Navigating Grief: Understanding and Applying the Five Stages of Grief (DABDA)

Understanding the 5 stages of Grief will help us deepen our awareness of what we're going through when we're at a loss for words. But how? Read more to evolve in the way you need most right now.

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Grief is a profound and universal human experience, transcending cultural boundaries and touching the lives of people worldwide. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s pioneering work in 1969 introduced the concept of five common stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance (DABDA) which has rooted much of what we know today to be the “where we start” guidebook to healing.

In this article, we will delve into each stage, using easily relatable human experiences as examples to illustrate cross-cultural references. By understanding and applying these stages, our hope is that you can cultivate a sense of healing and begin the grief process, ultimately leading to liberation and the ability to move forward. See the cycle below and the feelings associated with each stage. When you find where you are right now, hold that space in your heart to just be there. Not rush forward, but to work on accepting that feeling of validation, to know that you’re not alone. That someone’s been where you have been before, and though your experience is incredibly unique, you have others who can support you through it.

1. DenialLoss of a Beloved Pet

In many cultures, pets are beloved members of the family, and their loss can trigger profound grief. When a beloved pet passes away, it’s common to initially deny the reality of their absence. You might find yourself expecting to see them in their favorite spots around the house or waiting for their familiar sounds. Denial serves as a protective mechanism, allowing us time to come to terms with the reality of the loss. There’s no other way around it. This part hits hard, as it’s our first experience a different reality than we might be used to or, have wrapped our understanding around. Acknowledging the denial stage is crucial in the healing process. Allow yourself to process the pain of losing your furry friend, and gradually accept the reality of their passing. This step marks the beginning of your journey toward healing.

2. AngerEnd of a Romantic Relationship

Love and romantic relationships are universal experiences that can evoke intense emotions when they come to an end. After a breakup or divorce, it’s common to feel anger towards your ex-partner or the circumstances that led to the separation. This anger may be directed at them, yourself, or even at the concept of love itself. Embrace the anger as a normal part of the grieving process. Allow yourself to express these emotions in healthy ways, such as talking to a supportive friend, engaging in physical activity, exercising, or writing about how you feel in a journal. Acknowledging and processing the anger will pave the way for your unique acceptance and healing process.

3. BargainingFacing a Serious Illness

The fear of illness and the uncertainty it brings is a shared human experience across cultures. When diagnosed with a serious illness, individuals may enter the bargaining stage, seeking to make deals with a higher power in hopes of extending their life or finding a cure. This often involves questioning “What if?” scenarios and searching for ways to regain control over their own health. It’s natural to explore all possibilities when faced with challenging situations. However, recognizing that some circumstances are beyond our control is essential. Seeking support from professionals, loved ones, and counseling to process these emotions and find acceptance is an incredibly important part of the grief journey. Often, we steer away from such out of the fear of being vulnerable or feeling weak for getting support. Bargaining can continue the narrative that often leads us feeling even further isolation and disempowerment.

4. DepressionLoss of a Job

The impact of job loss and the resulting emotions are universally experienced in diverse work environments. Losing a job can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair. You may experience a sense of disconnection from your professional identity and the people you worked with or had built meaningful connections with. Allowing yourself to grieve the loss of your job and the stability it provided activates the parts of you that had unconsciously connected your future and theirs together. The change of circumstances can bring a wave of depressive episodes, as we often find ourselves not knowing healthy ways to cope with the hefty emotions that come with feelings of loss or change. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family, and consider seeking professional assistance to cope with depression. Taking these steps can help you navigate through the healing process and start envisioning new opportunities and with that, perhaps a brighter, new evolved future.

5. AcceptanceCoping with the Death of a Loved One (or, their role in your mind)

The loss of a loved one is an inevitable part of the human experience, universally understood across cultures. When a loved one passes away, it can be immensely challenging to come to terms with their absence. However, as time goes on, you may start to accept the reality of their passing and find ways to honor their memory. Acceptance does not mean forgetting or moving on without sorrow; rather, it is about integrating the loss into your life. Embrace the memories of your loved one and find comfort in the positive impact they had on your life. Engage in activities that celebrate their legacy and continue their influence. Though this is one example of acceptance, the principals apply to your unique experience; regardless of where your grief is stemming from.

Understanding and applying Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief (DABDA), and connecting to your own experiences you’re having can truly empower you to navigate the complex emotions associated with loss and cultivate a sense of healing. Grief is a personal journey, and each stage is a vital part of the process. Sometimes it feels like it’s never fully done because we fail to realize how layered our experiences and memories are. That’s okay.

Remember that seeking support from qualified mentors, professionals, capable loved ones, or friends who can aid in your healing journey, ultimately lead to liberation and the ability to move forward while cherishing the memories of what was lost; be it something that never existed in reality (but moreso, just in your mind) or something that really did.

By embracing these stages, and building your emotional vocabulary to speak the truth of your experience to others who can support you, you inherently allow yourself the opportunity to heal, find strength, and build a future that honors the past while embracing the present ensuring your roots are in acceptance of what now is as you move through each stage of grief.

We know it’s far from easy; and when you find yourself struggling with any part of this, please reach out to us. We’re here for you and have helped plenty of others just like you through this process.

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