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Grief Cycle

Grief Cycle

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Quick Overview

The Grief Cycle describes 7 phases of emotional response after hearing bad news. The model is based on the study of Kubler Ross.

Related Models: Grief CyclePeople and MotivationCircle of InfluenceWillingness to ChangeCore QuadrantsComfort ZonePeople and Competences;MaslovWill Skill Matrix


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Grief Cycle



The Grief Cycle was originally written by Elizabeth Kübler Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist who worked extensively with terminally ill patients. Due to her work Kübler Ross discovered that terminal patients experience a turbulent, roller coaster ride of emotions which lasts from the moment they’re diagnosed until the moment they fully accept the situation. Initially, there was much resistance to her findings. Later, however, she was increasingly acknowledged for her work, particularly by doctors and psychiatrists. Kübler Ross’s book ‘On Death and Dying’ outlines the five emotional phases experienced by a terminal patient: denial, anger, negotiation, depression, and acceptance. The model applies not only to terminal patients but also to situations involving job loss, or the loss of loved ones. Relatively minor incidents such as the failure to get a promotion or an ill-timed computer crash, are also covered by this model.

Related Models: Grief CyclePeople and MotivationCircle of InfluenceWillingness to ChangeCore QuadrantsComfort ZonePeople and Competences;MaslovWill Skill Matrix

The model

The phase experienced just prior to beginning the cycle is referred to as stable especially when compared to the initial reaction to bad news. In comparison to the ups and downs that follow, this phase can certainly be referred to as stable. Until the roof caves in…

The model has 7 phases:









It’s possible that your only reaction is a simple blink of the eyes. Other people get really upset. Still others are completely paralyzed by the bad news. Words such as ‘perplexed’, ‘unbelievable’, ‘paralysis’, and ‘terrible’ are common reactions. In the most extreme cases, professional help is necessary to free the person from a state of shock. It’s amazing how, before receiving the bad news just a short time ago, life resembled an ocean of fury. Now, upon hearing the news, what once looked like a furious sea was really just a peaceful Menorcan bay.


You attempt to avoid the unavoidable. It’s a simple denial: ‘no, this can’t be happening to me. Not me.’  The denial provides a temporary shelter after hearing the shocking news, allowing you the brief opportunity to gather your wits. Your body and brain begin to subconsciously create a myriad of ways in which to reject the bad news. For most people, the denial phase doesn’t last very long.     


Once you grasp that denial is an impossibility, the anger and frustration phase begins. During this phase you ask yourself: ‘why me?’ You feel annoyed, angry, envious, and full of resentment. It’s often very difficult for family, friends, and health care professionals to help you with these feelings.  Your anger is often arbitrary and you project it on those around you. Feelings from the past can also play a role. Anger is a dangerous phase because you can seriously damage friendships and other relationships due to your behavior (even if you don’t consciously mean any harm).


You look for a way to escape the misery. If you just got fired you try to have an extra talk with your boss, pay him a compliment, and attempt to display your many qualities. You also devilishly try to discredit your ex-colleagues by making them look bad.  You grasp at straws in a desperate attempt to rid yourself of the situation. People in this phase often shoot themselves in the proverbial foot and display self-destructive behavior.


There is nothing left to do but face reality: ‘yes, me’. The truth becomes fully evident and you are depressed. You begin to realize that you stand to lose something truly meaningful. You’re exhausted from the fight, but give in to the situation that you haven’t yet fully accepted. You’re drained of energy, tired, and weak. For many people, it’s just a temporary condition. A ‘slump’.  Somewhere, there’s a faint light at the end of the tunnel.     


Your new ideas, thoughts, and realistic scenarios are now considered as possible solutions. You give up the self-pity and choose to push forward in search of the great unknown. Your system tunes itself to the signals that may lead to new opportunities. You’re enthusiasm is back. There are new possibilities demanding your attention and energy.


In this phase, people find the way forward. Newfound joy results. It is unknown, this new joy, but it feels positive. For many people, this new feeling is better even than the stability experienced right before hearing the bad news in the first place.


How to use it?

Rationally, we know that losing a loved one is worse than losing a job. Every person responds differently, more or less intensely, to receiving bad news. Be aware that it’s impossible to determine or predict how people will react to bad news. But it really helps to be aware of these phases and to interpret and analyze behavior accordingly.

A few things still need to be said about the phases:

      It’s possible that not all phases will be experienced by a particular individual;

      People sometimes revert back to a previous phase;

      People sometimes get stuck in a particular phase;

      The phases can last anywhere from a few minutes (losing your keys, for instance) to several years.

The insights provided by the ‘Grief Cycle’ help to explain and understand behavior in the hope of better anticipating it. It’s not wrong if an employee or co-worker gets angry. It’s not possible to place judgement on that particular emotion either, because it’s happening for a good reason. Give people the space to be angry in order to let it subside. Remain rational and honest. During the depression phase it’s important to seek professional help and to be open to receiving it. Try not to plan someone else’s phases. It’s possible to subtly influence someone’s phases by stimulating that person, but you can’t influence the speed at which they experience the phases. During the acceptance phase, it’s important to provide effective support in order to ensure that new possibilities are given the chance to flourish.

May you be filled with positive emotion!


Related Models: 

-   Grief Cycle

-   People and Motivation

-   Circle of Influence

-   Willingness to Change

-   Core Quadrants

-   Comfort Zone

-   People and Competences;

-   Maslov

-   Will Skill Matrix


      Kübler-Ross, E. (1969) On Death and Dying, Routledge, ISBN 0415040159