In 1969, Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross wrote “On Death and Dying” and popularized the concept of the grief cycle: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.
- Denial: “It can’t be happening, there must be a mistake. It will all go away.”
- Anger: “Why me? It’s not fair, it’s not right.”
- Bargaining: “Just let me live to see my children graduate.”
- Depression: “What is the point? It’s no use. I give up.”
- Acceptance: “I’ve learned I can deal with it, everything will work out. It’s going to be okay.”
The grief cycle concept is applicable to almost any kind of personal change and emotional upset, anything where we are losing something we value. And the interesting thing is that even when something positive happens to us, often it involves a potential negative as well: every change requires leaving something behind, moving on in some respect.
The grief cycle gives us a context in which to deal with our feelings, a framework with which to process and monitor our emotions as we cope with situations.
It is important that we are honest with ourselves about our feelings, that we allow them to appropriately be felt and dissipate. All too often, if we bottle up our feelings, if we never acknowledge them, never process them properly, they will fester. “Feelings Buried Alive Never Die,” and often they surface later in ways we never expect and rarely are prepared to handle.
All stages of the grief cycle occur. If you think you did not experience a stage, it may have been because it was minor or extremely rapid. The sequence is usually but not always the same. Sometimes I’ve found myself bargaining before getting angry or experiencing some depression prior to anger. Not all stages take the same time and with different issues you may spend more time in different stages. If you have good self knowledge and a high degree of maturity you can probably do the states in relatively rapid sequence: “I’ll get over this sometime. Why not now?”
When circumstances and pressures made it expedient (no matter what, the cows still have to be milked), I sometimes have practiced a form of emotional triage by deliberately going through the sequence at hyper speed, knowing that I would probably have to come back later–often months later–and repeat the process, exhuming whatever feelings ended up being “buried alive” by my preliminary rush job. With certain issues, I’ve found myself repeating parts of the cycle over and over, each time at a deeper level of understanding of the emotional layers that I have around that issue.
In all cases, I have always felt that by using the framework of the grief cycle to address emotional issues up front instead of trying to tough it out or ignore them, I have been able to think more clearly, maintain higher energy levels, to cleanly move on to the next issue more quickly. Familiarity with the cycle helps people understand that what they are going through is normal, very much a part of the human condition, and thus salve some of the anxiety they might otherwise experience.
And the phrase “Feelings Buried Alive Never Die” helps me find the will and the courage to deal up front with emotional issues that previously I often was tempted to duck.