The Bargaining Stage of Grief

Suffering a major loss or significant change in your life, such as the death of a loved one or giving up a dream, can be painful and may evoke unpleasant emotions. These unpleasant and painful emotions characterize grief--a natural reaction to loss or major life changes. American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross proposed five stages of grief that are often worked through during the grieving process. These stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The bargaining stage may occur prior to loss as well as after loss, as an attempt to negotiate pain away.

Characteristics of the Bargaining Stage

The bargaining stage is characterized by attempting to negotiate with a higher power or someone or something you feel, whether realistically or not, that has some control over the situation. You may make promises to God in return for the painful situation not to occur or for things to go back to how they were before the loss or change, according to Kubler-Ross and David Kessler.

Features of the Bargaining Stage

In the bargaining stage you may find yourself intensely focused on what you or others could have done differently in order to prevent the loss or change. You may also think about all the things that could have been and how wonderful life would have been if not for this unpleasant situation. While these thoughts may help you begin to accept the loss or change by revealing the impact of the situation, North Carolina A&T State University warns that these feelings can also lead to remorse and guilt that interfere with healing.


MedlinePlus notes that grief is a healthy process and should not be prevented. As a part of the grieving process, the bargaining stage should therefore not be prevented. Watching someone you love experience the bargaining stage, and grief in general, may be difficult, but respecting the process is essential to the eventual acceptance of loss and change.

Time Frame

No set time frame for experiencing grief exists, nor does the bargaining stage require a certain length of time to process. Each individual is unique, and each individual will require different lengths of time for each stage and for the process as a whole. In fact, you do not need to experience all of the stages to heal. You may skip the bargaining stage, or other stages of grief, and still find acceptance and resolution. further explains that you may also experience the grief stages out of order.


Sometimes grief does not go away. You may find yourself stuck in a stage of grief, such as the bargaining stage, and feel yourself slipping further and further into the sadness that accompanies grief. The bargaining stage often includes feelings of guilt and remorse that can quickly lead to depression. Though also a natural stage of grieving, depression can become a serious disorder requiring professional intervention. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, grief lasting more than two months and interfering with daily life may be a sign of major depression. If feelings of grief turn to thoughts of suicide, hopelessness or worthlessness and an inability to function at home, work or school, seek professional help immediately.