Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed the five stages of grief theory after her work with terminally ill patients. It is a widely used theory used to explain what happens when people are coping with dying and now is even used outside of death to include any experience of loss including divorce, separation and bereavement. The five stages are:
- Denial- “I am fine”
- Anger- “Why me! It’s not fair!”
- Bargaining- “I’ll do anything for a few more years!” “I promise to go to church everyday!”
- Depression- “I’m dying, what’s the point of trying to be happy?”
- Acceptance- “I can’t fight it. It’s happening. I might as well be prepared for it the best way I can.”
People often go through these stages in different orders and sometimes from one to the other and back again. For example, someone can be in acceptance and go back to bargaining, or go from denial to depression while skipping anger and bargaining. While this theory has most widely been studied and accepted in dealing with the dying and grieving, in my experience, I’ve notice that it seems to apply outside of these populations.
The Five Stages of Grief Outside of The Grieving Population
In working with substance abuse users, they often times also experience the five stages of grief. There is a period of denial that there is a problem, anger that there may be a problem, pleading with themselves or a higher power to take away the problem, a period of depression as the reality of the problem starts to set in and then acceptance eventually sets in, more so in those seeking treatment compared to those who do not seek help and seem to remain in the denial stage. Even family members of substance abusers tend to go through the stages of grief in dealing with the family member who is abusing substances.
- Loss of a Relationship/Affair
Often times the unseen or unwanted end of a relationship sends someone through the five stages of grief. The same sometimes happens when an affair is discovered or sensed. The person first is in denial and then as further evidence is discovered, the person becomes angry and then bargains with themselves, the other person, the universe or whoever for this not to be happening, and then they usually fall into a depression and then eventually acceptance which allows them to try to deal with the reality of the situation in a healthy way.
In cases of sexual abuse, families often go through the five stages of grief. Sometimes it’s a mother who goes through the stages when confronted with evidence or suspicion that one of her kids is being molested by a new boyfriend. Recently I started working with a young girl who was sexually abused by her uncle, who had recently gotten out of prison for sexually assaulting a minor, but still no one in her family believed her until a year later when her younger sister became pregnant with her uncle’s baby. That tragedy could have been avoided if the family would have not stayed in the denial stage for so long in realizing that her uncle was a sexual predator.
I wrote in a previous post about parents denial of their child’s mental illness. From my experience, parents often go through the five stages of grief when it comes to facing the fact that their child has certain challenges such as ADHD, anxiety or mood disorders or even more severe issues. Mentally ill individuals also sometimes go through the fives stages of grief, not wanting to admit or accept that they may have a depressive disorder, an anger problem, or whatever it may be. This is what usually keeps them from seeking help for years until they finally reach the acceptance stage.
I know there are many other times and situations in which the five stages of grief can be applied, but the ones I named above are the ones I seem to deal with the most. How have the five stages of grief showed up in your life? Have you been diagnosed with an illness and went through a period of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance? I know when I was diagnosed with type II diabetes I went through the five stages of grief and it was only when I reached the acceptance stage that I was able to actively take control of my life.