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The Truth About Grief

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This post is about the ‘downs’ of life, not about sex:

The Truth About Grief, a new book by Ruth Davis Konigsberg, was featured in this week’s Times Magazine for a very good reason: to enlighten us!

The Five Stages of Grief were first observed by Elisabeth Kubler Ross in 1969 in her acclaimed book, On Death and Dying.   According to Konigsberg, “From the 1970s to the 1990s grief became a ‘process’ or a ‘journey’ to be completed, as well as for personal growth… the American Way of Grief with a new professional venue that developed for this very purpose.”

However, Konigsberg asserts, “In the past decade, researchers using more sophisticated methods of data collection than their predecessors did have overturned our most popular notions about this universal experience,” and she proceeds to describe some of the biggest misconceptions about grief:

  1. Myth: We grieve in stages.  Current research: “… 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 of depression, perhaps the two cornerstone stages in the Kubler-Ross model.”
  2. Myth: Express it; Don’t Repress It.  Current research: “… expressing negative emotions can actually prolong your distress… talking or writing about the death of a spouse did not help people adjust to that loss any better… a related myth is the ‘grief work hypothesis’,’ which defines grief as a project that must be tackled in order to prevent psychological problems… people who did not express their initial reactions showed fewer signs of distress later on, while people who did express their reactions had a harder time adjusting.”
  3. Myth: Grief is harder on women.  Current research: “… relatively speaking, men suffer more from being bereaved.”
  4. Myth: Grief never ends.  Current research: contrary to Kubler-Ross’ implication that ‘you will grieve forever,’ Konigsberg cites modern research affirming that “… the worst of grief is usually over within about six months… that did not mean they didn’t still miss or think about their spouse, but… they returned to normal functioning.  What we know is that while loss is forever, grief is not.”
  5. Myth: Counseling helps.  Current research:  “… no evidence that counseling helped most bereaved individuals any more than the simple passage of time… The only instance in which counseling showed a benefit was when it was targeted at people displaying marked difficulties adapting to loss.”

Konigsberg’s message to us: “Instead of rushing to prescribe ways to grieve, it would be more helpful to spread a different, more liberating message based on what the science is beginning to tell us: that most people are resilient enough to get through a loss on their own without stages or phases or tasks… these new findings are not the last word, but they do give us a better sense of the different responses to bereavement and their prevalence.”

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