Common Reactions to Loss

Individuals experiencing grief from a loss may choose a variety of ways of expressing it. No two people will respond to the same loss in the same way. It is important to note that phases of grief exist; however, they do not depict a specific way to respond to loss. Rather, stages of grief reflect a variety of reactions that may surface as an individual makes sense of how this loss affects them. Experiencing and accepting all feelings remains an important part of the healing process.

      Denial, numbness, and shock

  • This serves to protect the individual from experiencing the intensity of the loss.
  • Numbness is a normal reaction to an immediate loss and should not be confused with “lack of caring”
  • Denial and disbelief will diminish as the individual slowly acknowledges the impact of this loss and accompanying feelings.


  • At times, individuals may ruminate about what could have been done to prevent the loss.
  • Individuals may become preoccupied about ways that things could have been better or they may be imagining all the things that will never be.
  • This reaction can provide insight into the impact of the loss; however, if not properly resolved, intense feelings of remorse or guilt may hinder the healing process.


  • After recognizing the true extent of the loss, some individuals may experience depressive symptoms.
  • Sleep and appetite disturbance, lack of energy and concentration, and crying spells are some typical symptoms.
  • Feelings of sadness, loneliness, emptiness, isolation, and self-pity can also surface during the phase, contributing to this reactive depression.
  • For many, this phase must be experienced in order to begin reorganizing one’s life.


  • This reaction usually occurs when an individual feels helpless and powerless.
  • Anger may result from feeling abandoned.
  • Feelings of resentment may occur toward one?s higher power or toward life in general for the injustice of this loss.
  • After an individual acknowledges anger, guilt may surface due to expressing these negative feelings.
  • Again, these feelings are natural and should be honored to resolve the grief.


  • Time allows the individual an opportunity to resolve the range of feelings that surface.
  • The grieving process supports the individual. That is, healing occurs when the loss becomes integrated into the individual?s set of life experiences.
  • There is no time limit to the grieving process. Each individual defines their own healing process.

Factors That May Hinder the Healing Process

  • Avoidance or minimization of one’s emotions.
  • Use of alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.
  • Use of work (over-function at workplace) to avoid feelings.

Guidelines That May Help Resolve Grief

  • Allow time to experience thoughts and feelings openly to self.
  • Acknowledge and accept all feelings, both positive and negative.
  • Use a journal to document the healing process.
  • Confide in a trusted individual; tell the story of the loss.
  • Express feelings openly. Crying offers a release.
  • Identify any unfinished business and try to come to a resolution.
  • Bereavement groups provide an opportunity to share grief with others who have experienced similar loss.