The Seven Stages of Grief: Origins, Recognition, and Healing

Grief is a universal human experience that manifests in various ways when we face loss or significant life changes. Understanding the journey of grief can be immensely helpful in coping with its emotional challenges. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the 7 stages of grief, shedding light on their origins, how to recognize them, and strategies for navigating this complex emotional terrain.

The Origin and History of the 7 Stages of Grief

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist who made significant contributions to the field of thanatology, the study of death and dying. In 1969, she published the groundbreaking book “On Death and Dying,” in which she introduced the concept of the 7 stages of grief. Initially, these stages were observed in terminally ill patients as they approached the end of their lives.

Kübler-Ross’s original stages were Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These stages were meant to provide insight into the emotional experiences of individuals facing their own mortality. Over time, her model gained widespread recognition and became associated with the grieving process in general, not just in the context of death.

What Are the 7 Stages of Grief?

Over time, Kübler-Ross’s model was expanded to encompass a broader range of losses and life changes. This expansion acknowledged that the grieving process isn’t exclusive to those facing imminent death. It also applies to individuals dealing with various forms of loss, such as the end of a relationship, a divorce, or other significant life transitions.

The Seven Stages of Grief

The expanded model of the 7 stages of grief includes the following stages:

  1. Shock or Disbelief: This initial stage often involves a sense of numbness and denial. It’s a protective mechanism that helps individuals gradually come to terms with the reality of their loss.
  2. Denial: In this stage, individuals may have difficulty accepting the truth of the loss. Denial serves as a defense mechanism to protect against overwhelming emotions.
  3. Anger: As the reality of the loss sets in, anger may arise. This anger can be directed at oneself, others, or even the situation itself. It’s a natural response to the pain of grief.
  4. Bargaining: During this stage, individuals may attempt to make deals or bargains in an effort to reverse or lessen the impact of the loss. It reflects the desire for control in a situation often beyond one’s control.
  5. Depression: Deep sadness and feelings of hopelessness can accompany this stage. It’s essential to recognize that depression in grief is a normal response to significant loss.
  6. Testing: Individuals begin to experiment with ways to cope with their new reality. This stage involves exploring different strategies for managing grief.
  7. Acceptance: The final stage involves coming to terms with the reality of the loss. It doesn’t necessarily mean complete healing or the absence of sadness, but it signifies a more profound understanding of the new reality.

It’s important to note that not everyone experiences these stages in a linear or fixed order. Grief is a unique and individual process, and individuals may revisit certain stages or skip others altogether. The 7 stages of grief model provides a framework for understanding common emotional responses to loss, but it should be approached with flexibility and compassion, recognizing the diverse ways people navigate their grief journeys.

How to Recognize and Experience Each Stage

Understanding and recognizing the 7 stages of grief is a crucial aspect of navigating the complex emotional journey that accompanies loss. It’s important to note that the grieving process is highly individualized, and individuals may experience these stages in varying ways and at different times. Here, we’ll delve into each stage, providing insights on how to recognize and experience them.

1. Shock or Disbelief

The initial stage of grief often involves shock and disbelief. You may find it challenging to accept the reality of the loss. Emotions may be numbed, and you might feel as if you’re in a fog. Recognizing this stage is essential because it allows you to acknowledge the protective mechanism your mind employs in response to overwhelming news or events.

2. Denial

Denial is a common reaction to grief. During this stage, individuals may have difficulty accepting the truth of the loss. It’s important to recognize denial as a natural defense mechanism to protect oneself from the full impact of the loss. Be patient with yourself or others who are experiencing denial, as it takes time to process the reality of the situation.

3. Anger

As the shock and denial begin to subside, the pain of the loss may manifest as anger. It’s perfectly normal to feel anger towards the situation, yourself, others, or even the person you’ve lost. Understanding that anger is a natural response can help you navigate this stage constructively. Find healthy ways to express your anger, such as through physical activity, journaling, or talking to a trusted friend or therapist.

4. Bargaining

During the bargaining stage, individuals often seek ways to regain control or reverse the loss. They may make deals with a higher power or wish for the past to be different. Recognize that bargaining is an attempt to find a solution or make sense of the loss. It’s a part of the healing process, but it’s essential to understand that some things are beyond our control.

5. Depression

Depression is a deep and profound sadness that accompanies grief. It’s essential to distinguish between normal grief-related sadness and clinical depression. While sadness is expected in grief, clinical depression may require professional help. Allow yourself to experience and express your sadness. Reach out to a therapist or counselor if your feelings of depression become overwhelming.

