The Bargaining Stage of Grief: What You Need to Know

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“Bargaining is a desperate plea to rewrite history, a futile attempt to bargain with fate for a different outcome.”

Grief touches us at some point in our lives. It’s an emotional experience that unfolds in stages, each with its lessons and thoughts. In the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — we’re exploring the bargaining stage of grief in this article.

If you’ve lost a loved one, then you probably felt angry and tried everything in your power to think about changing fate. Alternatively, you might even think about something you could’ve done to prevent your loss.

Bargaining is a psychological defense mechanism that can be characterized by a desperate attempt to regain control or reverse a loss. Bargaining involves making deals or promises in exchange for desired outcomes. It’s a natural response to the overwhelming feelings of powerlessness that come with grief.

So, let’s explore what happens in the bargaining stage of grief, why it happens, and how you can move through this third stage of grief.

The Bargaining Stage of Grief

Bargaining is the third stage of grief, and it typically follows denial and anger. It’s when reality begins to sink in, and it’s when you start to grapple with the permanence of the loss. Instead of fully accepting the situation, you seek ways to alter it, even if it’s just in your mind.

Some common emotions and thoughts that occur during the bargaining stage of grief can include;

You may cling to hope, believing that if you fulfill certain conditions then you can undo the loss
You may get feelings of regret for things unsaid or undone, leading to want to turn back time
You may fear for the future without your loved one, and you might increase bargaining behaviors as a way to avoid facing the future
You may feel confused, desperately trying to find meaning behind the loss
You may feel angry, directing blame towards yourself or others to regain control

Sometimes, you might even get thoughts, such as;

If only I did something different, it wouldn’t have happened.
Maybe if I do this, fate will change.
I’ll do anything to turn back time to prevent this.


When you go through this bargaining stage, you might experience things such as;

For instance; After facing the loss, you may promise to change your lifestyle if your loss is spared. Or if you have a loved one with a terminal illness, then you might bargain with yourself, their doctors, or a higher power to change the course of fate.

Why Does Bargaining Happen During Grief?

Bargaining serves as a coping mechanism that offers a sense of control in an uncontrollable and overwhelming situation like grief. It’s a way for your mind to come to terms with the reality of the loss while trying to find a loophole or escape from the pain. While bargaining is a normal part of the grieving process, it can become troublesome when it leads to unhealthy coping behaviors or when denial becomes chronic.

If you become fixated on bargaining to the point where your well-being or that of others is affected, then it can be an indication that professional help is needed.

The bargaining stage of grief might be the third stage of grief, but it can happen anytime. However, when it comes to the duration of the bargaining process, it can vary from person to person. For some people, bargaining can be brief — lasting for weeks or months, while for others, it can last for months or years.

Even then, various factors such as the nature of the loss, coping mechanisms, and support network can influence the length of time you might spend in the bargaining stage. It’s important to remember that there is no set timeline for grieving, and how you process your grief might be unique to others.

The bargaining stage of grief can be challenging. It’s a time marked by intense emotional distress as you try to grapple with feelings of desperation, guilt, and powerlessness. The constant bargaining and negotiations to regain control can be mentally and emotionally exhausting.

Moreover, the realization that bargaining cannot do any real solution to the pain of loss can worsen the feelings of frustration and despair. For many people, the bargaining process represents a very crucial stage in the grieving process, needing strength and resilience to confront and eventually move forward in the grieving stage.

However, with support, self-compassion, and time, you can learn to move through this stage of grief and towards healing and acceptance.

How to Cope With Bargaining During Grief?

1. Acknowledge Bargaining is Natural

The first thing you need to cope with the bargaining stage of grief is to recognize that bargaining is a natural response to grief, and doing this can allow you to feel whatever you do without judgment.

2. Seek Support

Share your thoughts and feelings either with trusted friends, family members, or a therapist who can offer you empathy, understanding, and a new perspective on this stage of grief.

3. Be Self-Compassionate

Most of all, make sure to be gentle with yourself and understand that healing is not linear and takes time. Avoid self-blame and unrealistic expectations. Accept the loss, but avoid blaming yourself for the loss or staying long doing bargaining.

4. Engage in Healthy Expression

You can find healthy outlets to express your emotions, as bottling your emotions can do you more harm than good. You can try to write down your feelings, exercise, or engage in creative activities to express your grief and move on to the next stage.

5. Move to Acceptance

At this point, you can also work towards the acceptance stage of your grief and face reality. You need to understand that while you can’t change the past, you can choose how you can move forward from here.

6. Avoid Rumination

Another thing you can do to cope with your loss and move from the bargaining stage to the next is to distance yourself from the negative and self-limiting thoughts. Instead of focusing on changing things, it can be helpful to share these thoughts with others, rationalize them, and move on toward accepting reality.

If you or a loved one is struggling with grief, then you can reach out to a therapist or a grief counselor for help and support.

Wrap Up…

The bargaining stage of grief can be a challenging process, but it’s also a natural and necessary part of grief. By recognizing its importance and understanding its role in the grieving process, you can learn to move through this stage and onto the next with compassion and resilience. Remember, it’s OK to bargain with your emotions, but in the end, healing comes from acceptance and allowing yourself to embrace the experience, no matter how troubling it might be.

I hope this article helped you understand what the bargaining stage of grief is and how to cope with it. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Take care and stay strong!

The post The Bargaining Stage of Grief: What You Need to Know appeared first on Calm Sage – Your Guide to Mental and Emotional Well-being.

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