Understanding Grief: Is Denial Always the First Stage?

    Understanding Grief: Is Denial Always the First Stage?


    When we experience a significant loss, it’s natural to go through a range of emotions as we process our feelings. This blog post aims to explore the concept of grief, its stages, and particularly, the role of denial in the grieving process. Understanding grief and its stages is crucial as it affects our mental and physical health significantly.

    Understanding Grief

    Grief is a natural response to loss. It’s the emotional suffering one feels when something or someone the individual loves is taken away. Often, the pain of loss can feel overwhelming. There are many misconceptions about grief, such as the belief that it’s a sign of weakness or something to be hurried. However, it’s essential to understand that grief is a process, not a state, and it impacts our mental and physical health in profound ways.

    The Five Stages of Grief

    Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first proposed the five stages of grief in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.” These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. However, it’s important to note that not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages, and that’s okay. The stages are not a linear and predictable progression, but rather a framework that helps us understand and put into context where we are.


    Denial is the stage that can initially help you survive the loss. You might think that there’s been a mistake, and cling to a false, preferable reality.


    As the masking effects of denial begin to wear, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready, so we become angry. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family.


    During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…” You may also try to strike a deal with a higher power.


    Depression is a commonly accepted form of grief. In fact, most people associate depression immediately with grief – as if it’s the only component. It’s a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It’s natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage. Feeling those emotions shows that the person has begun to accept the situation.


    Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the loss of a loved one. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality.

    Is Denial Always the First Stage?

    While denial is often described as the first stage of grief, it’s important to understand that grief is not a linear process. Everyone experiences grief differently, and denial may not always be the first stage for everyone. Some people may start with anger, others with bargaining. The key is to understand that all these feelings are normal and are a part of the process of healing.

    The Role of Denial in Grief

    Denial serves a significant purpose in the grieving process. It gives us the chance to pace our feelings of grief, to find a way to cope with the loss. However, staying in this stage for too long can prevent us from healing and moving forward. Recognizing and moving past denial is a crucial step in the grieving process.

    Coaching as a Solution

    Coaching can be an effective method of support during the grieving process. A coach can provide a safe space to express feelings and navigate through the stages of grief. They can help in dealing with denial and other stages of grief, providing tools and strategies to cope with the loss and move towards acceptance.


    Understanding grief and its stages is crucial in dealing with loss. While denial is often seen as the first stage, it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience with grief is unique. Coaching can be a beneficial support system during this challenging time, helping individuals navigate through their feelings and find ways to cope. If you’re dealing with grief, remember that it’s okay to seek help and support.