What are the Different Kinds of Grief Reactions?

Lori Smith
Lori Smith
Guilt, which is a stage of grief, can be treated with counseling.
Guilt, which is a stage of grief, can be treated with counseling.

Shock, disbelief, rage, and overwhelming despair are among the most common grief reactions people experience when tragedy occurs. Usually, a person who is suffering from loss goes through various emotions before he or she can begin to accept what has happened and move on. Everybody has a different way of coping, and sometimes, grief reactions are unpredictable. The K├╝bler-Ross theory, which classifies five stages of grief, lists the experiences that people typically endure following a significant loss. These include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance.

Anger is commonly seen as a stage of grief.
Anger is commonly seen as a stage of grief.

When most people think of grief, they usually associate it with death and sickness, but it can strike after any significant loss or tragedy. For some individuals, it may occur after losing a job. For others, the end of a marriage may be the cause of despair. Regardless of the reason, each person will usually go through a host of emotions they may have never expected.

Despair is a common reaction to grief.
Despair is a common reaction to grief.

Denial is often the first of many grief reactions people experience. It is quite a powerful defense mechanism, especially when the truth is simply too painful. Immediately following the news that a loved one has passed away or other tragic event has occurred, a person may act as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened. Instead, they may choose to disbelieve it altogether. Sometimes, people even accuse others of lying to them.

Acceptance is the last stage of grief.
Acceptance is the last stage of grief.

During this stage of grief, for example, the person may expect a supposedly deceased spouse to walk in the door at any moment. When that does not happen, eventually, anger may replace denial. The grieving individual may blame medical personnel, friends, other family members, or even himself for the loss of a loved one. Lawsuits are most frequently filed at this stage. Grief reactions may also include self-destructive behaviors, such as violence or excessive alcohol and drug use.

Denial is a stage of grief.
Denial is a stage of grief.

Some people remain at the anger stage of grief for a very short time, while for others, it lasts longer. At some point, bargaining begins. Depending on the tragedy that occurred, the type of desperate negotiations that take place can vary. People may plead with doctors or even offer more money to save the life of their loved one. Sometimes, the heartbroken person bargains with God.

The five stages of grief lists the experiences that people typically endure following a significant loss.
The five stages of grief lists the experiences that people typically endure following a significant loss.

When all other efforts have failed, depression inevitably sets in. The person may sleep too much, or not be able to rest at all. He may lose interest in everything that once brought him enjoyment. Sometimes, the sadness and despair is so overwhelming that he may even have suicidal thoughts, believing that things will never get better. Physical symptoms may develop and the grieving individual may even become ill.

Some people may feel a stronger religious connection in times of grief.
Some people may feel a stronger religious connection in times of grief.

People may remain in the stage of depression for a few weeks or several years. Sometimes they vacillate between other grief reactions. Eventually, though, acceptance occurs. At that point, the individual is able to start rebuilding his life, accepting that there is nothing that can be done to change what has happened. He makes peace with his loss and is able to move on.

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Discussion Comments

turquoise

@burcinc-- I think that's normal. Everyone is unique in how they experience grief. You might or might not experience it in the order described here and there is no guarantee that the cycle won't repeat again. At the same time, you might experience many other emotions as well.

I have had a lot of benefit from grief counseling sessions and therapy. It wouldn't hurt to talk to a professional about your emotions. They might be able to help you understand what is going on with you and show you some new resources and ways of dealing with it.

burcinc

Is everyone expected to experience these reactions in this particular order or can people jump around between these reactions?

I have had traumatic experiences in my life and I personally haven't experienced any denial or bargaining. I have been angry and depressed for considerable amounts of time. Even when I have accepted what has happened, it seems that the anger and depression can be triggered again, simply by remembering, thinking or talking about the experience.

Is it possible that I haven't actually accepted it at all? It's just so confusing.

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    • Guilt, which is a stage of grief, can be treated with counseling.
      By: Phase4Photography
      Guilt, which is a stage of grief, can be treated with counseling.
    • Anger is commonly seen as a stage of grief.
      By: nebari
      Anger is commonly seen as a stage of grief.
    • Despair is a common reaction to grief.
      By: poco_bw
      Despair is a common reaction to grief.
    • Acceptance is the last stage of grief.
      By: Andrew Lever
      Acceptance is the last stage of grief.
    • Denial is a stage of grief.
      By: Peter Atkins
      Denial is a stage of grief.
    • The five stages of grief lists the experiences that people typically endure following a significant loss.
      By: Antonio Gravante
      The five stages of grief lists the experiences that people typically endure following a significant loss.
    • Some people may feel a stronger religious connection in times of grief.
      By: Michael Flippo
      Some people may feel a stronger religious connection in times of grief.
    • Some people may experience aspects of several stages of grief at once.
      By: auremar
      Some people may experience aspects of several stages of grief at once.
    • People may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with grief.
      By: petert2
      People may turn to alcohol as a way to cope with grief.
    • Some people dealing with grief refuse to acknowledge what they are going through.
      By: giideon
      Some people dealing with grief refuse to acknowledge what they are going through.