I’m writing about the 7 stages of grief because I keep getting letters from people who say they can’t let go of the past; they just can’t seem to stop dwelling on what happened.
And usually, what they’re writing about is filled with grief. So while I’ve written a lot about forgiveness and change – this is the first time I’ve listed out the 7 stages of grief.
UPDATE: I just got an email from a reader who saw this post and told me -
“You really need to give credit to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who created this list!”
I googled her name, and found this post on the stages of grief. Boy do I feel stupid! And she wrote her info fifty years ago. I promised myself I will never ever ever write another blog post without first googling the topic to see what else is out there.
But before I list out these seven stages of grief, why are they important to know?
Because you can easily get stuck in one or more of these seven stages. Especially when you’re not even exactly sure where you’re stuck! But when you see them all listed out, it’s easy to understand your own situation and move forward.
It compares to anxiety or many other painful emotional situations. If you leave it as a huge amorphous blob, then it becomes very difficult to work through. The answer lies with unraveling the problem. Take it step by step instead of trying to dive into the whole thing all at once.
Now, with grief, the idea is to consciously be aware of each of these seven stages, and to make sure you take the time to deliberately go through each one.
Whenever something dies, something else new is born. When something inside you dies, such as your pity or victimhood, that allows the birth of something new; perhaps greater freedom and greater responsibility. Certainly greater love will be born, since pity and victim keep you from feeling love.
But also, when something dies a grieving process happens. If it’s something small that dies, then it will be a small grieving. But if it’s something large, the grieving process likewise will be large.
Now am I saying you should grieve for no longer functioning as a victim? Yes. It’s a good way to get closure. Just like if it’s a loved one who dies. Or a loving relationship that dies. Or for that matter, anything in your past.
Most of the letters I receive from people not getting over the past usually involve a broken relationship or embarrassing experiences that they’re ashamed of. Two very different situations, but they share some common traits.
Most important trait: The person is stuck! Trapped in memories of the past. Unable (unwilling, really – but that’s another story) to move on with their lives. Dragging their past behind them. Or carrying their past. Or wearing their past. However the case may be.
And it hurts. It always hurts. Even when we try to put a smile on our face.
Another characteristic these situations have in common is that the people in question most likely haven’t gone through the grieving process. But it’s important to, because grieving is a part of healing.
7 Stages Of Grief
“Who me? I didn’t lose anything. I’m not grieving.”
Or – “I’ve already handled that. I don’t have any problem with my past.”
“Why did this have to happen??? It just burns me up! I hate what they did to me.”
“I’m just not going to deal with this. My past is dead. It’s over. There’s nothing more to say.”
(Note: In some people, rejection is stage 2, and anger is stage 3.)
“I feel so bad about everything that’s happened. I feel so guilty.”
“If only I’d had different parents.”
“If only I’d been born into a happy wealthy family.”
“If only I’d stayed home from work that day.”
“Ohhhhhh…. I just can’t seem to deal with this. I’m going to pull the covers over my head and go to sleep. Everything is so dark and heavy.”
“I’m so lost. Nothing seems to be working. I don’t know what to do.”
To properly mourn the loss, it’s important to go through these seven steps, however briefly. But sometimes we get stuck in one of these stages.
The key is to first feel the feelings as fully as possible, and then LET GO OF THEM. And by the way, it’s the disorientation that leads to actually changing. As you reach – perhaps out of desperation – for something better.
From disorientation, the ideal situation would be to cleanly feel any hurt and pain that remain.
As you read over this list of seven you see one emotion that is conspicuously absent. Namely, pity. It is very hard to grieve without feeling pity. And this is where most people get stuck even when they try to get over their past.
Pity is intricately interwoven into all seven of these stages of grief. Pity: the ‘poor me’ emotion. They died and now I’m all alone. Poor me. Or they left me. Poor me. Or look at all the horrible rotten things I did in my past. Poor me.
Is pity blocking the resolution of your grieving process? It takes discernment to really tell. Keep in mind, pity isn’t something you feel but rather something you think. There’s very little (if any) realness to self pity. It’s mostly a story about how tough you have it. (With the optimal word being ‘you’!)
Another energy that blocks the resolution of the grief is judgment. Judgments freeze things. And if you are judging any part of your situation, then you can’t get to the feelings to resolve them. Because those feelings are frozen solid. Like pity, judgments involve stories and take discernment to end.
Here’s the bottom line:
If you will consciously and deliberately go through each of these 7 stages of grief, and feel the feelings at each stage – carefully, with focus and attention to detail, then you will be able to move through the grieving process.
I’m not saying it will be quick. While one step may take you a few minutes, the next one may take a few months. You may want to stay angry for months, for example. But if you break it apart, deal with each step separately, then you have the greatest chance of moving forward.
Keep in mind you have a certain volume of grief to deal with. You can experience a whole bunch of it all at once or you can let it slowly dribble out over months or years or even decades. A lot depends on your stories. You can take a little bit of real grief, and mix it with a lot of stories of pity or judgment or something else – and feel it for the rest of you life, if you want. Or you can surrender to the intensity of your pure feelings. Be done with it in short order.
Your choice. If you’ve already been dealing with an issue for years, then you’re probably on the slow boat. Maybe now would be a good time to pick up the pace.
Or, if you just want to forgive yourself for something that is not overshadowing your life, then you can go through all seven steps in a few minutes. So don’t let this seem insurmountable. It’s not!
The next step, after the grieving process, is to feel any remaining hurt or pain so you can then forgive yourself. Then finally you can heal and change.all the best,
Mark Ivar Myhre
The Emotional Healing Coach
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