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Grief - Loss of what was, and the 5 stages towards acceptance & hope

I have had my own fair share of grief from early on in my life, and while at first I thought I was the only one in the world going through all these hard feelings, today I see many of my RTT therapy clients going through the same.

We might just think of grief when we've lost an important person in our lives, but I think the term applies to many situations where we experience an extreme loss of something, a state of being, or just as life as we know it.

Grief is also very personal. It’s not very neat or linear. It doesn’t follow any timelines or schedules. You may cry, become angry, withdraw, or feel guilty, or just empty. None of these things are unusual or wrong.

It might help to know that there are five stages of grief (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 'On Death and Dying', 1969). These stages are not always passed through in a chronological manner, but they have to be passed through in your own unique way.

Why is it important to understand the stages of grief?

Grief is a natural emotion to experience when going through the loss of a loved one or an (often traumatic) event that has impacted our life for good.

While everyone experiences grief differently, identifying the various stages of grief can help you anticipate and comprehend some of the reactions you may experience throughout the grieving process. It can also help you understand your needs when grieving and find ways to have those needs met. Understanding the grieving process can ultimately help you work toward acceptance and healing. RTT hypnotherapy can be a powerful tool to help you discover where you are in the process and provide you in that healing journey.

I don't want to think of my loss, it's just too hard — how will this affect me?

Avoiding, ignoring, or denying yourself the ability to express your grief may help you dissociate from the pain of the loss you’re going through. But holding it in won’t make it disappear. And you can’t avoid grief forever. In order to heal from a loss and move on, you have to address it. If you’re having trouble processing grief, consider seeking out counseling to help you through it.

Why is it important to grieve?

Grief is such an important process because it is very important that the emotions around loss are felt, until they no longer need to be felt. Even if we wanted to; we can't talk our feelings away, eat them away, shop them away, or Netflix them away.

They just have to be felt.

In many (non-western) cultures they intuitively understand that you have to do this. They dress in special clothes, paint their faces and bodies, cry and whail and scream and perform rituals of mourning for days, sometimes weeks. In the western world we are given 1 day off work and we're percieved as 'strong' if we are back at it the next day, getting on with life as if nothing happened.

In my own experience it's exactly this mentality that is problematic. The denial of these feelings, not feeling we get permission, or not feeling understood and protected enough to break down and cry is what gives rise to (mental) health issues or addictions.

Henry Maudsley said:

“The feeling that cannot find its expression in tears, must cause other organs to weep.”

In my RTT hypnotherapy practice see so many clients that struggle with addictions, unresolved pains, depression or anxiety and even skin conditions with a huge amount of unexpressed pain around traumatic loss.

The 5 stages of grief

According to Kübler-Ross there are five stages:

1 Denial and Shock This is a state of disbelief and numbed feelings.

2 Pain and Guilt: “How could he/she do this to me? How selfish is he/she? How did I mess this up?”

3 Anger and Bargaining "It's all his/her fault, If only this wouldn't have happened, from now on I'll never do XYZ again..."

4 Depression "Why would I go on, It's all useless now, Nothing makes sense anymore..."

5. Acceptance & Hope "Maybe I can get through this. Not every minute is just as bad. I want to get/ feel better. Maybe other opportunities are still waiting for me."

Here’s what to know about each one:

Stage 1: Denial & Shock

Grief is an overwhelming emotion. It’s not unusual to respond to the strong and often sudden feelings by pretending the loss or the change isn’t affecting you that much. In general we are designed to want to stay away from very painful feelings, and one of the strategies to do so, is to just push these feelings down altogether. This is a common defense mechanism and helps numb you to the intensity of the situation.

Hopefully as the first shock has passed you will feel ready to start dealing with thee motions, aften with the support of family, friends or professionals.

Stage 2: Pain & Guilt

As you move out of the denial stage, the emotions you’ve been hiding will begin to rise. You’ll be confronted with a lot of sorrow you’ve stored away and many time this is exactly what we want to avoid. Even to the point where many people that approach me confess to be hesitant of committing to RTT hypnotherapy. The fear to take that lid off will expose them to a deep well filled with pain. We all want to just go straight to a happy place and skip this part!

Stage 3: Anger & Bargaining

Where denial may be considered a coping mechanism, anger is a masking effect. Anger is hiding many of the emotions and pain that you carry.

This anger may be redirected at other people, such as the person who died, your ex, a doctor or your old boss. You may even aim your anger at inanimate objects. While your rational brain knows the object of your anger isn’t to blame, your feelings in that moment are too intense to act according to that.

Anger may mask itself in feelings like bitterness or resentment. It may not be clear-cut fury or rage. Not everyone will experience this stage of grief. Others may linger here. As the anger subsides, however, you may begin to think more rationally about what’s happening and feel the emotions you’ve been pushing aside. Anger in that way is the first sign your emotions can not be held back any longer, and it tends to be a real breaking point when you start to feel not just the anger, but the entire spectrum of feelings.


During grief, you may feel vulnerable and helpless. In those moments of intense emotions, it’s not uncommon to look for ways to regain control or to want to feel like you can affect the outcome of an event. You may find yourself creating a lot of “what if” and “if only” statements. It’s also not uncommon for religious individuals to try to make a deal or promise to God or a higher power in return for healing or relief from the grief and pain. Bargaining is a line of defense against the emotions of grief. It helps you postpone the sadness, confusion, or hurt.

Stage 4: Depression

Whereas anger and bargaining can feel very active, depression may feel like a quiet stage of grief.

In the early stages of loss, you may be running from the emotions, trying to stay a step ahead of them. By this point, however, you may be able to embrace and work through them in a more healthful manner. You may also choose to isolate yourself from others in order to fully cope with the loss.

That doesn’t mean, however, that depression is easy or well defined. Like the other stages of grief, depression can be difficult and messy. It can feel overwhelming. You may feel foggy, heavy, and confused.

Depression may feel like the inevitable landing point of any loss. However, if you feel stuck here or can’t seem to move past this stage of grief, social support, and using any opportunity to try and staying connected with your environment is of vital importance. I happen to encounter with people who find themselves in this stage. In hypnosis it is easier to unravel what feelings and beliefs are keeping someone stuck here.

Stage 5: Acceptance & Hope

Acceptance is not necessarily a happy stage of grief. It doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten the grief or loss. It does, however, mean that you’ve come to terms with it and have come to understand what it means in your life now. Most of the times it's an increasing desire to move out of that negative, often isolated space.

You may feel very different in this stage. That’s entirely expected. You’ve had a major change in your life, and that influences the way you feel about many things.

Look to acceptance as a way to see that there may be good times again, and there even may be a time that the good outweigh the bad days. There may still be bad days and hard times — and that’s OK.

What is the hardest stage of grief to go through?

There’s no one stage that’s universally considered to be the hardest to endure. Grief is a very individual experience. The toughest stage of grief varies from person to person and even from situation to situation.

How long does each stage of grief last?

Grief is different for every person. There’s no exact time frame to adhere to. You may remain in one of the stages of grief for months but skip other stages entirely.

This is typical. It takes time to go through the grieving process.

Heske Ottevanger (Dordrecht, 1980)

Rapid Transformational Therapist (RTT), Coach & Psychologist in training.

Using first-hand knowledge, a personal & effective strategy is my main focus for all clients.

If you want to know more about how RTT Therapy or personal counselling can benefit you, don't hesitate to contact me personally by sending an email to or visit the website

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