Grief is a tricky, complicated process that is as deeply personal as it is difficult and non-linear in nature. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, loss of a job or friendship or even the end of a relationship, everyone is bound to experience grief in some way, shape or form.
Just like with any other inevitable part of life, it’s important to prepare yourself emotionally and mentally for challenges when it comes to grief. This article is going to break down what to expect when it comes to experiencing and dealing with grief and what you can do to deal with it in a healthy and effective way.
How to Tell You’re Grieving, Recognizing the Steps
Part of what makes dealing with grief so difficult is it’s non-linear nature. While experts have a general idea for how someone might feel while grieving some type of loss, the range of emotions someone could feel range from sadness to yearning and even humiliation.
Simply put, while there’s a general framework for dealing with grief, it is wise to reference the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stage model for a better understanding.
Since the Kubler-Ross model was developed in 1969, studies have shown that while the stages of grief are a good guide for most, it’s not set in stone that everyone will go through those stages in the same ways and order as others. In fact, many often move forward and backwards along the steps.
The five stages are:
- Sadness or Depression
Let’s break down each one.
Grief can be incredibly overwhelming. It’s not unusual to respond to intense and often sudden feelings by shutting down mentally, often denying the event even happened, in an attempt to better psychologically protect themselves.
According to the Mayo Clinic, denial is a coping mechanism that gives you time to adjust to a distressing situation or event that, if not dealt with properly, can have an incredibly negative impact on your mental health.
While short term denial give your brain time to adjust and understand how best to deal with the event, not moving forward from that denial is terrible for your mental health overall.
If you’re working through the denial stage properly, that initial numbness will slowly turn into pain from that loss. That’s the point you’ll need to confront your sorrow and work through it. It’s important to understand that denial is about being distant or dis-connected from the pain so the way to healing is, with professional help, come closer to our feelings and the traumatic loss.
While this one might seem self-explanatory, anger is more than just the explosive outward expression of your sorrow. Anger has a masking effect in this stage, hiding away your true emotions and pain and redirecting it at others or even inanimate objects. It seems men will mask their sadness or fear with anger more often than women, who tend to mask anger with sadness and depression.
As that anger subsides, rationality will win out in the long run, giving you control of your emotions over again and coming back to normal.
This is a stage that might linger for some, while others might end up skipping it over completely. Anger is one of the most touch-and-go stages on this list and has a way of being as personal and individual as it is painful.
It’s easy to feel vulnerable and helpless while dealing with the pain of grief. In times when emotions are at their highest, it’s easy to grasp at anything you can to regain some semblance of control.
That’s where the bargaining stage comes into play, coming at a time when it’s easy to find yourself asking a lot of “what ifs” and “if onlys.” Bargaining is that last line of defense against the emotions associated with grief–that last bit of postponed sadness, confusion and hurt.
It’s not uncommon for people to turn to religion during this time, appealing to a God of their choice or higher power to provide some kind of relief, a move with mixed results according to studies.
Sadness or Depression Stage
While all of the other stages so far are what experts would call the “active” stage, the depressive stage is the first “quiet” stage of grief so far.
That difference comes down to running from emotions during the earlier stages, to having those feelings catch up and overwhelm you in the depression stage. How each individual deals with those emotions, however, is highly personal.
This stage does make sense, after all. When it comes to losses and grief, a logical step would be some type of sadness or depression; a mourning for and of the important loss you have experienced – this is the ‘large hole in my life’ moment.
It’s important to reach out during this stage in particular, especially since so many men suffer in silence, undiagnosed, when it comes to depression. Getting professional help and counseling is highly recommended for this stage, paving the way for the final stage on this list.
While acceptance might sound like the happiest and most positive step, it can actually be a tough transition. Finding yourself in the acceptance stage doesn’t mean you’ve moved past the grief or loss, it means you’ve accepted it has happened and have come to understand what that means for your life now; how your life will be different going forward.
This is a stage that feels very different than all of the rest. It is the one that serves as a bridge into the next stage of life on the other side of the loss.
There will be good days and bad days–maybe more bad than good–but that’s okay. Acknowledging and working through those feelings is essential to moving forward stronger than ever.
Why Men Struggle With Grief
While everyone on the planet is going to deal with some level of grief during their lives, men objectively deal with grief differently than women for a wide variety of reasons.
According to Mark Mercer, a counsellor with 18 years of experience, men deal with grief in a silent, heavy way.
“We almost never cry in front of other men. If we feel that a woman is “safe,” we may cry with her. But most of our tears are shed when we are alone, perhaps while driving our vehicles. In all too many cases, our hot tears become a deep-freeze of anger or rage. Most very angry men are very sad men.” Mercer wrote.
Male grief is easily dismissed for staying busy or working more, dealing with it internally and alone instead of reaching out to others for assistance.
Those factors are major problems for men, who are nearly four times more likely to commit suicide than women.
As social workers, counsellors and therapists get better at treating men and dealing with their very own type of grief, more and more men will be able to benefit from mental health treatment advances.
Those differences are vital to understand in coming to terms with your grief.
While it can be hard to talk about your emotions, your struggles and your grief as a man, it’s important to get those feelings out. Letting them fester is toxic for both your mental and physical health and trusting a mental health professional is the best way to grow beyond those issues.