Are the 5 Stages of Grief Misinterpreted?
In 1969, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed the concept of the 5 stages of grief. First appearing in her book, On Dying and Death, the process of grief was conceptualized as how the body reacts to death. Since then, the 5 stages have been popularized and have become a part of how most Americans understand grieving loss. Below, we will discuss the importance of the 5 stages in our grief culture, and what we can do to remedy this.
What are the 5 Stages of Grief?
The 5 stages of grief are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Generally, the understanding is that one moves from stage to stage as one continues to develop feelings of grief. Unfortunately, this can cause some issues in how some people interpret grief after a loss. Some people do not experience anger and think they are grieving wrong. Some people don’t have feelings of denial, which makes them question if they are normally going through grief. Unfortunately, this idea that we have to move through the 5 stages means that many people have a false understanding of how grief works.
The Truth Behind the 5 Stages
Today, the 5 stages of grief are ubiquitous as a model for all forms of grief. This can be from the loss of a loved one to depression from being laid off. However, the Kubler-Ross model was not intended to be a catch-all for feelings of grief. Rather, it was formed from an understanding of how her psychiatry patients responded to being diagnosed with terminal or life-threatening illnesses. It was not supposed to be applied to all forms of grieving. Dr. Kubler-Ross was known to dislike the misunderstanding this formula caused, even discussing it before her passing in 2004.
Expanding How We Interpret Grief
While there are some consistencies in the model with some of the feelings people experience during grief, some specialists consider the concept to “box in” some grievers. They might feel like they aren’t “grieving right” if they aren’t feeling the different stages. However, grief is not linear. And it can be experienced in a lot of different ways. A lot of the time, it takes the form of anxiety and stress. It can be deeply depressing, at times. Sometimes, grieving can mean pushing aside your pain to care for others hurting around you.
Ultimately, there is no one way to grieve. While the 5 stages can make grief seem like a simple process, it just isn’t that straightforward. Overall, you just need to take grief as it comes and seek help when you need it.
Continuing Education on Grief
There is much we just don’t know about the human mind. The psychiatric field is ever-growing and expanding our understanding of how the brain works, and how we process emotions such as grief. Because of this, we know that there isn’t just one path toward coming to terms with a loss. Many people feel some of the 5 stages while processing grief, but it isn’t a set rule to how to grieve. As discussed above, it is a model that has been deeply misinterpreted and misunderstood in our culture as a whole. And while it may still have a place in discussions about feelings of grief, it generally should not be regarded as a roadmap for loss. Overall, people have a hard enough time with the stress of losing a loved one to worry if they are fitting into the mold of “how to grieve.”
The author of this post is not a professional therapist or counselor. For assistance in finding a grief counselor that is right for you, there are several resources out there. For our Grief Resource Center, written by Dr. Bill Webster, click here.
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