Are the “5 Stages of Grief” Real?

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance: these are the very well-known five stages of grief, as postulated by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. When the book was published, Kübler-Ross was motivated to share her findings with terminally ill patients due to the little instruction given in medical school on the subject of death and dying.

5 Stages of Grief 

The five stages of grief have become so well-known and engrained with pop culture since the book’s publication. Some people may be surprised to find out that Kübler-Ross didn’t create the stages to indicate a linear progression of grief, but to describe the process of the patients she observed. Before her death in 2004, Kübler-Ross regretted that the five stages of grief were misinterpreted. She noted in her book On Grief and Grieving that the five stages were not meant to be a linear and predictable progression of grief.

Coinciding with Kübler-Ross’ own remarks on the five stages, there is no evidence that people go through any or all of these stages. As unique as is each individual and their relationships, so too is their experience with the grieving process.

Grieving Process

Since mourning the loss of a loved one can be a devastating experience, many who grieve yearn for a checklist, a time to look forward to when the sadness and grief will end. Unfortunately, there seems to be no definitive “end” to the grieving process; we are never really “done” or complete with grieving just like our own personal growth.

As we deal with life as it continues, hand in hand with the experience of mourning a loved one, we find a “new normal” – a new way to be in the world without that person in our lives.

Although grief has no particular stages, timeline or ending, it doesn’t mean that we will grieve in the same way forever. Our hearts and minds have our loved ones we have lost engrained in our hearts and our minds.  Over time, the indescribable sorrow of grief morphs into a sort of bittersweet gratitude: still sad that we lost our loved one, but happy and grateful for the gift of sharing our life and time with them.

If you are struggling with grief and need support and guidance, a licensed therapist can help. Here at Denver Mental Health Collective, we have therapists on our team that have extensive knowledge and training around grief. Reach out to setup an appointment!



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