Time magazine has a fantastic article that tackles common myths about the psychology of grief and the experience of losing a loved one.
We’ve discussed previously how many of the grief clichés (there are specific stages, you have to ‘let it out’ etc) have already been shown to be false but this Time piece goes in greater detail and traces the origin of these myths in the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.
Kübler-Ross was an important pioneer in understanding grief, but she was basing her theories on very little evidence and we now know from more rigorous studies that many of her conclusions were wrong.
Although Kübler-Ross modified her position with regard to the famous ‘stage model’ of grief, where we supposedly pass through distinct stages – saying that they were never intended to be one after the other, later empirical studies have found little evidence for any consistent stages.
One of the reasons that the five stages became so popular is that they make intuitive sense. “Any natural, normal human being, when faced with any kind of loss, will go from shock all the way through acceptance,” Kübler-Ross said in an interview published in 1981.
Two decades later, a group of researchers at Yale decided to test whether the stages do, in fact, reflect the experience of grief. The researchers used newspaper ads and referrals to recruit 233 recently bereaved people, who were assessed for “grief indicators” in an initial interview and then in a follow-up some months later. In the Kübler-Ross model, acceptance, which she defined as recognizing that your loved one is permanently gone, is the final stage.
But the resulting study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007, found that most respondents accepted the death of a loved one from the very beginning. On top of that, participants reported feeling more yearning for their loved one than either anger or depression, perhaps the two cornerstone stages in the Kübler-Ross model.
The article tackles many more common beliefs about suffering loss and is a highly recommended look into what is often thought to be ‘common knowledge’.