Stages of Grief: Denial
In this Pandemic a lot of people are facing the death of loved ones, loss of jobs or many other life events that cause grieving. Over the years I have talked about grief and most of my discussions have been based on the ideas of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, who was a pioneer in the field of hospice. In her 1969 book, "On Death and Dying," she wrote that there were five phases very common to people dealing with their impending mortality.
She described the five stages as denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. She found that while some went through these stages, in dealing with their impending death, in that order, others bounced back and forth between them. It is an excellent study concerning those who are dying and one of the first meaningful studies dealing with any element of grief.
Unfortunately, a large number of people including myself overlooked the fact that she was writing about grief strictly from the standpoint of those who were facing their own death
It's not at all unusual to hear them used to describe what a griever experiences after the death of a loved one, or any other significant emotional loss.
I used to believe that telling grievers they "must" go through these stages serves would help them, however after doing some research that position does nothing to help in their emotional recovery. It would be great if we could fit all grievers into these five boxes, so we would know how to deal with them, but it does not work that way. Each person is different. Each loss is different. Grief is emotional, not intellectual. So let's take a look at the five stages and see what the research says we should do.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified denial as the first phase of grief that people experience when they are diagnosed with a terminal illness. When your physician tells you that you are suffering from a condition that has no cure and that you are doing to die, it's normal to question the diagnosis. It's normal and natural to think that there might have been an error. A common first reaction to this type of news is to seek a second opinion because we simply cannot believe it! A Yale study renamed this phase as “disbelief,” which is a better description of what these people are experiencing.
When a loved one dies, the grievers are dealing with something that truly hurts them emotionally. They are overwhelmed with feelings they have never experienced concerning this relationship. To be told that these feelings have anything to do with denial mislabels this experience for them and sends them the signal that these feelings are wrong on some level.
Grief is normal and natural, but very scary, since it is something that can’t be controlled. To give people any sense that these feelings are wrong encourages them to bury those feelings, which is the first step to impeding their recovery. If anything, to tell people that they are in denial encourages them to deny their feelings.
One of the problems we face is that we are taught how to get or acquire things in life, but not how to deal with losing them. When you suggest, on any level, that a person is in denial about their loss they may feel that their emotional pain is being discounted. It's far better to encourage them to express the pain in their heart.
I have done this and I suspect you have as well when a person is grieving, I have said to them you “need to be strong,” to get through this experience. What the griever could take from this is that they need to hide their feelings. I was simply passing on the same useless information that I heard when they were dealing with a personal loss.
If, somewhere or sometime we were told that all of us who grieve must go through “The stages of grief,” no matter the loss, it's important that we remember that the source of this information, Kübler- Ross’s book “On Death and Dying”, dealt with the phases of grief experienced by those diagnosed with a terminal illness. It was not about the other grief experiences in our lives.
When a person suffers a loss, they receive endless, and often useless, advice from friends and family. Many of those people have heard about the stages of grief. Since these friends don't understand where and how these stages were first defined, they don't realize that applying them for every loss isn't helpful to the griever. They simply know that in the stages of grief, denial is the first stop. A person who is grieving really could care less about these stages until someone told them that they must go through them. They know that they are hurting and just want to feel better.
Rather then telling them that they must go through these arbitrary steps, it makes far more sense to offer them the opportunity to express their feelings without analysis, criticism, or judgment.
Articles from Royce ShookView blog
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