The human experience is vastly variable, there are threads that connect us all together. That being said, I don’t think there is any more unifying experience than loss. Everyone has experience dealing with the empty, soul-crushing sorrow that is grief. As it is such a ubiquitous experience, scientists have studied grief for decades, some even developing their own theories about the psychological processes behind grief.
After many years of working with terminally ill patients, Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross published On Death and Dying. In this book, she advocated for the importance of grief counseling and described the patterns she saw personally in her patients (Changing the Face of Medicine | ElisabethKübler-Ross, 2015). It was here that she shared her theory on the stages of grief. Her works were quickly applied to all forms of grief and have been taught in grief counseling circles ever since (Britannica, 2022).
So what exactly is the Kübler-Ross theory of grief? Well, it is a framework used to describe common emotional responses to loss. The stages are split up into denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (Hamilton, 2016). During the denial stage, an individual attempts to cope with the loss by denying its existence. The griever may act as if everything is normal and nothing has happened. Once the griever has acknowledged the loss, they may enter the anger stage where the weight of their loss is externalized as irritation and resentment. The third stage is known as the bargaining stage. It is at this point that the griever attempts to maintain autonomy and regain control of the situation. These first three stages are all coping mechanisms to avoid the inevitable fourth stage, depression. The fifth and final stage, acceptance, is where the griever comes to terms with their new reality and looks for ways to move forward (Tyrrell et al., 2021).
Kübler-Ross’s theory has been an incredibly helpful tool in understanding and dealing with grief, however, I must warn you that it is not perfect. For many grievers, the stages occur in different orders and to different degrees. In fact, there have since been several other theories about grief that have looked to adapt Kübler-Ross into a more all-encompassing framework (Maciejewski et al., 2007).