The Desire for Certainty

DSCN1053How did Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief (denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance and hope) become so ingrained in our cultural consciousness? I believe our need for certainty in a time of chaos is the answer to the question. If only we could have an accurate map to guide us through this disorienting experience, maybe we would feel safer on the trip.

Dr. Kubler-Ross developed these stages based on interviews of dying patients. She did not intend for this model to become the standard used to measure those who grieve. Yet, that is what has happened.  If you listen to news reports in the aftermath of national tragedies, you will hear references to these stages as if they are absolutes.

Grief as a series of stages may be useful to some, but for many this description of loss can cause self-doubt when the reality of grief differs from this cultural prescription. You are not getting grief wrong if your experience of grief does not conform to these stages.

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Dr. Patrick O’Malley is a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling. For 35 years, he has counseled individuals, couples and families in his private practice. Dr. O'Malley has recently published a book, "Getting Grief Right" about grief recovery.

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