YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
What Is Grief - Part Two(2)
In the last Blog we explored the concept of grief and discovered that it was often interpreted as an emotional response with physical, cognitive and behavioral dimensions. This week I’d like to take you through some of the stages or phases that many believe represent the progression that grief takes as a person goes through the process.
The stage theory is popular with many because it seeks to explain or give order to many of the feelings, physical symptoms, cognitive responses and behaviors that seem to affect all of us as we suffer through and grieve a loss. Stage theories are predictive and seem to have a neat beginning, middle and end with which to explain the grief response. Most theories follow a similar pattern. There is in the beginning a period of disorganization (Gilbert, 2005) which is explained as emotional numbness and denial of the reality of the loss. This is followed by a period of extremes in which the bereaved search for the one who is lost and struggle to find a new reality without the person who was lost. Finally at the end there is a resolution in which the bereaved can finally accept the changed reality in which they live and manage to get on with their lives.
One stage theory developed by Bowlby (1961, 1980) and Parkes (1972) involved four stages that included shock and numbness, searching and yearning, disorientation, and reorganization & resolution. An even more popular model developed by Kubler-Ross in 1969 had five stages that were characterized by denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Grievers may move in and out of these stages in a variety of ways but the end result was acceptance of the loss.
Stage theories are now seen as benchmarks (Gilbert, 2005) and it is recognized that not everyone goes through all of these stages or even reaches a point where they accept the loss. For example, a mother who has lost her only child or seen their spouse murdered, may never, ever accept the loss and may experience a sense of grief and loss their entire lives. This is not to say that they will not be able to function and get on with life, just that they may still grieve, particularly on anniversary dates of the loss. Recurrent grief is the term now used to explain this particular type of loss. Ultimately, stage theories of grief are used simply to identify overall patterns of grief that must remain very broad. When applied to individual situations, grief theories are often found wanting. Another theorist (Davidson, 1979) uses the metaphor of an onion and suggests that going through grief is like peeling an onion. Each new layer will be a different aspect of the grief process and these aspects may be reexperienced over and over as each new layer is peeled back (Gilbert, 2005).
In the next article we will explore grief as an illness.
- By Don Doherty, MA, Ed.S.
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