5 Stages of Grief

Understanding Your Feelings

You probably know someone who has experienced a loss, and you may even have been that person at some point. Sharing the grief associated with losing someone or something can feel isolating, especially if you don’t quite understand your own feelings. The 5 stages of grief are not as linear as they appear on paper; they often overlap and switch back and forth. However, understanding these stages can help you cope during this difficult time.

Defining the 5 Stages of Grief

The 5 stages of grief are stages that people go through when they experience a significant loss. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. 

  • The first stage is denial that the loss has happened. 
  • The second stage is anger at the situation and others, such as the person who died or the medical team. 
  • The third stage is bargaining with anyone who will listen about how to avoid the situation. 
  • The fourth stage is depression, which is sadness and grief over the loss. 
  • The fifth stage is when the person accepts the situation and moves forward with his or her life. 

The stages only occur linearly and often overlap and switch back and forth.

Shock and Denial

The first stage of the grieving process is often shock and denial. This is when you may find yourself frozen in place or feeling as if you are detached from reality. This is natural when you have experienced a sudden event or loss that you weren’t prepared for. You may feel overwhelming disbelief as if it is not really happening to you. 

This stage is often followed by denial, a defense mechanism that allows you to protect yourself from the intensity of your emotions. It helps you cope when you are overwhelmed with grief, anxiety, or stress. The death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, or another significant loss can trigger this defense mechanism. When you are in denial, you may not be able to fully grasp the implications of your loss. You may also have trouble accepting help from others.


When you emerge from the denial stage of the grieving process, you may feel a great deal of anger. This is normal and to be expected, especially if the situation was sudden and/or unexpected. You may direct your anger toward yourself, the situation, or others. People often direct anger toward others when they cannot express it toward the source of their anger. Anger can be used as a coping mechanism to help you deal with your grief and loss. 


People often experience the third stage of the grieving process as bargaining. This is when you promise yourself or God that you will change your ways if only he were to bring back your loved one or heal you. It is the desire to make a deal with someone, or something to change a situation. It could be your own desires, a higher power, or even sadness and regret. You may begin to say things like, “If only I hadn’t done this,” or “If only I had done that.” You also may find yourself making promises to God or a higher power about how you will change your ways if only the situation were to change for the better. 


The fourth stage of the grieving process is depression. You may also feel hopeless, worthless, and/or helpless. Depression is a normal part of the grieving process. It is important to remember that these feelings will pass. You can treat your depression with therapy, medication, exercise, and/or healthy eating habits. It is important to remember that depression is not a sign of weakness. It is a normal part of the grieving process. You do not have to feel guilty or embarrassed about your sadness or the use of antidepressants or therapy.


The fifth stage of the grieving process is acceptance. You may feel a sense of relief or even happiness during this stage. You may experience this after you have gone through the other stages of grief. Acceptance is the final stage of the grieving process. It is when you come to terms with the situation and feel ready to move on with your life. 

When experiencing grief, you will likely go through each of the stages. It is important to remember that you don’t have to go through these stages in any particular order and that you should take the time to heal and get through your emotions. It is also important to remember that everyone experiences grief differently. It is important to be kind to yourself and give yourself the time you need to heal. Although these stages can help you understand your grieving process, they will not provide an exact timeline for recovering from your loss.

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