When Life Knocks You Down, It Takes About Two Years to Get Back Up

It can take years to recover from a big loss, like being fired or having a marriage fall apart

Photo: Darcyadelaide

If, as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross argued, there are “five stages of grief”—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—how long are you doomed to wallow in each one?

Whatever the grieving process, it’s clear that getting over a traumatic experience is a long and twisted road: according to Elizabeth Bernstein writing in the Wall Street Journal, recovering from a big loss—of a job, of a marriage—can take around two years.

Experts say most people should give themselves a good two years to recover from an emotional trauma such as a breakup or the loss of a job. And if you were blindsided by the event—your spouse left abruptly, you were fired unexpectedly—it could take longer.

…Some experts call this recovery period an “identity crisis process.” It is perfectly normal, they say, to feel depressed, anxious and distracted during this time—in other words, to be an emotional mess.

Some people seem to bounce back sooner, and some people may never quite regain their old footing. And, some traumas, like the “death of a loved one,” Bernstein reports, are “more complicated and typically will take even longer than two years.”

But as a rule, when your life plan is derailed in a big way, it can take a couple of years to get back on track. The reason it takes so long, says Bernstein, is because while you have to come to grips with what happened, these big shifts tamper with many other facets of your life, too:

Recovering from a divorce or job loss actually involves two overlapping processes. There is the recovery from grief. And there is the even more time-consuming process of rebuilding the structure of your life. Where will you eat dinner? Who will your friends be?

So, if you’re going through something hard and kicking yourself because you think you’re not getting over it soon enough, take some solace from the fact that healing is hard, and patching great wounds takes time.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Transforming War and Trauma Experiences Through the Arts

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.