The Five Stages of Grief

Grief—or bereavement— is considered, according to the DSM-V, to be a natural process that is unique to each individual. Grief is similar to depressive disorders such as MDD or PDD, but there are notable differences. Grief does not lead to the erosion of one’s self-esteem as MDD or PDD do, nor is it a consistent, 24/7 sadness that is overwhelming and leaves the person unable to perform daily tasks. These differences are extremely important because it is unwise to diagnose someone suffering from MDD with bereavement. Grief frequently occurs at the end of a person’s life, either by the person who is dying or by their loved ones. The stages of grief is one of the best ways to heal following the loss of a loved one or the imminent future of death. Of course, grief is something to be taken seriously, as it can impact people for extended periods of time. If grief continues to impair daily functioning for more than six months, you should consider talking to someone who is there for you. This idea of grief was identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, an American Psychiatrist who wrote the book, On Death and Dying, in 1969. She is best-known for her identification of the Five Stages of Grief. Those stages are commonly referred to as the acronym DABDA, which stands for Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.

The first stage of grief, denial, occurs when someone has received a diagnosis of a terminal disease, such as cancer, or if you lose a loved one unexpectedly. In this stage, the person is often in shock and can’t believe this could have actually happened to them. Often people feel numb and just go through the motions of life. This is a necessary stage for people to go through, as it allows your brain to slowly process what is happening around you at the pace that you can handle it. This is the first step of the healing process as you start to accept the reality of the situation and ask yourself questions. The feelings that you were denying will surface as you move on through this stage and the following stages.

The second stage of grief, anger, occurs when you have finally moved past the stage of denial and you begin processing the reality of your loss. You should be willing to feel angry and accept that it will pass, even if it feels like it will never end. If you refuse to feel angry, you will not be able to move through the stages of healing. Anger is commonly one of the first emotions you feel when you experience a loss, but there are many other emotions underneath the anger. Once in the anger stage, you will question just about everyone, including family, doctors, and even religious figures. You will have a lot of pain under your anger, and this is normal. Everyone who has experienced a loss, has this anger and pain and they have all felt what you are feeling. Explore your feelings of anger to best move on with your healing.

The third stage of grief, bargaining, is common before the loss of your loved one. People want to do anything they possibly can to spare their loved one. It’s common to talk with your religious figures, asking if there is anything you can do in return for the health of your loved one. Following the loss of a loved one, bargaining can take the form of a truce, such as devoting your life toward helping others. It’s also common to think thoughts of, “If only,” or “What if?” but thinking this way for too long can cause you more pain. Some people bargain with not feeling pain by self-medicating, which may not be good for you. It is important to keep in mind that these stages occur because of a response to an emotion. These stages can occur out of order, last for different amounts of time, and be unpredictable of the next onset.

The fourth stage of grief is depression. Bargaining is often followed by this stage, as we are forced to think about the present. Depression feels like it will last forever, but it does pass. The typical feelings of this stage include emptiness and inability to see many positives of your situation. The feelings are a deeper, more inclusive grief, and it can affect your ability to function in daily life. It is common for someone to feel depressed following the loss of a loved one, but this is not a mental illness. This depression is one of the steps we must take toward healing following the loss of a loved one. Sometimes in society, it is seen as a weakness to be depressed following a loss. This is not true, as losing someone you care about is indeed a difficult, depressing situation, and not experiencing some form of depression would be abnormal. Remember that it is okay to be depressed and there are many people that love and care about you. This is all a part of healing following losing a loved one.

The fifth and final stage of grief is acceptance. This stage is when you have accepted the reality of your loved one no longer being in your life. This is, of course, a hard thing to accept but doing so allows you to heal fully and remember your loved one in the best way possible. You will learn to live with this new reality of life without your loved one. Many people will attempt to live like they did when their loved one was still in their life, but they will eventually learn to reassign roles in their lives and begin to live in this world without their loved one. You must not try to rush through these stages, as it won’t genuinely heal you and allow you to live your life. Take your time, move through these stages as needed, and you will begin to feel like yourself again. It’s not a race, but you will win it no matter what.

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  1. This is also the process I went through with losing my marriage. Losing a spouse is similar to death and these five stages are the stages my mind went through when realizing my marriage was over.

  2. IMPORTANT, AUTHOR PLEASE READ. Florence, I strongly ask you to make a revision or retraction for this article. This article reinforces some UNHEALTHY MYTHS about grief.

    (The article is otherwise well written and has some good info, but it also contains some very unhealthy advice that you were likely taught by someone who didn’t know better.)

    Source: My mother is a Grief Specialist, and has been trained by the nationally-recognized Grief Recovery Method specifically in how to help others deal with grief. She also works extensively with others in the grief field.

    Most people who have actually studied grief, including Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, recognize that THE FIVE STAGES ARE NOT REQUIRED as a part of grief.

    **MOST people DON’T experience all the stages of grief, or experience them in the order listed, and THAT IS NORMAL.**

    Kubler-Ross specifically studied how people grieved in reaction to THEIR OWN DEATH, and even then, patients did not always experience all five stages, or experience them in this order. Kubler-Ross herself did not endorse applying these stages to any form of grief but that of people facing their own death.

    The Five Stages of Grief, and therapists’ overemphasis of them have, in fact, harmed people rather than help them. Grieving people are told they need to feel certain things, or are incited to feel certain things, that they do not feel. This may lead them to believe there’s something wrong with them, or it may prevent them from being able to heal from their grief in their own way.

    Advice such as “If you refuse to feel angry, you will not be able to move through the stages of healing” and “This is a necessary stage for people to go through” are extremely unhealthy for people to hear.

    I know you also say that “These stages can occur out of order, last for different amounts of time, and be unpredictable of the next onset,” but this is burying the lead, and I don’t see any mention of the fact that some stages don’t occur at all for some people.

    Please, please, please stop spreading the myth of the Five Stages of Grief.


    1. Hello, I do agree that I should have mentioned that not everyone follows these stages in this order and that everyone experiences things differently. Thank you for bringing that up. I will edit this soon.

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