The Grief Cycle Model (Elisabeth Kübler-Ross) focuses on death and bereavement. However, it is also a useful perspective for understanding our own and other people’s emotional reactions to personal trauma, loss and change, irrespective of cause.
The model is not intended to be a rigid series of sequential or uniformly timed steps. People do not always experience all of the five ‘grief cycle’ stages. Some stages might be revisited. Some stages might not be experienced at all. Transition between stages can be more an ebb and flow, rather than a progression. The five stages are not linear; neither are they equal in their experience. People’s grief, and other reactions to emotional trauma, loss or change are as individual as a fingerprint.
The model recognizes that people have to pass through their own individual journey after which there is generally an acceptance of reality, which then enables the person to cope.
The 5 Stages of Grief / Loss / Change / Transition
Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, reality, etc., relating to the situation concerned. It’s a defense mechanism and perfectly natural. Some people can become locked in this stage when dealing with a traumatic change that can be ignored. Death of course is not particularly easy to avoid or evade indefinitely.
Anger can manifest in different ways. People dealing with emotional upset can be angry with themselves, and/or with others, especially those close to them. Knowing this helps keep you detached and non-judgmental when experiencing the anger of someone who is very upset. When someone is angry there are other emotions that are being covered up: hurt, scared, frustration, rejection, disrespected, or trapped.
Traditionally the bargaining stage for people facing death can involve attempting to bargain with whatever God the person believes in. People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example “Can we still be friends?” when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it’s a matter of life or death.
Also referred to as preparatory grieving. In a way it’s the dress rehearsal or the practice run for the ‘aftermath’ although this stage means different things depending on whom it involves. It’s a sort of acceptance with emotional attachment. It’s natural to feel sadness and regret, fear, uncertainty, etc. It shows that the person has at least begun to accept the reality.
Again this stage definitely varies according to the person’s situation, although broadly it is an indication that there is some emotional detachment and objectivity. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must necessarily pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.
The “Grief Cycle” model, On Death & Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 1969.
Interpretation by Alan Chapman 2006-2009.