Stages of Recovery after Loss / Practices to Move Forward
By Mira Walker LMFT
Mira Walker, LMFT shared an abbreviated presentation on the Stages of Recovery After Loss to the Community Meeting in Redwood Valley. This article provides a more in-depth articulation on these stages and practices that can help.
This article outlines the emotional stages of loss and misunderstandings about those stages. It also offers practices that can be helpful for recovery.
Dealing with loss in ones life is an individual personal process. There is no right way or wrong way to recover from a traumatic loss. Grieving is a normal process and there are stages and responses that many people experience, however your experience is unique to you. The most important knowing is that your individual experience after loss is normal and that over time it will transform.
Fifty years ago Elizabeth Kubler-Ross presented the five stages of grief during the dying process in her book On Death and Dying. The stages have been adapted for grief related to many different kinds of loss. The stages are denial, anger, bargaining depression and acceptance.
There are many misunderstandings and myths about the 5 stages
- The stages of moving thru these emotional experiences are common for many people, but not for all individuals.
- The stages are not on a linear time- line. You do not have to finish one stage before you move to another, nor go thru the stages in order.
- There is no time spent in each stage that is the “right” or “wrong” amount of time to experience the emotions within each stage.
- The stages often come and go and come and go again in any order. They can be short in time, minute to minute or take long periods and feel like those emotions will never end.
- Over time the experience of each stage will come less often and with less intensity.
- There is no right way or wrong way to move thru the emotional stages of loss.
- It is helpful to recognize the stages as normal if you experience them.
An Outline of the 5 Stages
Denial is the feeling of numbness when nothing makes sense. It is a state of shock and can feel like you need to reinvent yourself anew each day. Denial allows time and the ability to only let in the feelings you can handle each day. As you become stronger and less numb other emotions now have room to surface.
Anger can be experienced in many forms. It can spill over to friends, family, to blaming yourself or your spiritual support system. It can seem endless. It is often the step that comes forward to try and make some meaning to life and feels better then not feeling as your numbness melts away. Anger can easily come and go unexpectedly or it can surface in strange ways
It is the stage of what ifs, of the if onlys, the I should haves, the I could haves. The bargaining can bring feelings of blaming yourself. This is the stage of being in the past, reliving the loss and trying to find a way to work with the pain of loss. Often times the rational part of the mind knows this does not make sense, but it continues to occupy your thoughts anyway.
Depression is a normal and appropriate response to loss. It may feel like it will never end. It is a feeling that often comes when you move to what is happening in the present. It can be a time when many feelings are now felt in a deeper way then were ever felt before. The emotional door has been opened by the loss. Feelings that have not been easy to allow come spilling forth. To feel grief after a loss is because we are human. It allows us to acknowledge the loss more fully and allows us to heal.
Acceptance usually comes when you can look at the reality of the loss without trying to change that it happened. The acceptance of what is gives room to move forward according to your individual rhythms to do so. As you integrate the concept that the past cannot be undone or changed, you find ways to adjust into a meaningful life and let go of what no longer serves you.
Practices that can be helpful:
- When you become aware of feelings that are repetitive or anxious provoking WALK OR EXERCISE. Walk even if it is only around your kitchen table. After you exercise sit down and visualize a safe space where you can surround yourself with a calm and happy memory. You can also make up a memory or see yourself on a vacation or doing something you always wanted to do. Hear the sounds. See the colors. Feel the environment.
- Become conscious of your internal negative dialogue about yourself or others. Do not put yourself down for the dialogue. Replace the negative judgment with “isn’t that interesting”. In this way you can learn to recognize the triggers that bring up the dialogue, rather then fighting with your thoughts.
- If you find yourself telling yourself the same story over and over again make up a different ending. Write the story down and read it to yourself every day.
- If you feel stuck in a particular emotional experience talk to a professional that understands that grief and loss are an individual process.