What comes to mind when you hear that term? Does it seem like something you should do when you are ready? Does it seem like something you will never be able to do? Do you believe that acceptance means forgiveness, denial, or contentedness? If so, allow me to expand your view of acceptance through this article.
This article will discuss the grief & loss process while also highlighting what acceptance means. I also offer tips on hope to cope with each stage.
As a trauma therapist, I have counseled multiple clients who struggle with the concept of loss and grief. One common exploration I often engage in with clients is that of acceptance. Many of my clients, past and current, cannot fully conceptualize how to “accept” their grief and the loss they have experienced. One of my previous clients asked me a good question at the end of a “heavy” session. She stated, “how am I supposed to accept what has happened to me when I can’t get it out of my mind? The pain. The sorrow. The betrayal.”
It’s difficult to accept grief and loss when your mind remains the victim of your heart. Sometimes understanding that grief and loss often occur in stages can be liberating. You may find yourself experiencing each stage a little at a time, months or years later, and not at all. Everyone experiences grief differently.
Below I discuss each stage a bit more in-depth and offer tips on how to cope.
- Denial: When we lose something close to us our world changes. We can become very complacent with what we have and rarely (if ever) consider how we would cope with the loss of that person or thing we love. When I worked with older adults some years ago, I had a client who lost one of his arms in the Vietnam war. He shared his story with me and 10 other members in a therapeutic group who listened intently to his trauma. What he shared was that he had never thought about what he would do if he lost a limb or even worse, his life. Not only did he struggle with the loss of a limb, but also psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations (auditory and tactile), delusions (strong beliefs held to be true despite concrete evidence to the contrary), and thought disturbance (confused thinking patterns that seem jumbled and incomprehensible). He decided to cope by going into denial.
- How to cope: It is important to face the loss that you have experienced. The only way to grow and heal is to be willing to look at what happened. The last thing you want to be is numb. When we’re numb, we don’t feel life and we often shut-down on those who need us.
- Anger: Anger is a natural reaction to loss, especially unexpected loss. Some people seem to stay in this stage for a very long time. You may have exhibited the following behaviors or know someone who has. But anger can manifest in sarcasm, frequent laughing and joking around about the loss, emotional distancing, isolation, frequent irritability, homicidal or suicidal threats and gestures, and behavioral problems such as opposition and defiance (primarily for kids and teens). The anger is an attempt to cope but it only creates more tension.
- How to cope: Pursue therapy or spiritual consultation. If the anger is at such a level that it is causing challenges in other areas of life or is creating health and mental health symptoms, it is time to ask for help. You need someone to help you process the anger and strive to resolve or reduce it.
- Bargaining: Have you ever heard a child’s prayer? It is one of the most heart-wrenching things I have ever heard. Before starting my career in counseling and psychotherapy a little less than 11 years ago, I worked in a child development center. One 5 year old told me, as we played outside, that she had said this prayer: “God, please listen to me. I want mommy and daddy to stop fighting. I love Che Che (her aunt) but don’t want to live with her. If you do this God I will never cry again.” Bargaining says “if you do this…I will do that.”
- How to cope: For young children, take the time to answer their questions and explain that they cannot (and should not) feel responsible for the loss. Explain that they are not able to change the situation. Reinforce the fact that adults have to work things out. For adults who bargain, it will be necessary for you (or the grieving person) to challenge bargaining thoughts or behaviors. Ask yourself (or the person) how and why they think bargaining will change things. Bargaining can seem very much like a form of denial mixed with depression.
- Depression: We all know what depression looks like. It is a form of deep sadness which can sometimes result in suicidal thoughts. If the depression is severe and untreated, it can lead to psychotic thinking and behaviors. When suffering from the loss of something loved, it is normal to fall into a place of denial, anger, and bargaining before hitting the ground of depression.
- How to cope: Seek professional help, talk to your medical doctor, eat healthy, and start exercising. It might also be helpful to start taking vitamins to build your body back up from the emotional and psychological stress of grief and loss. Q10, Iron, Magnesium, Fish Oil supplements, Multivitamins, and other such vitamins can help you cope. Most people double up on caffeine but this can come back to bite you.
- Acceptance: Acceptance does not mean that you have to forgive, ignore, go into denial, or excuse what has happened. Acceptance means that you are at a place where you can recognize what has happened, process it without denying what has happened, and are at a stronger place than before. “Acceptance” is a process in and of itself. A former client of mine denied that his parents were heading toward divorce and began enabling his father’s psychological and substance needs. Despite multiple calls to the police for help when his father would get drunk, hospitalizations for his father’s psychotic disorder, and calls to the suicide and crisis hotline for help, my client remained in the first 4 stages until he went off to college. While in college, he recognized that he was moving closer toward acceptance each time he reached out to others for help. Calling for help and speaking to me was “acceptance” in and of itself. He knew there was a problem with his father and knew he had to accept it.
- How to cope: Take your time and do not pressure yourself to accept the loss and grief if you are not ready. It is a process that can take years and may never fully happen. The important thing to do is reach out for support and be open to allowing others to help you along the way. If you need to accept anything it will be that you are suffering and need someone to help you cope.
One other process that some people experience is the process of dissociation and/or depersonalization following a traumatic loss. I talk more about this here in this vide:
What has your experience with loss and grief been? How did or do you cope?
As always, I wish you well