12 Steps to Finding Acceptance Through Grief: How to Move On and Embrace a Positive Outlook
Guiding loved ones who may be stuck in their grief.
Grief can be a complicated and overwhelming emotion. It is important to remember that moving on from grief and finding acceptance is possible, allowing for a healthier outlook on life.
I did not think I would be writing about the grieving process, although I have experienced death in my family. Maybe my beliefs on what happens after death helped me move through the grieving process differently than others. It could also be I realized nothing could return the person from their permanent position, no matter how much I kicked and screamed.
I am writing about the stages of grief because I have witnessed two women on their journey of grieving the loss of a loved one for the past eight years. I have been there for them, listening to their stories and witnessing the pain and anguish they both still feel. It is not for anyone to say when they will accept what they have lost. Ultimately, they choose to find that space in their life or not.
Grief can be an intensely emotional experience, and it’s natural for people to feel overwhelmed and disoriented by the loss of someone they love. However, if grief is not addressed properly, it can seriously affect a person’s mental health and relationships.
Staying stuck in grief can cause mental health issues and relationship problems, so it’s essential to understand the importance of allowing yourself to grieve healthily.
Why is grief so complicated?
Grief is a very complex process. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross suggests there are five distinct stages after the loss of a loved one. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Loss can be through the death of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, or even the loss of physical possessions like a home burning down or a health diagnosis.
However, there are detriments to a person’s mental health when they have not reached the stage of acceptance.
For many reasons, a person stays in a stage of grief for an extended time. Each step through grief emits a certain amount of pain, guilt, regret and insecurity about a future life without this person in it.
Denial is pure survival mode. This is when the person has to come to terms with a new life without their loved one. Their reality has completely shifted into a new paradigm.
Denial helps slow down the emotional pain so it can be dealt with piece by piece. A lot of emotional imagery comes into play. The last words spoken, to the last actions up to the moment of loss, are usually played out repeatedly. Many emotions arise during this time, so denial helps the person slowly process each overwhelming bit of information from this stage.
Anger is the stage where there is extreme emotional discomfort. Fear is the foundation of this stage. However, it is hard for most people to admit they are afraid, so anger is the natural outlet. Anger provides less vulnerability.
When a person is fearful, they are vulnerable to judgment, so anger is the natural course in releasing emotions after a loss. This volatile behavior, however, can cause others to perceive the griever as unapproachable, leaving the griever feeling the loss of connection and reassurance from others on top of the loss of their loved one.
Additionally, when grief becomes overwhelming, it can lead to anger, guilt, and resentment toward those close to them. This can cause further emotional distress and make maintaining healthy relationships difficult.
It can also lead to communication issues, as conversations may become more difficult or heated. This can be especially damaging to romantic relationships, as the grieving person may feel unable to open up to their partner, leading to a lack of intimacy or trust.
There is a distinct awareness of our humanity during this phase. In this stage, we realize we have no power over the loss. Loss is the whole human experience until the day we pass on.
This feeling of helplessness brings on personal thoughts of guilt or regret. We look at our faults during our time with our loved ones, questioning if we had done things differently, things would have turned out differently and we could have thwarted the emotional pain.
Bargaining during the grieving process can come in the form of a variety of promises, including:
“God, if you can heal this person, I will turn my life around.”
“I promise to be better if you let this person live.”
“I’ll never get angry again if you can stop him/her from dying or leaving me.”
Bargaining leads naturally to depression.
Depression is the natural reaction to the end of the stage of bargaining. We have come to the intense reality that nothing we do can change the outcome. We feel the abundance of the loss, which is now unavoidable.
This is a time of retreat where we could become less social and isolate ourselves. However, this stage can lead to chronic issues of substance abuse, thoughts of suicide, and mental health issues.
This stage is a time when our closest support team is needed. Reaching out for help, getting counseling and processing the loss in a productive stance can help immensely during this time. Depression can be felt for a long time, though realizing you’re in the midst of it can help to move you through it faster.
Acceptance is the stage where you finally accept that the result will not change. It is coming to a place where you can still feel pain, but you are no longer resisting the reality of the situation.
Regret and sadness can still exist here; however, the survival modes of denial, anger and bargaining are no longer present.
Getting Stuck in a Stage of Grief
Grief is a natural process of dealing with loss. It is normal to experience sadness and confusion as we adjust to a life without the person we have lost. However, grief can become an all-consuming and seemingly endless process for some people.
When people stay in grief, they often seek attention from others. They may share stories of their loss and the pain they are going through, hoping to be comforted and validated by their family and friends. Unfortunately, this attention can be counterproductive.
When we are stuck in a cycle of grief, it can be challenging to move forward. We may fear letting go of our pain because we rely on the attention it brings us. We may also feel unworthy of being happy or even feel guilty for feeling any joy. We become so used to being in a state of grief that we begin to feel uncomfortable when we experience anything else.
While well-intentioned, the attention we receive from others can also hinder our healing process. We may become dependent on others for emotional support or become so focused on our grief that we fail to take action to help ourselves. This can lead to a cycle of feeling helpless like nothing will ever change.
Recognizing when grief is getting in the way of our recovery is essential. If we are stuck in a cycle of suffering, we may need to take a step back to assess our own needs and make a plan for healing. This could include seeking professional help, engaging in self-care activities, or reflecting and processing our feelings.
Grief can be an intensely painful process. But we can’t stay in grief if we want to move forward. If we rely on the attention we receive from others to cope with our pain, it is crucial to recognize that this perpetuates our grieving process and find healthier ways to cope.
Twelve essential steps of healing from loss
1. Reach out for support from family, friends, or a grief support group.
2. Acknowledge and accept the pain of your grief.
3. Set aside time each day to process your feelings and memories.
4. Practice mindfulness and be in the moment.
5. Take regular breaks from your grief and engage in activities that bring you joy.
6. Connect with nature, or find a hobby or activity that brings you peace. 7. Connect with your spiritual beliefs, or find comfort in the writings of other cultures.
8. Practice self-care and self-compassion.
9. Make time to laugh and be with people who make you happy.
10. Develop strategies to cope with difficult emotions and memories.
11. Create a memorial to honor the life of your loved one.
12. Make a plan to move forward and create new memories.
What acceptance looks like I have witnessed people go through terrible loss and successfully find a place of acceptance. One of these people is my fiance, Rich. He lost his wife of 47 years to an illness. When we met, he had been alone for three years.
I did realize that his grief could hinder our relationship. As our relationship progressed, I could see he was no longer in a stage of grief but acceptance. He could share stories of his late wife, which keeps her memory alive. What is more important is that Rich taught those around him how to work through loss in a healthy and loving way.
When a person finally accepts the loss of a loved one and moves on with a healthy outlook, they often feel a sense of peace and understanding. The pain of the loss remains, but it is no longer consuming. They can focus on the good memories and the life lessons of the person they lost, and in doing so, they can move forward. They may find strength in knowing that the person they lost is now in a better place and their legacy will live on. With this newfound acceptance and peace, they can find joy in their life again and create new memories to cherish.
It is essential to seek help when grief becomes overwhelming and to take steps to move through the grieving process. Talking to a therapist or other mental health professional can help individuals cope with grief and work towards a healthier emotional state.
If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1–800–662–4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Find this article and more at The Good Men Project