Character Development – 5 Stages of Grief

In 1969, based on her years of working with terminal cancer patients, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief.”
While these stages represented the feelings of people who were themselves facing death, many people now apply them to experiencing other negative life changes (a break-up, loss of a job) and to people facing death or experiencing the death of loved ones.
Kübler-Ross proposed these Five Stages of Grief:
Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what is going to happen/has happened.”

Prior to the cycle, you have a normal-functioning person… Then, something happens that throws their world out of whack… They now begin the cycle:

Stage 1: Shock and Denial
  • Avoidance
  • Confusion
  • Fear
  • Numbness
  • Blame

Stage 2: Anger

  • Frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Irritation
  • Embarrassment
  • Shame

Stage 3: Depression and Detachment

  • Overwhelmed
  • Blahs
  • Lack of energy
  • Helplessness

Stage 4: Dialogue and Bargaining

  • Reaching out to others
  • Desire to tell one’s story
  • Struggle to find meaning for what has happened

Stage 5: Acceptance

  • Exploring options
  • A new plan in place

With the cycle now complete, this person returns to a meaningful life having been TRANSFORMED and experiences the following:

  • Empowerment
  • Security
  • Self-esteem
  • Meaning

However, Kübler-Ross herself never intended for these stages to be a rigid framework that applies to everyone who mourns.

In her last book before her death in 2004, she said of the five stages, “They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grieving is as individual as our lives.”

You could ALMOST structure an entire story based on these 5 stages and while I’m not advocating exactly that, I’m almost positive that by learning just a little more about this model, you’ll go a long way toward creating believable characters and have your Protagonist TRANSFORMED by the end of your story…

Could be an interesting way to look at the character’s journey.

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