When confronted with life’s traumas, bereavement, redundancy, loss of a significant relationship, divorce, disability or injury, enforced relocation, to name but a few, we inevitably travel through what is called the bereavement curve. The Bereavement Curve was pioneered by Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to assist those attempting to support and counsel bereavement and dying. However, it is now widely recognised that the curve can equally be applied to our method of processing a wide variety of life’s crises.
Dr Kubler-Ross developed a grief model. She maintained that there were five main stages – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This model is transferable to personal change and upset resulting from other traumas besides death and dying. People experience emotional upsets when dealing with many of life’s challenges especially if the challenge happens to threaten an area of psychological weakness. For example some of us are risk takers by nature and would not be traumatised by being placed in a situation of high risk but for others this would be intensely traumatic and would invoke the grief/change model. Each person’s perspective is different.
A person separating or divorcing a spouse is likely to experience the five stages of grief; however, it is important to note that these stages will not necessarily be experienced as a linear progession. A person can dip in an out of these stages, some stages may last a lot longer than others and not all stages are necessarily experienced. It is possible too to revisit a stage. Rather than seeing this as a process as such, it is perhaps more helpful to see the model in terms of a shape or guide. Explaining these stages to people in the throes of a marital breakdown helps them to understand and normalise what they are experiencing. We often suggest to people that they write out the stages and place them on their fridge as a reminder. The model acknowledges that people have to pass through their own individual journey in coming to terms with grief after which there is generally an acceptance of reality which then enables the person to cope. We find that when people know more about what is happening to them, dealing with it is made a little easier.
Stage 1, Denial is a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept the facts or reality.
Stage 2, Anger can manifest in different ways. A person can be angry with themselves or with those closest to them. Being aware of anger can assist those helping the person to stay detached.
Stage 3, Bargaining. This could be trying to bargain with God, or with an ex partner in a breakup. Rarely does bargaining work.
Stage 4, Depression. This is a sort of sadness with emotional attachment and can take the form of sadness, regret, fear and uncertainty or all of these.
Stage 5, Acceptance. Emotional detachment and objectivity.