Looking at the Five Stages of Grief in Our Daily Lives

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:

  1. Denial- “I am fine”
  2. Anger- “Why me! It’s not fair!”
  3. Bargaining- “I’ll do anything for a few more years!” “I promise to go to church everyday!”
  4. Depression- “I’m dying, what’s the point of trying to be happy?”
  5. 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

  • Substance Abuse

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.
  • Sexual Abuse
 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.
  • Mental Illness
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.
  • Everyday Life
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.

Letting the Dead Die this Easter Sunday

Holding on to Dead Stuff

One of the reasons we get cheated out of the most our lives can be is because we hold on to too much dead stuff. Dead relationships, dead jobs and dead dreams.

This Easter, the resurrection, no matter what religion (or no religion) you believe in, can have significant meaning for all of us. Perhaps you are married to something that is dead or holding on to a dream that is dead. Too many of us are holding on to death.

Many of us have dreams that need to die. It’s not the most pleasant thought, but holding on to a dream that will never come to fruition holds us back from realizing the dreams that can and have already come true. It can’t happen until you let that dream die.

A new great relationship can’t happen until you let your old relationship die. You’re tied to something dead.

Your dream job might be right around the corner, but it’s hard if not impossible to get to it if you are holding on to your dead job.

What’s in Your Life that Needs to Die?

This Easter, and periodically afterwards, I want you to examine what is it in your life that needs to die. Maybe it’s a fantasy. Maybe you’re holding out for the perfect person and you’re missing so many other terrific people because you won’t let that fantasy die. This Easter is all about resurrection. Let what is dead go so that you can make room in your life for everything that is waiting to be raised.

Easter represents the the new life we all can find by living in the truth. Let what needs to die die so that this Easter Sunday, and everyday forward, you can be free to be all you were meant and born to be.

Dying Changes Everything

My New Grief Group Part 2

Grief work is definitely an extremely rewarding experience. My grief group is still my favorite group of all and we are on week four I think. There is just so much I get out of the group and yet it is one of the most emotionally draining parts of my week.

Last week one of the members came to me in private and broke down crying. She was angry, angry at God, angry at her mother and angry at herself. She blamed God for taking her mother. She blamed her mother for not telling her she was going to die (her mother was sick and she assumed her mother knew just how terminally ill she really was) and she blamed herself for not being there when her mother died (as if she were psychic).

I listened to her frustrations and processed her irrational thoughts with her, but it was hard for me to see and hear such a beautiful girl in so much emotional pain, knowing that the only thing that could make her happy was implausible. So much had changed in her life since her mother had passed away…

Her mother was her sole guardian, so right now no one has any real guardianship legally over her although she is staying with an aunt. Her grades in school are suffering and her dreams for the future have been derailed because “nothing matters any more”. At seventeen, in high school, no one should lose their mother. “It’s not fair” are the words she cried out and I agree with her, it’s not fair, but it’s what happened and now we have to try to find the strength and the courage to move on. The road ahead is not easy, but it is doable. It’s at these times I definitely try to encourage my clients spiritual beliefs, because at times like this, they are often all we have to try to make some since of what has happened, why it has happened, and how to move forward.

I would do anything to make this client and all the clients in my grief group happier, and I know the fifty minutes they spend with me a week processing and dealing with their feelings over thier loved ones death may not always be the most pleasant way to spend their time, but I know it is necessary to deal with it now while it is fresh than to bury it and have to deal with it repeatedly later in life.

My New Grief Group

About three weeks ago I started my first grief group. Normally I had dealt with grief sporadically. It always seemed to be one of those things that came out of the blue and I was never truly prepared for, but about three weeks ago I was referred a handful of students who’s father, brother or mother had all died within the past two months and I figured it was the perfect time to add a new group to my array of groups that had only included anger management, life skills and substance abuse groups for the past three years.

I had been hesitant about adding a grief group because I don’t really like dealing with grief. I find it to be such a sad subject and I definitely didn’t want to spend fifty minutes a week surrounded by grieving teenagers. I thought it would be draining and depressing, but today I finished my third meeting with the five students in that group and so far find it to be my most spiritual and emotionally rewarding group.

Two members of my group are sisters who lost their mother to heart disease a couple of months ago. Another is a young man who lost his brother during a botch robbery. Another young woman lost her mother to cancer. Another young man lost his father to diabetes and the newest member of our group lost her mother due to complications due to lupus. I myself lost my father a little more than ten years ago to a car accident, so I was aware that there would probably be some emotional issues rising within myself as I conducted the group.

Right now I am battling controlling those emotions. Today as I was leading an exercise that dealt with what we missed the most about the person that passed away, I felt my eyes starting to water and I fought hard to not show it.  I know on one hand it may be good for the group to see me dealing with my own issues of grief, but on the other hand I feel as the facilitator of the group, I need to always (or at least 99% of the time) be in control of my own emotions. I’ve never gotten grief therapy myself and have avoided talking about my father’s death in my own personal therapy, so yes I know this is “unfinished business”, but in the line of therapy, we therapist are human and there will always be times we knowingly or unexpectedly come across unfinished business or counter transference issues. 

Eventually I’ll figure this out. I’ve told the group that there may be times when we are all crying together, and that’s okay, normal and healthy. Maybe I was preparing them so they won’t be shocked when and if I too start crying. I’ve never cried in a therapy session, not that I haven’t felt like crying, I just never allowed the tears to fall. However, in this group, I not only think it may at some point be appropriate to shed my tears, but also enlivening for me and the group members as they look to me for guidance on how to deal with their own grief.