Can you skip some of the stages in the 5 stages of grief?

The 5 stages of grief is a well-known model developed by Swiss American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. First introduced in her seminal 1969 book "On Death and Dying," this grief model describes 5 emotional stages people tend to experience after a significant loss: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While this framework can help provide structure for the often chaotic grieving process, it's important to understand that not everyone passes neatly through each stage. Some people may skip certain stages entirely in their unique healing journeys after loss.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Oct 12, 2023
3 min read
Advice
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The 5 Stages of Grief Model

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed the 5 stages of grief model while working with terminally ill patients. Through conversations with them, she identified common emotional patterns surrounding death and loss. She named these stages denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
According to the model, people tend to move back and forth between the stages as they process a major life change or loss. For instance, feeling angry after denial subsides or becoming newly depressed after reaching a brief period of acceptance.

Why People May Skip Grief Stages

Every person experiences grief differently. Not everyone goes through the denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance stages linearly or in full. There are a few key reasons why individuals might skip certain stages completely:

Coping Mechanisms May Allow Skipping Stages

Some people have effective coping mechanisms that allow them to skip uncomfortable stages like anger or depression. They may focus energy on acceptance from the beginning.

Preceding Events Influence Grieving Process

If a loss was long anticipated, someone may have already passed through denial and anger before a death occurred. This can allow them to skip ahead.

Personality and Outlook Shape Response

An innately optimistic person may not become entrenched in depression. Someone conflict-averse may not feel anger. Personality shapes reactions.

Not All Loss Elicits Every Stage

With a minor loss, someone may just experience a short denial or sadness stage. Not all loss provokes the full 5-stage grief response.

Sudden vs. Expected Loss is Different

A sudden loss may trigger more denial and anger, while an anticipated loss usually involves more bargaining and acceptance.

Is It Healthy to Skip Grief Stages?

Skipping some stages of the grieving process is often completely healthy. However, it’s important to be aware of your emotions and seek help from a mental health professional if you notice:

  • Prolonged depression that inhibits functioning
  • Inability to express anger or other emotions
  • Feeling emotionally “stuck” in one stage
  • Using unhealthy coping mechanisms
  • Inability to reach acceptanceSkipping a stage here and there does not mean you are grieving incorrectly. But ensure underlying emotions are being processed
  • in a healthy way.

Tips If You Get Stuck in the Denial or Depression Stages

For those who do find themselves stalled in one stage – like denial after a shocking loss or the depression stage feeling overwhelming – there are ways to help progress through grief.

  • Seek professional counseling to process blocked emotions
  • Join a grief support group to realize you’re not alone
  • Openly discuss your feelings with trusted friends and family
  • Allow yourself to feel and release the emotions you are experiencing
  • Don’t judge your grieving timeline – go at your own pace
  • Honoring Your Unique Grieving Process

The 5 stages of grief offer a broad framework for understanding common experiences of those grieving major life changes and losses. But the model should not be interpreted rigidly, as an emotional roadmap everyone must precisely follow.
In reality, people often move fluidly between stages and may skip some altogether in their journey toward acceptance. There is no “right” way to grieve. Meeting yourself where you are – without judgment and with professional support if needed – will allow your unique healing process to unfold.