Do we really grieve in five stages?
For years, we have been told that grief comes in five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Ever since they were introduced in 1969 by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the stages have become so embedded in our culture that they are now invoked to describe all kinds of loss. But recent research shows that grief is anything but linear and predictable. It helps to illustrate what I mean.
According to Kubler-Ross’s five stages, our emotions during grief would look something like this:
In fact, grief actually looks more like this:
We know this because in 2004, a psychologist named Toni Bisconti, now at the University of Akron in Ohio, measured grief frequently enough to know how it unfolded in real time. Bisconti and her colleagues asked recent widows to fill out questionnaires on their moods every single day for three months, and there were vast fluctuations: a widow might feel anxious and blue one day, only to feel light-hearted and cheerful the next. (Bisconti noted that the fluctuations might even happen several times a day, but her study was not designed to capture that.) The swings started out quite large and then gradually diminish over time, getting both weaker and less frequent. Bisconti concluded that her results, published in 2004, most closely resembled a linear oscillator, or a pendulum with friction, that looks something like this:
Which makes you wonder, what else have we been told about grief that is wrong?