What The Grief Cycle Teaches Is About Forgiveness

When Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, she described a pattern psychologists had long known but hadn’t yet defined. Although she referred to loss and grief as it applies to the death of a loved one, you might experience some of the same stages when going through other kinds of loss in your life. Understanding the grief cycle helps you forgive yourself and move on from loss.

The Grief Cycle

One challenge you may face is feeling as though you’re not healing properly. You might find your road to forgiveness loops back on itself and takes you to the same point you thought you’d passed in your grief. The five stages of grief aren’t levels you move through completely to attain a state of acceptance. They’re gradual points along a spectrum, and it can sometimes be hard to tell where you are on it at any given moment. Instead of seeing grief as a linear path, then, it’s easier to see it as a grief cycle, one that may carry you through each phase many times before you’re ready to move ahead.

With deeper insight into the cycle of grief and loss, you learn how to overcome it. Knowing what to expect after a traumatic experience can provide comfort when you need it most and help you hold onto hope. Whether you’re healing from the loss of a loved one or moving past a mistake you’ve made and learning to forgive yourself, knowing these steps will let you see the process more clearly.

Denial
While your first reaction after a traumatic experience is shock, it quickly gives way to denial. You might reject the event altogether or avoid thinking about it. People in the denial phase may try to distract themselves or engage in behaviors that help them ignore what they find painful. They might also become isolated by choice.

Denial is a protective measure to give yourself distance and time to prepare yourself mentally for the long road of healing ahead of you. When dealing with guilt, denial can be particularly strong and pervasive. It’s normal to experience it at first, but over time, it’s important to confront painful facts and address them directly. Doing so will carry you into the next stages of the cycle and allow you to heal.

Anger
Anger often grows from pain, especially as part of the cycle of grief. “It isn’t fair,” you might tell yourself. Forgiveness is the last thing on your mind. If you’re coping with guilt, you may even feel angry at those whom you have wronged
. As difficult as it is to experience, anger can be a useful emotion; it provokes change and drives you forward. It is also the stage of grief that’s most likely to return during other phases. You may cycle between denial, anger, and bargaining for some time before you’re ready to move into the next stages and adjust to the new course of your life.
Bargaining
It isn’t uncommon to try reasoning with your circumstances, a phase Kübler-Ross described as bargaining. When seeking forgiveness for yourself, the bargaining stage is often associated with guilt. You may feel that if you could only change the past, you could avoid pain to yourself and others. Some people bargain with themselves or other people. Others bargain with prayers or promises.

Bargaining is a means of asserting control over events you can’t change. By trying to establish control in this way, you hope to impose order on a problem and set things right. This stage can be useful as a way to avoid future problems, but lingering here can produce guilt. Your goal is to move forward, not look back at what has already happened.

Depression
A certain degree of depression is a normal reaction to loss and grief. Sadness is also natural, but depression is more than simply feeling sad. It can cause you to lose interest in activities you once enjoyed or make you feel as though everything is a struggle. This phase involves finding ways to separate yourself from what has gone before and come to terms with the fact that bargaining and anger cannot change the facts. Also enjoyment of physical activities such as walking, gardening, or therapy also helps depression.