Grief phases: see the 5 steps and how to deal with emotions

Culturally, death is not a very common issue. Many people treat it as something distant and that should not be addressed. This usually means that when someone close to you dies, the pain is a mixture of suffering and ignorance.

Therefore, more and more psychology professionals have insisted on the importance of inserting the theme in a natural way, building a more friendly relationship with this process, which will invariably occur with everyone.

This does not mean that suffering will not occur, but it does mean that people will be better able to understand and deal with the death emotions of a loved one.

Grief is an important phase after someone’s death. Therefore, knowing about the process helps to understand what will happen:

What is mourning?

In short, grief is a set of negative reactions caused by the loss of something or someone. Usually, this process is described as a deep sadness in the face of a significant loss, but it can manifest itself in other ways besides sadness.

Although it is often related to the loss of someone, grief can occur symbolic losses, such as important objects, the end of a relationship or the end of adolescence.

Mourning is best known and discussed in the context of death, and is often placed as the worst type. However, there are no theoretical differences between the mourning of death and the mourning of the separation of a couple, for example.

According to the British psychoanalyst Bowlby, this suffering is proportional to the attachment to the lost object. Therefore, even losing a job can trigger a grieving process.

It is worth remembering that this is a normal process that all people go through, but that it can take on greater proportions, being called “complicated mourning”. In such cases, the depressive symptoms are so intense that the person may suffer from suicidal ideation.

How long can mourning last?

Clinically speaking, grief is expected to last 2 to 6 months . However, the duration usually varies greatly from person to person, depending mainly on what has been lost. Grief over the death of a wife, for example, can last longer than the loss of a friend.

Many people think that this phase ends when the pain of loss is no longer felt, but this is not true. It can be seen as a process of accepting the loss and therefore has a limited time, but the pain of the loss can last a lifetime.

It is important to note that, even if the person presents depressive symptoms during the grief, this does not always indicate impaired mental health . But the evolution of these symptoms must be monitored because, although they do not indicate a depressive condition, they can end up triggering one.

Usually, the depressive symptoms of grief resolve themselves as time goes by. However, in cases where the person develops a depressive episode, appropriate treatment for the disorder is necessary.

What are the stages of mourning?

Several theorists have analyzed the grieving process, but the best known model is that of the five phases of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: denial, anger , negotiation / bargaining, depression and acceptance.

These phases are not necessarily consecutive, and may occur in different orders, with more than one phase coexisting at the same time. Understand:

1st phase: Denial

In this first stage, the individual denies the loss. He thinks it is a mistake or a prank, he believes that this cannot be happening and that the loss is not real.

It occurs right after the news or perception of the loss, being a defense mechanism that serves to alleviate the pain at that moment and prepare the person for the emotional pain that is yet to come.

This phase can last from a few minutes to, in severe cases, months or years. When it lasts so long, one can think about the possibility of complicated grief, which must be identified and treated by a mental health professional.

2nd phase: Anger

In a second moment, there is a feeling of great revolt. It is the stage of anger. In this phase, the individual can become aggressive and tries to blame something or someone for what is happening.

Often, the person blames doctors (as) who took care of their loved one for their death or feel angry at the person who gave the bad news, for example.

In this phase, questions such as “why is this happening to me?”, “Why couldn’t it be someone else?” Are also common. Although there are no real answers to these questions, they help the person to cope with the suffering of the loss.

3rd phase: Negotiation / bargain

The third stage is bargaining, in which the person tries to negotiate with divine figures or with other people in order to avoid the loss, even if it has already occurred.

It is at that moment that the person promises to be a better person, for example, in exchange for a miracle to revive a loved one. In the case of break-up relationships, one can also think about the promises of being a better partner, trying to postpone the end of that relationship.

4th phase: Depression

It is at this moment that depression sets in, initiating the fourth stage of mourning. The person feels a sadness so intense that he starts to isolate himself, thinks about life, feels the pain of not having that person / object anymore, cries frequently, among others.

Despite being one of the most serious parts of the grieving process, this phase allows the person to begin to elaborate their feelings about the loss. Before that, even at the bargaining stage, the person still suffers from some kind of denial, refusing the fatality of the loss.

The person gets in touch with his true feelings and begins to walk the path to acceptance.

5th phase: Acceptance

The last phase of grief does not indicate the end of suffering, but rather a better ability to elaborate and express that pain. The person accepts the loss as a fait accompli, no longer questioning, trying to negotiate or blame someone else.

In general, when this stage is reached, grief is considered to be over. The truth is that the pain of loss does not go away completely, but at this stage it is already possible to move on, ending the grieving process.

How to help a grieving person?

When you see a person you love suffering, it is normal to want to intervene in order to eliminate or, at least, soften that pain. Here are some tips on how to help someone who is going through the grieving process:

Listen to the person

When a person is in mourning, it is common for them to want to vent, talk about their loss and their pain, to the point of constantly repeating stories related to the person or the lost object.

Unfortunately, sadness is not well regarded in our society and, therefore, we do everything to avoid talking about it. However, letting the person talk about their feelings, however negative, is the key to the elaboration of this suffering.

Trying to make the bereaved person happy ends up hindering more than helping, because it prevents them from expressing their true feelings. So listening to what she has to say is one of the best ways to help, no matter how heavy or repetitive it may be.

Avoid clichés

Everyone has heard a cliché phrase like “you are going to get over it”, but the reality is that this type of speech does not help. On the contrary, it can even worsen the situation, invalidating the feelings of the bereaved person.

Those in mourning often do not feel they have the strength to move on, so putting well-being in terms of overcoming it in the future does not help. The person does not even feel that he will be able to get there someday.

Give preference to real and current feelings

Rather than using cliché phrases about how well the person will look in the future, try to ask how they are feeling at the moment.

Let her talk about what the day or week was like, let her express her pain, even if it means the presence of tears.

If you do not know what to say, it is better to say “I am sorry for what you are going through” or “I imagine how you feel” than to say “it will be all right”, as they are welcoming phrases that validate the person’s suffering, showing them that it’s okay to feel that way.

Helping to find professional help

Although bereavement is not a mental disorder in itself, the help of a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, can help a lot in the elaboration of the loss.

Friends and family are not always available to chat or listen to the bereaved person. In addition, after a while, the outbursts may end up weighing on the listener.

And it does not mean that there is no empathy, but that everyone has a limit of emotional support that they can offer. When this limit is reached, it is important that the person has time to recover.

This means that friends and family may not be able to listen to the person who is grieving for some time.

In these cases, a psychologist or therapist helps a lot, as one avoids repressing feelings and wants to speak. That way, people around you can also rest and strengthen yourself emotionally to offer more support at a later time.


Grief is a necessary process so that people can properly deal with their feelings and emotions after a significant loss.

Experiencing this period properly is important for the well-being and mental health to be preserved.

Find out more about psychology, mental and emotional well-being at Minute Healthy!

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