Friday, February 4, 2011

Our Typical Reactions to Loss

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, an expert on adjusting to loss, identified five stages of adapting to loss. Not everyone goes through all stages and no two people will experience the process in exactly the same way. These stages should not be seen as sequential – that is, we don’t have to complete the first stage before we can move on to the second. Rather, we move in and out of each phase at various times during the adjustment process.

Denial – Even when a loss is expected, the first reaction is usually a sense of disbelief, shock, numbness and bewilderment. The person may experience a period of denial in which the reality of the loss is put out of mind. This reaction is not necessarily maladaptive since it provides the person some time to deal with the pain that must inevitably be faced.

Anger – If we experience loss in the form of death, it is often difficult to express anger. Who do we get angry at? If the loss involves a divorce or losing our job, expressing anger is easier since we can target our anger at an identifiable source. In any case, we often engage in self-reproach for not doing enough prior to our loss, like saying the right things, making amends, or trying harder. When we are in the anger phase, we may become irritable and quarrelsome. We may interpret signs of good will from others as rejection. Normal everyday stressors may trigger off episodes of rage.

Bargaining – This is a period of self-reflection that emerges out of the grief process. We come up with ideas that help us forestall the inevitable grieving that must follow loss. “If I do good things for people, I won’t lose anyone else to death.” “If I keep a cleaner house, my wife will come back to me.” “If I’m friendlier to people, I can get my old job back.”

Grieving – Grieving must be endured. It is our way of saying goodbye to the old so that we can open our lives to the new. Grieving involves suffering, and it may be intense. There are periods of increased energy and anxiety followed by times of sadness, lethargy, fatigue and emptiness. The person in the grieving phase may find it difficult to experience pleasure and may want to avoid other people altogether. One’s dreams may be intense during this time. Physical symptoms may accompany the grieving phase – sleep disturbance, changes in appetite, weakness, headaches, back pain, and indigestion.

Acceptance – One day you wake up and realize that life is normal again. This is not necessarily a time of happiness – but it is normal. And if the adjustment has been carried out to completion, with support and personal reflection, you can emerge a stronger, wiser and
healthier person.

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