Elisabeth Kübler-Ross – Dealing with loss

During my nursing course in 2006 I became familiar with the theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. She defines five easily identifiable stages that people go through when dealing with loss:

  1. Denial

Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to face the reality of the loss. This phase is best viewed as a form of natural self-protection. By denying the loss, you decide at what pace you allow the loss to enter. Keeping in mind we never allow more than we can handle.

  1. Negotiation

Phase two is entirely devoted to negotiation. You promise to do one thing if something else happens in return. The main driver of this phase is the hope (of recovery), for example ‘I promise to be a better person if…’.

  1. Anger

When the reality, the truth, has permeated anger often arises. Often one becomes very angry, making it difficult to communicate and expresse feelings. Anger is an important part of grieving because underneath the anger usually is pain. The pain is often reflected in the question ‘why me?’.

  1. Grief/depression

When the truth has permeated even more feelings such as sadness, pain, fear, regret and uncertainty arise. Previous experiences with grief are important in this phase. The sense of loss can seem to be so overwhelming, that is makes communication with the griever very difficult. Often grief has (suppressed) anger in it, anger is often the cause of depression.

  1. Acceptance

When given enough time and allowing time to grieve in one’s own pace to go through all of the above stages, the accepting can begin. Therefore this fifth phase is also called the ‘acquiescence stage’. The ‘letting go’ can begin, not meaning that one will forget. In this phase, the loss is given a place which one can live with.

Although the focus of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was mainly on terminal care, the five phases are recognizable in any emotional reaction to personal trauma and change. Therefor the theory of Kübler-Ross made a great impression on me, this theory is applicable in any form of loss.

As mentioned before everybody grieves in his or her own way, because grieving is not a linear process. This means that the processing will not be handled phase-per-phase. Some people skip phases, while others stay within one phase for a longer period of time. It is also important to take into account which previous loss and grieving experience people have gone through. Because these experiences define how one might deal with grieving today. Therefore it is important that everyone who grieves receives personal attention and a safe place to express their feelings. Deliberately going through the five stages of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross helps to acknowledge feelings of grief. Finally, the phases of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross creates space and peace for one to allow grieving.