Unpacking Old Paradigms of Cycles of Grief

Many of us grew up hearing about Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ model of the Five Stages of Grief. The stages are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

It is still a common strongly held belief that it is essential people cycle through these 5 stages of grief when they have experienced a loss. We see the five stages written in pamphlets, referred to at hospice centers, by many professionals. You may have even had someone share these stages with you. However it this hasn’t actually been scientifically researched.

However, what is not commonly known is that Kübler-Ross originally wrote the five stages of grief for people who were given a terminal diagnosis. The five stages came from her book On Death and Dying originally published in 1969. She theorized that people who found out that they were dying needed to go through these stages as a journey toward acceptance of the diagnosis. These five stages were never written for people who were experiencing grief or loss of a loved one, and they have never been scientifically researched or proven. The book was based on case studies of her dying patients, as Kübler-Ross was in medical school. Case studies are anecdotal; meaning they are based on personal accounts, not research or facts.

In the Psychology Today article Why the Five Stages of Grief Are Wrong, author David B. Feldman, Ph.D says this:

Studies now show that grievers don’t progress through these stages in a lock-step fashion. Consequently, when any of us loses someone we love, we may find that we fit the stages precisely as Kubler-Ross outlined, or we may skip all but one. We may race through them or drag our feet all the way to acceptance. We may even repeat or add stages that Kubler-Ross never dreamed of. In fact, the actual grief process looks a lot less like a neat set of stages and a lot more like a roller coaster of emotions. Even Kubler-Ross said that grief doesn’t proceed in a linear and predictable fashion, writing toward the end of her career that she regretted her stages had been misunderstood. (2017)

The process is not linear. Instead, grief and healing from loss tend to be processed in waves. There is no standard formula or timeframe for healing, and some losses will always be felt. Some losses change us and we adapt, but we will never be the same.

There is no right way to experience loss. There is no wrong way to grieve. Everyone’s journey will be individual and unique. If someone you are working with is grieving and begins to display behaviours that seem to be out of character or out of control, seek support from your supervisor to know how best to support them.

For Reflection

Is this idea new to you? How do you feel knowing that there are no concrete stages to grief?


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book