Those Famous 5 Stages of Grief: Hogwash?

griefLoss —if we’ve been paying attention and are older than 12—is a recurrent theme in all our lives. You don’t have to identify as a Bright to have dealt with grief or to realize you will face grieving someday.

I’d often read about the so-called five stages of grief, first espoused by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross more than 40 years ago. But when I recently read a little deeper, I found that the psychology of loss and grieving may have been shortchanged by the way this single theory gained such widespread  popular media acceptance.

In a nutshell, Kubler-Ross and her proponents posited that every person grieving a serious loss goes through the following five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.

What I’d particularly wondered about was whether we modern humans, in fact we Brights, could grieve in our own idiosyncratic ways, without necessarily needing professional help and without being concerned that we were doing something wrong.

The Truth about Grief: The Myth of its Five Stages and the New Science of Loss, by Ruth Davis Konigsberg, tackles heavy-duty misconceptions in an encouraging way. It’s a science-based yet sensitive and thought-provoking look at how society constructs attitudes about loss, and how such attitudes may not be the most helpful for everyone.

Konigsberg explains that not everyone heals from horrific loss the same way, that most people recover with or without counseling about equally well, and that it’s possible for some to accept their losses and move on in only half a year. Not that everyone can or will, but it’s good to know that you needn’t necessarily suffer both wrenching loss and many years of unremitting misery when someone you love dies.


  • Talking about your loss isn’t always necessary or best for healing.
  • So-called “complicated grief” that goes on for years isn’t very common.
  • Resilience in the face of very disruptive events is common and doesn’t mean there is a lack of feelings or that anything pathological is going on.

Konigsberg also explores the way grief professionals make money from the commercialization of grief. Many of them turn to this field after experiencing a major loss of their own, but, she writes, “Using personal experience or anecdote instead of research to guide treatment has been a big problem with applied thanatology all along.”

Perhaps the best counselor (whether friend or professional) for a Bright would be someone with a similar life view, that is, one who won’t try to comfort you with the false hope that you’ll meet your lost loved one in another life.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Susan K. Perry, author of Kylie’s Heel

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