Monday, October 27, 2008


Matt Collins, Scientific American - Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. So annealed into pop culture are the five stages of grief-introduced in the 1960s by Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross based on her studies of the emotional state of dying patients-that they are regularly referenced without explication.

There appears to be no evidence, however, that most people most of the time go through most of the stages in this or any other order. According to Russell P. Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute in Sherman Oaks, Calif. and co-author, with John W. James, of The Grief Recovery Handbook, "no study has ever established that stages of grief actually exist, and what are defined as such can't be called stages. Grief is the normal and natural emotional response to loss. . . No matter how much people want to create simple, bullet-point guidelines for the human emotions of grief, there are no stages of grief that fit any two people or relationships."

Nevertheless, the urge to compress the complexities of life into neat and tidy stages is irresistible. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud insisted that we moved through five stages of psychosexual development: oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. Developmental psychologist Erik H. Erikson countered with eight stages: trust vs. mistrust (infant); autonomy vs. doubt (toddler); initiative vs. guilt (preschooler); industry vs. inferiority (school-age period); identity vs. role confusion (adolescent); intimacy vs. isolation (young adult); generativity vs. stagnation (middle age); and integrity vs. despair (older adult). Harvard University psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg postulated that our moral development progresses through six stages: parental punishment, selfish hedonism, peer pressure, law and order, social contract and principled conscience. Also in this issue of Scientific American

Why stages? We are pattern-seeking, storytelling primates trying to make sense of an often chaotic and unpredictable world. A stage theory works in a manner similar to a species-classification heuristic or an evolutionary-sequence schema. Stages also fit well into a chronological sequence where stories have set narrative patterns. Stage theories "impose order on chaos, offer predictability over uncertainty, and optimism over despair," explained social psychologist Carol Tavris, author of The Mismeasure of Woman and co-author, with Elliot Aronson, of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me).


At October 28, 2008 11:13 AM, Blogger Elaine Williams said...

Anyone who has gone through loss knkows there is no pattern, rhyme or reason. It's an often messy, unpredictable process. But if you read Kubler Ross closely, I believe she says not everyone will go through all the stages in any particular order, but most people go through at least two of the stages in the grief process.


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