6. Testing

As you move through grief, you may enter the testing stage. This stage involves experimenting with different ways to cope with the loss and adapt to a new reality. You might explore support groups, engage in self-care practices, or seek distractions. Testing is a valuable part of the healing process as it helps you discover what works best for you in navigating grief.

7. Acceptance

The final stage, acceptance, doesn’t mean forgetting or erasing the significance of the loss. Instead, it signifies coming to terms with the reality of the situation. It’s a stage of integration, where you find a way to move forward while carrying the memory of what has been lost. Acceptance may bring a sense of peace and a gradual return to a more normal life.

Remember that grief is a unique journey for each individual, and not everyone will experience every stage or experience them in the same way. It’s crucial to be patient with yourself or others who are grieving and to seek support when needed. By recognizing and experiencing each stage, you can navigate the grieving process with greater understanding and resilience.

stages of grief

Coping Strategies and Resources

Navigating the grieving process can be incredibly challenging, and it’s essential to have coping strategies and resources to support yourself or someone you know who is grieving. Here, we’ll explore some valuable coping strategies and resources to help individuals cope with grief effectively.

Seek Support from Loved Ones

One of the most crucial coping strategies is to lean on the support of family and friends. Sharing your feelings and memories of the person you’ve lost can provide comfort and validation. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your loved ones when you need to talk or simply be in their presence.

Join a Grief Support Group

Grief support groups offer a safe and understanding space to connect with others who are experiencing similar emotions. These groups can be in-person or online and provide an opportunity to share experiences, learn from others, and receive empathy and support.

Consider Professional Counseling

Therapists and grief counselors specialize in helping individuals navigate the complexities of grief. They can provide valuable guidance, coping strategies, and a safe space to express emotions. Professional support can be particularly beneficial for those struggling with prolonged or complicated grief.

Self-Care and Mindfulness

Taking care of your physical and emotional well-being is essential during the grieving process. Engage in self-care activities that promote relaxation and stress relief, such as meditation, yoga, exercise, or spending time in nature. Mindfulness practices can help you stay present and manage overwhelming emotions.

Memorializing and Honoring the Deceased

Creating a memorial or participating in activities that honor the person who has passed away can be a healing experience. This may include holding a memorial service, creating a scrapbook, or establishing a charitable fund in their memory.

Educate Yourself About Grief

Understanding the stages and common experiences of grief can help normalize your feelings and reactions. Learning about the grieving process can empower you to navigate it more effectively.

Set Realistic Expectations

Give yourself permission to grieve at your own pace. Avoid setting rigid timelines for when you should “move on” or “get over” your loss. Grief is a unique journey, and it’s okay to take the time you need.

Explore Creative Outlets

Engaging in creative outlets like art, writing, or music can be therapeutic. These activities provide a means of self-expression and can help process complex emotions.

Resources for Grief Support

  1. National Grief Support Hotlines: There are various national hotlines available 24/7 to provide immediate support and resources for those in grief.
  2. Books and Literature: Many books and online resources offer guidance and comfort for individuals navigating grief. Consider reading books written by grief experts or memoirs from people who have experienced similar losses.
  3. Online Communities: Online forums and social media groups dedicated to grief support can connect you with a global community of individuals who understand what you’re going through.
  4. Local Bereavement Services: Check with local hospitals, hospices, or counseling centers for information about local grief support services, including workshops, counseling, and support groups.
  5. Therapist Directories: Use therapist directories to find professionals specializing in grief and bereavement counseling in your area.

Remember that seeking help and support is a sign of strength, not weakness. Grief is a natural response to loss, and everyone’s journey is unique. By utilizing coping strategies and accessing available resources, individuals can navigate the grieving process with greater resilience and healing.

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Hope for Healing

In conclusion, grief is a complex and individualized journey that requires time, patience, and self-compassion. Remember that healing is possible, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. By understanding the 7 stages of grief and having the tools to navigate them, you can find a path toward healing and ultimately, acceptance.


  • Sheila Pham

    Sheila Pham is a licensed clinical social worker and experienced psychometrician based in Los Angeles, California. With over eight years of expertise, she has helped countless individuals navigate their emotional and mental well-being. Beyond her professional work, Sheila is an avid writer, using her passion to promote better mental health. Through insightful articles, she empowers readers with practical tips and support on their journey to improved psychological well-being.