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6 Signs You Are Grieving and How to Move Forward

A non binary person thinking in therapy
A non-binary person thinking in therapy. Image: The Gender Spectrum Collection
Brad Wolfe
Brad Wolfe, Reimagine

June 29, 2023

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What are the signs of grief? How can you know if you have gotten over your trauma or are still grieving? Let’s learn how to recognize the six signs of grief, acknowledge your needs, identify what stage of grief you are currently in, and move towards personal growth.

Stages of human grieving

The signs of grief are not always obvious. In fact, they can be confusing to yourself and those around you. Even friends and family may not be able to identify what grief stages you have passed through already.

According to modern psychology, there are five general stages of human grieving. Those five stages of grief are:

  1. Denial and isolation

  2. Anger

  3. Bargaining

  4. Depression

  5. Acceptance

To get an idea of what it may look like, consider the scenario of being diagnosed with a terminal illness. In this example, just as with any trauma, going through all five stages of grief may manifest in your thoughts, behavior, mental health, and relationships.

You can use emotional clues to identify if you have made it through all the stages of the grieving process or not. Here are five signs that you are still grieving.

1. You are faking it

One of the first signs of grief is that you are faking it. After receiving the traumatic news of your diagnosis, your behavior doesn’t change at all. It’s almost as if you are in denial that this is happening at all. Although you might not be aware of it, your loved ones and the people around you can see it clearly.

It is expected for any human being to go through a grieving process in the face of trauma. If your behavior doesn’t change whatsoever, it’s very likely you are in shock. You need to confront your fears before you will be able to move onto the next grief stages. What does this stage sound like?

“I’m totally fine. Why can’t people just see that everything is normal and quit asking me how I’m feeling?!”

2. You avoid friends and family

Another one of the major signs of grief is isolation. When hit with traumatic news, it takes awhile to process what is happening. Along with denial, the tendency to avoid other people is common in the early grief stages. Why? Because if you see other people, you will have to reveal what is going on. You may have to reveal your diagnosis, provide an explanation of your poor health, or answer difficult questions. Instead, you avoid friends and family in order to avoid conversation - and the painful emotions that come along with it.

“No thanks. I just want to stay home by myself. Nobody cares about me anyway.”

3. Emotional outbursts

Having emotional outbursts is another one of the signs of grief that you may notice in yourself. This stage of the grieving process is anger. The anger can be directed anywhere. It may be anger at god for allowing you to fall ill. You might feel anger at doctors for giving you a diagnosis. You may even direct your anger inwards. You could feel angry at yourself for not having a healthier lifestyle in the past. This could be disguised as guilt or shame.

“It’s all my fault. Why do I listen to these stupid doctors anyway?!”

4. Desperate thought patterns

This is the first of the signs of grief that shows advancement along the journey through the grieving process. It means you have acknowledged reality and dealt with strong emotions. It shows you are trying to reconcile your trauma with a new reality. Although it shows promise, you aren’t in the clear yet.

“God, if you heal me, I’ll be your most loyal and faithful follower. I’ll dedicate my life to good.”

5. You don’t enjoy things like you used to

One of the final signs of grief is depression. Though most people understand depression to be a deep sadness, those who haven’t faced chronic depression in life may not recognize it when it arrives. A common sign of depression is simply not enjoying things like you used to. Whether you like sports, house chores, or participating in your favorite hobbies, depression causes you to feel numb. You may not feel bad exactly, but you will lose the motivation you used to enjoy.

“I don’t feel like going to soccer league anymore. I’d rather not cook.Why bother fixing my bike.”

6. You can’t accept reality

Of the many signs of grief on our list, this one is a dangerous stage to get stuck in. Why? For some people, this stage involves reckless behavior. This stage may involve increased drug or alcohol use. It often involves behavior aimed at escapism. You want to avoid reality at all costs. Though you are nearly past the final stage of your grieving process, you must take a final leap before you can be emotionally healthy.

“This can’t be happening to me. I can’t take it anymore. I give up on life. ”

Moving on after trauma

The purpose of identifying these six signs of grief is to identify where you are in the grieving process. Remember: To move through all five stages of grief and growth, you may need to repeat some stages. They are called “stages” of grief, but we’ve learned it's not linear. Take time to give your grief meaning and move past each step in your trauma. It’s okay to spend a long time on certain stages if you need to.

Being honest with yourself is an important part of the growth process. Honesty, quite literally, is the crucial first step to moving past denial. Honest self-awareness will help you begin your post-traumatic growth journey.

What is post-traumatic growth? PTG is a psychological theory that explains how people often experience personal growth after trauma. A trauma can include natural disasters, death, illness, job loss, and more. Trauma reactions are different for everyone, but growth is possible.

Post-traumatic growth examples are positive changes in relationships or your outlook on life. In our example of being diagnosed with a terminal illness, some examples of post-traumatic growth might sound like this:

  1. Personal strength. “I have a strong legacy of generosity that will always be remembered.”

  2. New possibilities. “I may need to quit my job, but I can enjoy my time with fulfilling activities. I embrace the changes that life presents to me.”

  3. Improved relationships. “I will reach out and apologize to an old friend. I no longer need to hold onto this grudge.”

  4. Appreciation for life. “I have had many adventures and seen wonderful things in my lifetime. I have appreciated the adults my children have grown into.”

  5. Spiritual growth. “I will investigate what my religion or personal values have to say about end-of-life planning. I will foster acceptance in my heart and face reality with tranquility and love.”

It is not easy to arrive at these conclusions, but it is rewarding. Finding a community to support your grief process is a good first step. Many people find grief counseling extremely helpful as a way to begin this journey.

Personal growth is possible

Identifying the signs of grief does not mean you are failing. Moving through each stage is not a race against time. It is a journey that must be taken step-by-step. How is grief transformed into growth? Through honesty, awareness, and gentle progress. Reimagine is an online safe community for people who are grieving. If you would like help navigating your own journey, join us for our Room for Grief series: drop-in sessions on the third Thursday of every month, offering peer-led group support when you need it.

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