Part 3 Coping Skills

How do Grieving Stages for coping Parallel the stages of Coping with Disabilities?

Here is a comparison from my experience. See what stage of coping you are in and where are you headed. Remember these stages do not follow any specific order. Different people experience grief in different ways just as different people learn to cope in different ways. However, coping strategies are important to move forward in one’s life and it is important to recognize where you are at in your life especially if you find you can’t move forward.

A grieving person passes through seven stages. Coping with a disability a person has to go through those same stages only the degrees may vary.

They may occur in any order, and some stages may occur simultaneously.

1) shock and denial, an attempt to avoid pain by denying the loss; this is the grieving stage when someone has loss someone close them however, for a disabled person it transfers not to a person but to an ability. Realization that there is a problem and being faced with a name and a label creates shock and denial, an attempt to avoid the pain of being different and losing the identity of being normal comes into play. Frequently tears are shed over any shock, denial, or loss. This is true for both a grieving person and a disabled person. Next comes :

2) pain and guilt, a period of devastating pain and feelings that life is chaotic; Where in the loss of a person pain and guilt are feelings that exist one knows these feelings will eventually diminish. However, with a disability the difference is that these feelings stay and intertwine with those around you. Parents often feel guilty and blame themselves for causing a disability when it is no one’s fault. Then there is the devastating pain of facing ones own limitations, dreams that may suddenly disappear when reality strikes, and then the chaotic feelings knowing this is the rest of your life. Now you will always be labeled disabled. How other people also play into this pain whether it is peers, teachers, siblings, or parents affect the pain and guilt. You now have to fit into society’s norm of acceptance. How you do this depends on those around you. Now you move into the next stage:

3) anger and bargaining, including emotional outbursts that can permanently damage relationships and attempts to bargain with a higher power for relief from the emotional pain;  When in grief you are usually sharing these emotions with those close to you, the disabled person usually shares these emotions alone not knowing who to talk to. The fear of placing guilt on loved ones, the fear of being made fun of or treated differently, the fear of being misunderstood prevents one from sharing honest feelings. Then there is the “WHY ME?” a person has to be able to get passed the asking why is this my life in order to move forward. Their ability to do that is going to be determined by those around them. Frequently divorces occur when there is a disabled child involved not helping the ability to move out of the emotional anger stage. Anger of blaming a spouse frequently appears in outburst of poor communication leading to the inability to heal. Bargaining often time comes into play with religious beliefs asking the lord for a favor in exchange for something else leading only to anger when bargaining doesn’t change the reality of the situation.

When one becomes trapped in the emotional cycle it leads them into the following stage of:

4) depression and loneliness, or a period of reflection during which the person realizes the full impact of the loss;

Now that reality has set in there is a level plain for both those grieving the loss of a loved one and a disabled person grieving the reality of who they are. However, the difference will be in moving forward through depression and loneliness.  Those grieving the loss of a loved one will surround themselves with family, friends, co-workers and try to make life as normal as possible although the loneliness will still exist and most likely be strongest early morning and at night. However, the disabled person until they find acceptance of their disability will pull away from those people who are closest to them isolating themselves more and going into either a deeper depression or denial creating a wall of loneliness and protection. They will not know how to move forward or how to be accepted without guidance. This is where their  self-worth plays a huge part in handling coping with a disability. Those who have a good self-esteem will move through this stage with minimal problems. However, those who already have a poor self-esteem with demonstrate resistance to everything. This usually keeps them in not only a depressed stage but continues the anger stage as well leading to difficulties in public settings and personal relationships.

No matter what neither a person grieving nor a disabled person can move forward in coping skills until they can go through the next stage.

5) upward turn, when the person begins to adjust to the loss;

The person grieving the loss of a loved one realizes that there is nothing that can change that loss; and they must go on with life getting up in the morning and following their normal daily routine. Reaching out to friends, finding new activities and hobbies and living a new life begins this process. The disabled person that accepts their disability and says I’m still the same person I now know what I’m dealing with can now begin to learn to adapt to their environment, peers, family, and friends. They can learn to not only change their attitude to a more positive but also help others to change attitudes of acceptance. Now we have begun to cope with our disability.

6) reconstruction of life

In both the grieving of a lost one and disability, the acceptance of reality is going to determine how they begin to reconstruct their life into a meaningful life with coping and acceptance. Now facing the day with some normality, humor, and peace of mind will they begin to reconstruct their life into a purposeful one..

7) acceptance and hope

Acceptance and hope brings about change and a positive attitude towards life. Whether you are accepting the loss of a loved one or the acceptance of who you are. Now you can begin to make plans for realistic dreams and look forward to each new day.

Acceptance does not imply happiness. Instead, the grieving person can now reminisce about the loved one with sadness, but without intense emotional pain. For the Disabled person they can think about what might have been and compare it to what is. However, true happiness is something that comes from within. If you can love life, accept whom you are and have faith then it is easier to find happiness even if it is one day at a time.
The major difference between a person grieving for the loss of a loved one and a person learning to cope with a disability is that for the disabled it is never final. The loss of a loved one if final and eventually you do learn to cope with it. However, with a disability you will repeat these grieving steps for coping every time your life is affected by your disability, every time you life is thrown into a stressful situation, every time you experience loss whether it be a job, a loved one, a friend, moving or what. You will always question what role your disability played in this part.

People with disabilities are at a high-risk rate for depression and suicide do to their inability to cope with their life. However, learning coping strategies early on in life and having a supportive network of family, and friends makes all the difference in the world.

Most important strategy for Coping is to first like yourself. Enjoy your own company and enjoy being the person you were meant to be. Live by the values your parents taught you. Always do your best and that’s all you can be expected to do. Don’t take ownership of someone else’s problems. Only worry about what you can control.

Smile everyday it takes less muscles than to frown and it is contagious.

until next time 🙂


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