The Grief Cycle, Stage One: Disbelief

After experiencing the death of a loved one, or any significant loss or change, the thoughts and feelings that come are often incredibly hard to cope with. One of the most difficult aspects of this phenomenon is the unpredictably and oscillation that occurs within grieving.

Much of life is planned, patterned, and scheduled; we know exactly when, where, and how certain things are to occur, and engaging in those things becomes easier to come by. But grief is very much a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ type of experience that often includes significant amounts of chaos and confusion.

As this blog post series explains the stages of grief, it is important to remember that each person’s walk through this series is distinctly unique…everyone goes through it at their own pace, in their own way, and with as many back and forths as is necessary for them to fully cope and heal.

Stage One:  Disbelief

Freudian, Jungian, and other fundamental philosophies of psychology posit that the human body and mind are intrinsically equipped with defense mechanisms as a way of addressing situations deemed to an individual as stressful, dangerous, or even potentially fatal. It cannot be stressed enough that these mechanisms are just as mental and emotional as they are physical.

One example of an internal defense mechanism is commonly known as “Fight, Flight, or Freeze”, where a threatened organism will either try to cope with a threat by attacking it’s source, evading the threat’s area of effect, or hold tight and wait for further information to unfold.

This translates directly to grieving. When the brain first encounters the fact of a painful death or loss, in order to protect the human psyche temporarily from perceived harm, the mind actually to some degree rejects the reality of the horrible truth. This helps explain why the immediate realization of a painful experience of a loved one is typically met with an unconscious refusal to believe that the negative event actually occurred.

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