This article explains the 5 stages of grief, by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful psychological and change management tool.
What are the stages of grief and loss?
How does someone cope with a traumatic and distressing experience?
To answer this question, the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed a 5 stages of grief model that shows how people deal with traumatic or distressing experiences at work or in private life.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross discovered that terminally ill people experience a number of stages during the progress of their disease.
Her 5 stages of grief model provides an insight into how people cope with drastic changes or loss.
As such a process is also called coping with bereavement, this 5 stages of grief model is also known as the Elisabeth Kübler-Ross bereavement cycle.
5 stages of grief model
Despite the fact that everyone grieves in a personal manner, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross ascertained that a fixed pattern could be established.
In her contacts with terminally ill patients, she discovered that everybody goes through more or less the same stages of grief; 5 stages of grief.
This is why the theory can be applied to traumatic experiences such as the loss of a loved one, major setbacks or disappointments and dismissals. Initially the person will be shocked after having heard the bad news. After this shock, the first stage will soon present itself:
Stage 1: Denial
Initially, people are shocked when they receive bad news. This general defence mechanism buffers the initial shock and gives the person the chance to come to their senses. Subsequently, they will gradually recover from this shock.
It is important that they can express their feelings for example by talking to a confidential counsellor. At the end of this stage, the person will start searching for facts, the truth of for someone to blame.
Stage 2: Anger
When someone can no longer deny what is happening, feelings of anger, irritation, jealously and resentment arise. Anger and powerlessness are especially directed at their environment.
They put the blame on other people, colleagues, employees and counsellors. Sometimes the anger is directed at the bearer of the bad news.
Stage 3: Bargaining
At this stage, people are trying to get away from the dreadful truth in many different ways. This stage involves bargaining.
By setting themselves goals, the blow of bad news is softened. In a work environment they will find it very difficult to negotiate working agreements or make promises. If they are threatened with (impending) dismissal, they will go to court as a form of counterattack.
Stage 4: Depression
During the fourth stage, the truth is finally sinking and the person involved feels helpless and misunderstood. As a result, they will be withdrawn and avoid communications.
They do not answer the phone or respond to e-mails. There is a chance that they could take refuge in alcohol and drugs such as painkillers, tranquillizers and sleep-inducing drugs.
Stage 5: Acceptance
When the person involved becomes aware of the fact that there is no more hope, they can accept the bad news. They can recover from the previous stages and accept their grief.
After some time they will feel like taking up activities again and they will start making plans again.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross ’s Stages of Grief theory was primarily used for coping with grief but is still used today for understanding change reaction in large organizational changes.
The ultimate goal is acceptance, in which a non-directive attitude plays an important role. In addition, the main conditions are being emphatic towards the person in question and accepting them unconditionally with pure authenticity.
By listening to someone’s story, the other party will act as a sounding board.
People will go through the above mentioned stages at different paces. Some people will get stuck in a certain stage, whereas other people go through several stages of grief simultaneously or in a different order.
Some stages of grief may overlap one another or people may skip a number of stages altogether.
It’s Your Turn
What do you think? Do you recognize Stages of grief and the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your tips when you work with the Stages of grief model?
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.
- Barone, J. E., & Ivy, M. E. (2004). Resident work hours: the five stages of grief. Academic Medicine, 79(5), 379-380.
- Kübler-Ross, E. & Kessler, D. (2014). On grief and grieving: Finding the meaning of grief through the five stages of loss. Simon and Schuster.
- Kübler-Ross, E. (1970). The care of the dying-whose job is it?. The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 1(2), 103-107.
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