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Grief and duel processes part 2: The truth about the five “stages” of grief posted Apr 25, 2018


This is the second article in the series of articles I will write about grief and duel processes. If you have missed the first one, here is the link for it: This article is a short introduction to what grief and duel processes are. At the end of the article, I mention one of the mainstays on the subject, which is the Kübler Ross “model” (more on that afterwards) of grief and the book where it first appears: On death and dying.  

On death and dying is a book written by Elisabeth Kübler Ross on 1969, in which she reports her findings on a seminar she directed to hospital staff, family members, clerics that aid dying patients and general health professionals information. The seminar aimed to find out what terminal patients had to say before their death in an attempt to learn whatever they might be able to teach and so improve the cares and attention provided to them while at the same time, getting a feedback on how the staff of the hospital treated them. It was a pioneering concept at that time that was controversial at least, since it was an unprecedented attempt to work with a portion of the population that was not being considered at all, on a very taboo subject for the time.

The contents of the book have been the primal source of a great bunch of misleading ideas and miss understood concepts that have led, for the better or the worse, pretty much the whole world into thinking that grief should follow the “model” of grief. So, while I was researching for this article I decided that the best thing to do was to read the actual primary source and see for myself what it was all about and what I found out made things a lot clearer for me and it will probably make things a lot clearer for you also.  

Before going on though, take this as a little disclaimer, all of what you are about to read is based solely on that book. I thought it was important to review just On death and dying since it’s apparently the basic foundation of how our occidental concept of grief is built nowadays. I say this because the vast majority of articles regarding grief or loss on the internet are going to mention this and probably a very similar percentage of the psychologists or life coaches you might ask are going to mention this also. Ergo, I think it’s of paramount importance to revisit some of the concepts the book introduced since a great portion of them is being misunderstood and reproduced in such a manner that it’s doing more wrong than good.

I would like to start addressing the biggest myth originated from this book. The “stages” of grief, and for whom they apply. Denying, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are the “stages“ that dying patients are more likely to go through after knowing they have a terminal disease and have been given an approximate time until their eventual death according to Kübler Rosse’s seminar. Nowhere in the book is there to be found that these “stages” apply to all of them, nor their families not alone grievers at all. In the diagram made for the book, one can read that stages are placed between quotation marks emphasizing the tentative of making it more didactic, separating and naming them. Not to be taken as a literal stage.

Another big issue originated because of this “stages”, is that it gives the impression that they are part of a model when it is not like this. A model makes reference to a system that follows a specific order that can be followed or imitated. So saying Kübler Ross model of grief is at least, misleading. I think it is very important to set the record straight on this since people really do think that they are grieving wrong when they see all of this supposed stages to be followed and they are not following them. Grief is a very subjective experience that is never the same for anybody. Not even the same person can grief the same way two times. So no, no stages, no flowchart until the end. Just an individual experience, every time, for everyone.  

Interestingly enough though, the misnamed model of grief has achieved to transcend in ways that are remarkable. The five “stages” of grief have installed themselves as one of the most expanded “common knowledge” psychology terms around the world and it is truly interesting how something that is wrong, has made it through so many years, generations and mental health professionals. So, in an attempt to guess why this could have been so here is a final thought on the “stages” of grief.

I strongly belief that one of the reasons behind the confusion is that death is in itself a very enigmatic and scary process for people in general. It’s very hard to put anything regarding death in words and due to this, a simple yet accessible way of “dealing with it”, can come very handy in moments of need. It seems logical, it might be actually true sometimes and as all can relate to at least one of the “stages” it’s easy to assume that all of them could apply as a general rule. You don’t question the “stages”, because in a way, all losses are the same in nature. This might be the reason behind the over generalization of them having first moved from dying patients, to their mourning closed ones, to everything else. It is quite impressive how these “stages” have found themselves describing romantic breakups and from there almost all kinds of grief.

The only thing left to say is that there is no right way to grief and go over a duel process. There might come up some similarities between one and another but it’s because loss is equally disturbing for all of us. Dealing with grief and a duel process is in itself already a very difficult thing to do, trying to find relief in “this is how it should develop” or “this will happen after this” and so on, will probably only make things worse. The best thing to get over grief is to be honest with yourself and then, let your own grief take its own phase and curse. The next article will address this matter. Until then, if you are going through a duel process and think you might need some help with it, contact me and I will be glad to schedule an appointment with you.  

2770 PointsGold

Javier Molina, LP

/ Licensed Psychologist / LP