Debunking the 5 stages of grief

Guest host Christa Couture knows grief intimately after experiencing the loss of two children. She asked psychologist David Feldman if denial can be a good thing and what hope looks like in the face of a painful loss.
Many people struggling with grief experience periods of depression — but it's just one of many responses. (Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
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Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — if you've experienced any kind of grief in your life, you've likely heard of the "Five Stages of Grief." But according to psychologist David Feldman, moving through stages isn't how grief actually works.

"The biggest issue is that these are stages that people go through lock-step fashion," he told Tapestry guest host Christa Couture. "It really isn't the case that most people spend two weeks in denial, two weeks in anger, two weeks in bargaining."

Instead, Feldman, who hosts Psychology in 10 Minutes, believes "people cycle through these experiences at all different speeds."

Portrait of David Feldman in the Department of Counseling Psychology at Santa Clara University (Joanne H. Lee)

Unintended purposes

Originally developed by psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the Five Stages of Grief was supposed to be a way to handle death. But the idea caught on in popular culture. Now, the model can make people feel like they're not doing grief "right."

"I think the five stages are wonderful in a sense, because they say, 'It's okay to experience these things.' But I think they also can provide a tool for people to beat themselves up with, because people can say 'Well, this is the only acceptable way," said Feldman.

Diverse experiences

The five stages have normalized strong emotions during times of loss, Feldman said, but "they don't really capture every experience a person can have."

For instance, some people experience feelings of yearning or relief after the loss of a loved one. But these emotions don't always fit within Kubler-Ross's model.

'There are many right ways to do grief'

There are as many ways to grieve as there are people in the world. The key is to give yourself the time and the space to go through the process in your own way.

"Some days you feel fine. Some days you feel horrible. Have compassion for yourself as you're experiencing it."

Click LISTEN to hear David Feldman answer the question: Does grief ever go away? 


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