The 5 Stages of Grief

The Five Stages

One of the most well-known concepts in psychology is the ‘5 stages of mourning’ that were first outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1969 book ‘On Death and Dying’.
These stages are designed to provide an outline and a guide to the different psychic phenomena that an individual might go through following the loss of a loved one. While not explicitly psychodynamic, the idea appears to draw on the ideas of Freud and incorporates various coping strategies not dissimilar to his ‘defense mechanisms’.

The Stages

The stages of grief go as follows:
Denial and Isolation
The first stage involves denial of what’s happened and a refusal to face up to it. We might experience this as the news ‘not sinking in’, or as the belief that we can just carry on with life as normal, that we aren’t that badly affected. We may even believe the news is a hoax or that things will ‘fix themselves’.
I have even heard people say that it’s not true they are waiting for them to come through the door any minute or call me any sec or min. It can be heart-breaking to see someone you love go through something like this. I am making a video on that very topic very soon.


The next stage is often anger. Even if this isn’t anyone’s ‘fault’, you can find yourself feeling anger towards the situation, towards the health care facilities, towards God and even towards the person you have lost. Just feeling angry at the world you know


In the bargaining stage, the person suffering will attempt to grasp at any possibility to change their situation. Thus, they may bargain with God, they may plead, or they may even start thinking of alternate ‘what if’ scenarios. This stage can be destructive if it ultimately leads to feelings of guilt.


As we gradually begin to accept the situation, the implications begin to truly sink in. Thus comes sadness in a more ‘pure’ form, as we come to terms with the idea of never seeing that person again and even just the practical implications of being left alone.


Finally comes acceptance and, with this point, hopefully, some peace. Acceptance doesn’t mean forgetting the deceased nor does it mean ignoring feelings. It simply means getting to a place where you are ‘at peace’ with the reality and able to view it objectively. Eventually, it means being able to enjoy memories of your loved one.

Final Thoughts

What’s important to recognize when dealing with grief or helping a loved one through loss is that these stages are somewhat arbitrary and theoretical. The psychodynamic school of psychology is far from universally accepted, and even if it were, the stages would still likely vary from person to person. That said, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence for the existence of at least some of these stages, and they can certainly be a useful frame of reference to consider. It’s helpful to be aware of them then, even if we don’t consider them to be ‘set in stone’.

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