By Lisa Caplan
Life brings about many changes, and with change can come loss. When dealing with a tragedy, loss, or major life change, most of us experience some version of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief. We are all individual and experience loss differently, therefore the stages are not always experienced linearly, some people don’t experience all the stages, and some go back and forth between the stages. It is important to understand that there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve. The way you will grieve is not predictable. Sometimes it may even feel like a roller-coaster of emotions. Understanding and recognizing the stages can help you understand your emotions and why you are feeling the way you are.
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages of Grief
Denial: Usually, after a loss we feel some form of denial. Some denial is healthy, and it is our brain’s way of protecting us and blocking some of the pain we are feeling. Denial can come in many forms such as a distraction, refusing to believe anything bad has happened, your job will reconsider, etc. It’s ok to have these thoughts and to distract yourself from your loss for short periods of time. If you find you are avoiding the loss and can’t move forward, then talking with someone who is a good listener and is not judgmental can be very helpful. This person may be a friend, family member or therapist.
Anger: Anger is a very healthy emotion and part of the healing process. Anger is a secondary emotion, fueled by many other emotions under the surface, which you can deal with later when you feel stronger. Anger is your way of managing your pain, and an anchor to help us feel more in control. Most of us know how to push our anger away, but don’t know how to feel it. It’s very important to allow yourself to feel your anger and not push it away. You may find that you are angry at a lot of people. Sometimes we believe our anger will get out of control and we are afraid to feel it. Some ways to work through anger include writing your thoughts on paper and then throwing away the paper, or talking with someone you trust.
Bargaining: Bargaining is comprised of the “if only…” and “what if…” thoughts. These thoughts cause doubts; that you have done something wrong, and that you could have done better or differently. This keeps us in the past and trying to bargain the pain away. Pain must go through a process which can take minutes, hours, or months to work through. Remember that working through the stages is a response to the emotions you are feeling, and it is not a simple process. Be patient with yourself. The harder you are on yourself, the longer the process will take. Speak kindly to yourself, like you would a friend going through the same situation.
Depression: Depression from grief is not a mental illness. It is a response to a loss in your life. After bargaining, we move into the present and have intense feelings of grief, which may feel like they will last forever. You may feel an intense emptiness, sadness, and want to withdraw from life. Depression after a loss is too often seen as unnatural: a state to be fixed, something to snap out of. However, it is a normal reaction to feel depressed when you experience loss. If you didn’t feel some sadness or emotion, that would be unusual. Grief allows us to heal, and depression is a part of that process, and it takes time. Allow yourself to heal at your own pace. Trying to push through or ignore the feelings will only prolong them.
Acceptance: Acceptance is not about being ok or all right. It is about accepting what has happened and its reality. You learn to adapt, develop a “New Normal,” and move forward in a healthy way. Grief needs time and given that time we can accept the situation and move forward.
Self-Care: Taking care of yourself is hard, but very important during this time. Make sure you are eating healthy, have some form of physical activity, someone to talk with, and maintain a sleep routine. Try your best, even putting some energy toward taking care of yourself will help. Be kind to yourself. Try to treat and talk to yourself like you would a friend and spend time with positive, supportive people who do not judge you. A professional counselor can be a great support during these difficult times.
For assistance, please contact the Lawyer Assistance Program for free, confidential counseling. We have a network of counselors throughout Maryland. Jim Quinn, Lawyer Assistance Director, (443) 703-3041, firstname.lastname@example.org; Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C, Associate Director of the Lawyer Assistance Program, (443) 703-3042, email@example.com. Toll Free 1(888) 388-5459.
Lisa Caplan, LCSW-C has over 20 years experience in her field, and extensive experience working with lawyers and judges in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and trauma.