Big changes bring emotional responses: the stages of grief

Since I've been talking with a lot of people dealing with layoffs, major work changes or the anticipation of change, I've found myself talking about the inevitable emotional states we tend to experience with change. Seems like good information to share on a blog, so here goes...

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was the pioneer of psychological work in grieving. Her work had started around the grief associated with death and dying, but psychologists since have been able to show that Kübler-Ross’s “five stages of grief” is applicable to any significant change in a person’s life, including work. The theory is that sudden and (largely) unexpected change in one’s life will nearly allows be followed by these five stages (emotional responses):
  1. Denial: I feel fine. This can’t be happening.
  2. Anger: Why me? This isn’t fair! How can this happen to me? Who is to blame?
  3. Bargaining: All I want is (to see my children graduate, to get enough...). I’ll do anything for (some period of time).
  4. Depression: I’m so sad. Why bother? What’s the point? Why do I need to go on?
  5. Acceptance: It’s going to be okay. I can’t fight it, I might as well prepare for it.

These stages are said to typically happen in order, but in differing levels of intensity depending on the individual or the situation. Some, including myself, believe that the order may change and some of these feelings may happen simultaneously. For instance, you may say that something that happened doesn’t affect you at all, but feel anger or sadness of unknown origin. You may transfer your anger to something or someone else to avoid seeing the reality of your own humanness.

This is only one model, of course. Kübler-Ross’s is simply the most well known. Most important is to recognize that you may experience a range of emotions. Allow yourself to work through them rather than denying them. Get support, even if just writing in a journal or talking to a friend. And put off big decisions until you feel you’re returned to a normal (for you) state. In that state you can put both your logic and emotions to work in making lasting decisions.

Psychology classes from long ago and therapy over the years