The stages of change
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross conducted research on terminally ill patients for over two and a half years and the experience of dying. She evaluated and analyzed thousands of dying patients during her research and assimilated all her findings in her 1969 book ‘On Death and Dying’.
Although the book was largely focused on the emotions and experiences of dying patients, she later proposed that the five stages of emotions a person experiences can also be applied to loss, grief, and change.
Anastasia writes “The Kubler-Ross Change Curve which is also known as the 5 stages of grief is a model consisting of the various levels or stages of emotions which are experienced by a person who is soon going to approach death or is a survivor of an intimate death.”
The 5 stages outlined in the change curve model include:
However, it should be kept in mind that the stages “were not meant to be described as linear, nor in a step by step manner,” according to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Foundation. The stages have been described in the popular DABDA (Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance) manner simply for the sake of written description.
“The 5 stages, according to her, are transferable to different ways and degrees and may vary from person to person. Some of these situations or cases include injury, disability, work issues, relationship problems, and financial problems,” explains Anastasia Belyh.
Understanding the 5 stages
Like everything else in life, change is also a gradual process that requires determination, deliberate effort, and patience. Here are the five stages of change as explained by the Kubler-Ross Change Curve:
A sudden and drastic change may often lead to feelings of shock, disapproval, and rejection of the event. This is especially true if the change of experience is negative and tragic in nature. Denial of the truth allows us to accept the reality of the change and lessen the initial wave of pain.
“As we process the reality of our loss, we are also trying to survive emotional pain,” explains licensed professional counselor and mental health expert Jodi Clarke, LPC/MHSP. She adds “Denial is not only an attempt to pretend that the loss does not exist. We are also trying to absorb and understand what is happening.”
When we can no longer avoid or deny the change any longer, we tend to become angry and start blaming ourselves or others for the change. We strongly feel that whatever is happening is not fair and that we do not deserve it.
“We are trying to adjust to a new reality and we are likely experiencing extreme emotional discomfort. There is so much to process that anger may feel like it allows us an emotional outlet,” adds Jodi.
As our emotions become more difficult and our mood declines, we start to bargain. To protect the life we had before the unexpected change or the loss, we bargain with God or divine power. This is an unavoidable and natural stage in the Kubler-Ross change curve.
Anastasia Belyh writes “Bargaining may help to come to a sustainable solution and might bring some relief to those who are moving close to what they wish to avoid altogether. The search for a different outcome or a less traumatic one may remain on during this stage.”
When we realize that all our efforts to prevent the change or revert to the existing situation have failed, our morale and energy may fall significantly. This is when we are engulfed with sadness, confusion, and depression. We can also lose hope and become isolated and withdrawn.
Jodi Clarke explains “In those moments, we tend to pull inward as the sadness grows. We might find ourselves retreating, being less sociable, and reaching out less to others about what we are going through.”