The 6 Stages of Processing Loss and How to Accept Our Responses to It

Posted By: on January 29, 2016

Life is full of losses. Life is full of necessary, unavoidable losses.

As we grow up, we say goodbye to childhood. As we transition, we say goodbye to different parts of our lives, and different people in our lives. As we grow from one phase of life to another—for example, as we graduate college—we say goodbye to dear friends and meaningful experiences.

Some goodbyes are more painful than others. Sometimes, an important relationship dies, or an important person passes away.

Accepting Our Response to Loss

It’s important during these times of loss, that we stay in contact with the reality of what is happening to us and all the feelings that come along with it.

It’s essential we hold on to acceptance. Not necessarily the acceptance of the loss (at least not right away), but rather the acceptance of our very human response.

Things We Must Learn To Accept

  • Our anger about what’s happening
  • Our sadness about what’s happening
  • The fact that sometimes we need to look away from what’s been lost
  • A certain level of denial to give our psyche a break from the intensity of this loss

And, in our own time, we must accept the loss itself—whatever or whomever it may be.

The Unavoidable Cost of Being Alive

The gift of life comes with the certainty of loss. There’s no way in this life to avoid the pain and disappointment that come with loss. This is a part of our humanness and a condition of being alive.

All that we can do is remain open and present to the full sensation of what we are experiencing, including the sensation that tells us we need to stop being open to our emotions so that we can have time to withdraw and regroup.

The Process of Loss

Loss is a complex process, and by no means a linear one. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was right on when she explained that loss has five parts:

  • denial
  • anger
  • bargaining
  • sadness
  • acceptance.

More recently, researchers have added a sixth stage:

  • renewal.

It’s a Messy, Emotional Process

None of these stages happen neatly. Instead, they are all jumbled up and non-sequential. We may begin with sadness and move to anger to denial to acceptance to anger to bargaining and then start over again in almost random order.

In the height of loss and grief, the turbulent intensity of these emotions can leave us feeling like a small boat being tossed about by the large waves of emotion that make up the ocean of our experience.

Loss brings us face-to-face with:

  • the intensity of our emotions
  • the limitations of our control in life
  • a deep appreciation for the preciousness of all we have around us.

Loss brings with it pain and sorrow, but it can also augment our sense of humanity—our empathy for our fellow man or woman, and our insight and care for their experience.


Studies show the people who have undergone a great deal of loss often emerge with tremendous empathy for all the people around them.

As we go through loss, it’s important we lean on our relationship with that caring part of ourselves, our relationship with one another, and our relationship with God whatever we imagine that to be.

As we lean in for reassurance and comfort, we start the gradual movement toward renewal.

To schedule a free consult with Carl or one of the other counselors at Heart Centered Counseling, send an email to or call (970) 498-0709.

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