The 5 stages were first proposed over 40 years ago as the Elisabeth Kubler Ross model in her book “On Death and Dying.” Published in 1969 and now widely used as the main framework when talking about the stages of grief being; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, depression and acceptance.
The Kubler Ross stages of grief since published has been widely followed and embedded in the way think and discuss the experiences of someone dealing with grief, however this has also been widely criticised with the lack of scientific evidence backing this up.
Despite this the 5 stages of grief model is used as gauge of measurement and the linear way in which the stages are experienced so below is a brief introduction of each of the stages of grief to allow you to take from it a basic understanding of the framework which was proposed.
This is the first part of coping with the overwhelming emotion experienced with the loss of a loved one with the shock bringing the temporary denial of the full reality of the situation being faced.
Everything becomes numb and meaningless but acts as a protective barrier allowing us to deal with the situation in the short term allowing the day to day survival possible with our feelings being kept away as a defence mechanism keeping us as safe as possible from the initial shock allowing us to deal with only what we are able to handle unknown to us acting as the very first stage of the healing process.
Once the first protective defence mechanism of the denial stage begins to come to an end and the feelings that were being blocked out begin to come to the surface and the reality begins to emerge. The intense emotion we are not ready for most often becomes redirected as anger and with no limits can be directed at anything from inanimate objects to family, friends and love ones.
A very natural response to loss, anger can also be aimed towards a recently lossed love one as feeling abandoned and deserted. Left on our own to face the world, turned inwards our anger can become a form of guilt on ourselves for not being there or doing something we think might have somehow made a difference.
However anger is expressed it is a way of making a connection and creating an anchor to replace the emptiness and nothingness that is grief and whilst anger becomes something we can identify and label as a genuine feeling to try and make sense of everything whilst also forming part of the healing process.
When it comes to bargaining it can form a feeling of guilt and wishing you could go back and do or say things differently that might have changed things and bring the lost love one back and where you start focusing on “what if…” or “if only…” and this can be a stage of grief that starts before the loss occurs or after.
Bargaining can be a case of just wanting things to be back how they were and how they used to be and a way to not face the feelings, the emotions and the pain of the present keeping focused on the past trying to block out what is happening right now as another defence mechanism for personal protection and survival.
Entering a deeper level after bargaining we start to focus more on the present, the intense empty feelings and feeling of sadness take over and life becomes a burden for even the simple day to day things and the withdrawal from life itself and the wondering “what is the point?” when it comes to most things in life makes the depression stage an experience than can last for some time.
Depression after a loss is sometimes seen as an unnatural response unlike a clinical depression as a mental illness, but this is not a mental illness we are dealing with this is a grieving response and the mourning of a loved one and regarding as a necessary step to dealing with the depressing situation in itself of losing a love one and another part of the healing process.
Acceptance ultimately follows depression in a lot of cases and is very often regarding as the “cured” phase and that everything is now all right with everything that has happened and the loss of a loved one.
The loss will always be with us and everything being all right is not what the acceptance phase is at all, it is about accepting the reality of our life in the world we now live in without our loved one and how things will now be in the future and how we can determine how our lives from now on will be and learn to live with it.
What comes with acceptance is not trying to see things how they used to be and try to maintain it but to see life as it is now and focus on re-adjusting. Some days might be more difficult than others but overtime we can accept that even though we can never replace our love one, our loss we can move on and make new connections and create new experiences and invest time in our lives improving our friendships and relationships but only after we have given ourselves and grief time to run its course.
What is clear is that everyone experiences things differently as we are all individual, even Elisabeth Kubler Ross at one stage spoke about the 5 stages of grief as just a “common” experience people went through from her observations and not something that is required or a universal experience everyone goes through. Individuals experiencing the grief and loss of a loved one might experience all of some of the stages of grief and at the same time, not linear and simply different stages at different times and also each stage lasting different lengths.
Fully knowing that our stages of grief and loss are totally individual and personal experiences and navigating the grief cycle whatever that might be is not something individuals going through the stages of grief have to do alone and it is not an unnatural experience, but a totally natural process of healing.