The Stages of Grief
During divorce, you will probably go through the five stages of grief. What I didn’t know is that grief is not linear. You don’t just go through the stages like a series of college courses and receive your grief diploma at the end. The stages are not concrete, they are fluid. You will go through them in your own way, you may circle through several stages and in no particular order. You may get stuck a little longer in some stages and you will probably be pulled back into some time and time again. Time DOES help. But only if you are using that time to take steps to heal.
What are the stages of grief?
Let’s walk through each stage to better understand the process. You will have a journal entry to accompany each stage to help you work through your thoughts and feelings.
STAGE 1: DENIAL
In this stage, you have not fully accepted your breakup. You may feel like this is all a nightmare that you will wake up from. It doesn’t feel real. You might convince yourself that you can still make it work. You may think can still convince your spouse to stay, you might rationalize their betrayal, you might try to pretend that nothing is wrong. You may minimize what is happening or avoid dealing with it.
The PURPOSE of denial:
Denial is a defense mechanism that helps buffer the initial shock and pain of trauma. It is there to protect you in the beginning stages. This may be especially pronounced if there was some kind of betrayal or you were blindsided by your divorce.
DEALING WITH DENIAL AND AVOIDANCE:
- Understand that denial is a normal stage of the grieving process. It is ok if you can’t fully comprehend what is happening at first and if it doesn’t feel real. You may find yourself saying things like “this can’t be my life”.
- To move through denial, you have to allow yourself to identify what is happening and to feel the big feelings that you are avoiding.
YOUR TASK: COMPLETE Entry# 1 of grief journal (Stage 1: Denial and Avoidance)
STAGE 2: ANGER
The Purpose of Anger
Anger is often one of the most prominent feelings during the divorce process. Anger can actually serve you well. If not controlled and channeled, anger can be toxic and can stunt your growth and healing after divorce. However, anger can also be used as a healthy fuel to push you toward healing and rebuilding your life.
DEALING WITH ANGER
- To work through your anger, first you have to face it head on and feel it. Keep in mind that anger is a messenger. It is not in control of you, it is there to tell you where you are unhealed, what you need to deal with, and to remind you of what is most important to you.
- If you leave your anger unchecked, it will leak out (or explode) in one way or another. If you avoid it, it will seep into you and will come out in other potentially unhealthy ways and can lead to long term bitterness. Anger that isn’t dealt with can lead to blowing up on innocent people in your life, saying or doing things that you will regret later, and even a range of health issues. The key is to remind yourself that anger can be healthy and useful, but it has to be managed.
YOUR TASK: Read and complete Journal Entry #2: Anger
STAGE 3: BARGAINING
Bargaining is the stage where you may be asking a lot of “what if” and “if only” questions, dreaming about how your marriage could be fixed, and negotiating with yourself or with a higher power to try to change the outcome. In this stage, you may find yourself begging for your partner to come back, contemplating all of the ways that divorce could have been avoided, even daydreaming about repairing your marriage in the future. You may bargain with your spouse or they may be the one bargaining with you. When the bargaining is rejected, it can lead to mental exhaustion and increased feelings of guilt, sadness, and rejection.
THE PURPOSE OF BARGAINING
The bargaining stage has an important purpose in grief. This stage helps provide temporary escape from pain, gives hope, and a sense of control of the situation.
YOUR TASK: Read and complete Journal Entry #3: Bargaining
STAGE 4: DEPRESSION
Note: for our purposes, I will refer to the type of depression that comes along with grieving stages. I am not a medical professional and cannot give advice to treat clinical depression (which can and is likely to occur along with situational depression). If you believe that your depression may be clinical or if you are having feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts, PLEASE seek the advice of a medical professional immediately.
Depression is a tough, yet necessary stage in the grief process. Depression may feel like extreme sadness, apathy, loneliness, lack of energy, helplessness, lack of control, and overwhelm. You may feel like isolating, crying a lot, and may lose interest in the things that you normally like to do. You may overeat, or not feel like eating at all. You may feel a deep sense of pain or a constant underlying sadness.
The Purpose of Depression
Believe it or not, depression also has a purpose in our recovery and healing. This is the time when you’re required to turn inward. It’s the “the only way our is through” phase and is a necessary precursor to the next stage: acceptance. During this phase, you begin to truly realize and process the magnitude of your loss. This is a time to be kind to yourself, practice self care, and begin to really process and deal with your loss.
Your Task: Complete Journal Entry #4: Depression
STAGE 5: ACCEPTANCE
Acceptance is the stage of grief where you begin to find hope again. It’s the end of the grieving process (although it never fully ends), but just the beginning of true healing. Acceptance is where the huge emotions begin to lessen in frequency and intensity and hope and logic begin to take over.
THE PURPOSE OF ACCEPTANCE
Acceptance is when life begins to balance again. It’s the place where you start to look forward and rebuilding begins. Fully accepting your divorce is your path to freedom. The clouds begin to clear and you begin to be able to problem solve, think logically, and plan for the future. During this stage, you may begin to feel curiosity about the future and will spot glimmers of hope. You will begin to discover your own power and your sense of safety and security will start to emerge again. You may start to feel more peace and comfort as you move through acceptance. You will go from focusing on your loss, to focusing on your healing. Acceptance is where the beauty begins. You are moving out of survival mode into truly living again.
YOUR TASK: Complete Journal Entry #5 Acceptance
THINGS TO REMEMBER AS YOU MOVE THROUGH GRIEF:
- There are no rules about how to grieve. Everyone will grieve differently, and that is ok.
- Notice and accept your feelings and where you are in your process. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel that you should be further along in your grieving process than you are.
- You will most likely take two steps forward and three steps back for a while. That’s normal and ok.
- Practice self care. Do the things that make you feel good about yourself and the things that bring you peace. Protect your energy-eliminate the things that bring more anxiety.
- You are not alone. These feelings WILL NOT last forever, I promise. So many people have been through what you are going through. Try to find them and connect with them. It helps to talk to people that are further along in your journey than you are.
If you want to learn more about working through the five stages of grief, check out the Better Off Healed course “The Emotional Rollercoaster: How To Cope”.