Denial – Understanding Stage One of the Grieving Process
The first of a five-part series, delving into each of the five distinct stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) of the grieving process.
Denial is considered stage one of the grieving process. During the denial stage, the first reaction to learning about the loss, or death of a loved one is to deny the reality of the situation. It is the disbelief that the loss occurred because we are unable to process the information that someone or something we love is gone.
Denial is a normal reaction that helps our mind rationalize our overwhelming emotions related to that loss and protects us from the feelings of profound loss, stopping us from feeling too much at once. That does not mean you are not aware of the reality of your loss, but rather denial blocks the shock and numbs our emotions.
For most, denial is a temporary response that helps us manage through the initial phase of the grieving process and allows us to get through and function in the days and weeks following the loss such as funeral arrangements, notifying friends and family or getting through critical documents, you act as almost as if you are on auto-pilot.
Moving past denial is a matter of time, coming to grips with the fact that your life is forever changed, it takes time to process and understand what happened and how to manage life without your loved one. As you being to become more emotionally ‘aware’ of what has happened, the denial will start to fade away.
Though there is no set time to most past denial, it is, for the most part, the one stage that you process through the quickest. However, each person’s journey is unique to themselves, do not feel rushed it takes time to accept your loss, and though you will never stop missing them the pain will ease over time.
If you are facing a loss, it is vital to know several myths and facts, especially when you are just suffering from a loss.
Myth: The pain will go away if you ignore it or push the emotions aside.
Fact: Ignoring your pain or pushing your feelings aside will only elongate the healing process. In order to begin healing, it is essential to face your grief and actively deal with it.
Myth: It is necessary to “appear strong” when facing a loss.
Fact: Feeling sad, scared, and alone is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to put on a brave front, instead, showing your feelings helps both those who care about you and yourself.
Myth: You are not grieving if you do not cry.
Fact: Especially during the denial stage, many do not cry because of the defense mechanisms with getting through those days of planning a funeral, etc. you push those emotions down. But crying is a normal response to grief, but again, everyone is unique. Just because you may not cry does not minimize the fact that you are in pain, you have a different way of showing it.
Myth: You are “expected” to be over your grief in months in months or a year.
Fact: There is no set timeframe for someone to get over their pain. Each person’s journey through the grieving process is different.
Myth: Moving on with your life means you have forgotten.
Fact: Moving on is not the same as forgetting; it only means you have accepted and come to terms with your loss. Accepting is not the same as forgetting; it means that you can move on, find some joy again while keeping the memories alive.
But if you find that you are not able to process your loss or if you resort to unhealthy ways that is one of several signs that you may need help, others examples are listed below:
- Stating that you are okay and not impacted by the loss.
- Not talking about your loss and ignoring that it happened.
- Acting as if they are away or on vacation and will be home soon.
- Using alcohol or other drugs in attempts to numb or avoid your pain.
- Distracting yourself with work or chores, to the point where you never stop working in order not to “think” about your loss.
Grieving is an inevitable part of life, but there are ways to help cope and come to terms with your grief that will help you to restore joy into your life. Tips for dealing with denial:Denial is typically the first stage of the grieving process, and most often occurs when the loss is recent. This stage is vital as it serves as a way of your mind protecting you from the immediate suffering.
- During this phase, it is typically normal not to understand that the loss has occurred; it takes time for your brain to digest the impact of your loss.
- It may be helpful, though painful, to be reminded of memories, looks at pictures or videos of your loved one. consider visiting the gravesite, visit places you went together or hold a shirt or piece of their clothing to your face. Yes this will be painful, but it will help you process through this stage and allow your mind to recognize your loss.
- Do not hide your emotions or put on a brave front; this is a time, to embrace your pain, acknowledge your feelings, and cry as needed. Lean on and seek out support from those who care about you. Although this will be painful, pushing aside your emotions with “busy” tasks will not help you move forward.
- Your grieving will be unique to you, remember that there is no set timeframe to get past denial.
- Take care of your health; grief is not only emotionally draining but can be physically exhausting. You may suffer systems such as stomach issues, loss of appetite, lack of sleep, and loss of energy. Try to eat even when you do not feel like it, keep healthy foods and snacks on hand and resist the urges to eat “comfort” foods that drain your energy. Drink water to stay hydrated and try to get into a regular sleep pattern. I recommend that you visit your doctor, let him know how you are feeling physically and let him guide you.
- Be patient, do not rush yourself through your grief, it takes time to process through your loss.
- Avoid making any significant changes or decisions, your mind is not in a place for this, and it can add more stress to your life.
- Seek professional help through either a Grief Coach or Counselor if you are unable to move past the denial stage of grief.
For those who support someone grieving, keep in mind the following tips:
- Be there, share in their sorrow, allow and encourage them to talk about their feelings, their loss and to share memories.
- Be careful what you say and do not offer the comfort that you cannot freely give. It does not help and is hurtful to say things like “it was for the best” or “you will get over it.” Instead, be there for them if you can and listen. It is also not helpful to say you are there for them if you cannot follow through.
- Offer to help, run errands, take them to appointments, bring them dinners, things that provide basis help during the early days.
- Be patient with them; it can take a long time to recover from a loss. Make yourself available to talk and listen. Remember that though you may feel they are not moving forward at what you consider an acceptable pace, it is their journey. Do not push them to get rid of clothing, or make decisions or start to date instead try to understand what they are going through and be a support to them.
- Don’t hesitate to recommend professional advice if you feel someone is experiencing too much pain and not coping well.
Remember grieving is an expression of your loss and is a natural emotion when a loved one has passed. The best thing to do is to feel these emotions and allow yourself to grieve keeping in mind that ultimately you will get to the point of acceptance, find peace, move forward while keeping your loving memories alive.
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