Some examples of the bargaining stage of grief include:

  • “God, if you bring my loved one back, I will never drink alcohol again.”
  • “If only we would have gotten a second opinion.”
  • “If I could have one more day with him/her, I will go to church every week.”
  • “Please doctor, I will do anything, if you can just save her.”

The bargaining stage of grief isn’t necessarily a rational state of mind, but the mourner may not always realize this at the time. Over time, especially when working with a therapist or counselor in grief or bereavement therapy, the mourner will come to accept that their loved one, relationship, or whatever they have lost is truly gone

How Do You Get Over the Bargaining Stage?

Helpful tips to get you through the bargaining stage of grief include: 

  • Not stigmatizing the bargaining stage of grief. It’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. Bargaining, even though the individual will eventually realize is futile, is a way for hope to remain alive. Eventually the person will see that there’s nothing they can do or say to change the past, but their outlook and actions will affect their present and future. 
  • Being patient as you begin to heal. Overcoming the pain of grief and loss will likely take a considerable amount of time. And if you’re not experiencing any relief from your symptoms, or if you feel overwhelmed, talk to a doctor or a mental health professional about what you’re experiencing. 
  • Journaling—start with writing down your thoughts and feelings. It can be a good idea to record what you’re bargaining for. This can reveal your innermost wishes and desires related to what you’ve lost during the grieving process. This might help you to become more aware of what you’re really feeling—and why. 
  • Talk to a mental health professional if you feel lost and alone. Grief can be an overpowering emotion, to the extent that it can linger for months, and in some cases, years. On the other hand, grief can make you feel numb. Either way, treatment from a grief or bereavement counselor can make adjusting to life without whatever or whomever you’ve lost much easier.

The bargaining stage of grief can be an intense time period full of uncertainty, false hopes, and genuine prayers. It’s never easy to let go of something we love, whatever it may be. But with time and honest emotional work, people who are experiencing grief and bereavement can start to move forward with their lives, without leaving cherished memories behind.