Are the 5 Stages of Grief Real April 18, 2019

Stages of Grief

When someone comes across the word grief, they most likely first think about “The Stages of Grief”.  In fact, if you start typing “stages” into Google, the “of grief” part fills itself in. In her 1969 book on Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross a Swiss American psychiatrist, first introduced the the 5 stages of grief. They are as followed according to her model.

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

There are other models that may include between 5-9 stages of grief, but they all follow the same general progression of these 5.

There are countless number of books, grief counseling and studies that use this model to help people as they experience grief.  So the question is, can our grief really be summed up in just these 5 steps? Most who have dealt with grief could find themselves in a place where one or all of these words could describe what they are feeling. The Kubler-Ross model was actually created in relation to the stages a person goes through when they are dealing with a terminal illness. The question then becomes, “what perspective are we coming from with our grief?”

Are the 5 Stages of Grief Real

So when asked if the stages of grief are real, the question is both yes and a resounding no.  Many people do experience these stages and in the laid out order. But for many it is not so fluid and easy to define. Everything in life is relative to the experiences of the person who is going through it. The “stages of grief” are no different. As another example, it has become more apparent that when dieting, the same diet does not work for everyone. Some people may struggle with emotional eating. Others may need to adjust their sleep schedule. Some may have to eliminate certain types of food because their body responds differently to it. In the same way eating healthy and exercise more is standard advice for weight loss and likely will be one piece of the puzzle. Most people will experience at some time or another one or all the “stages” of grief it is not a one size fits all answer.  

Just think of the grief you have experienced recently, large or small. You may have grieved when you heard about a child being senselessly hurt at the Mall of America. Most likely you moved through the stages fairly quickly or skipped the denial and depression part. Yet you still grieved for that child, and for society.

The Stages of Grief Are Different For Everyone

I once knew a woman who had cared for her husband for years in his sickness.  He was not physically abusive but he also did not ever make her feel beautiful. He was never outwardly thankful for all that she did.  Likely his actions were in response to his process of grief. When he died she felt relief, she had more grief in relation to her not feeling the natural stages of grief than she did about the death of her husband. She was a kind and beautiful woman, but yet that is what she experienced.

Grief is more of a personal process than stages that can easily be defined. While the stages of grief can be a helpful reference for some people, it isn’t a formula everyone needs to go through. If you struggle with knowing what is normal as you process your grief, remember that it can look different for everyone and that is completely OK.


Check out these other helpful articles on the stages of grief:
How to Prepare for Loss: Part One – The Five Stages of Grief
Dispelling Myths About Grief
My Journey With Grief

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