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Grief: Five Stages and Perspectives from Psychological Theories

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Grief looks different on everyone— read to learn more about processes and psychological theories of grief.

Grief is not a "one-size-fits-all." It is a universal yet deeply personal and challenging experience to navigate and understand. Various psychological theories provide perspectives through which to view and comprehend the multifaceted nature of grief. This overview assesses the five stages of grief as well as three prominent perspectives: Attachment Theory, Existential Perspectives, and the Dual-Process Model, each of which provide unique insights into the grieving process.

The Five Stages Of Grief

  • Denial: Refusing to believe the loss is happening; feeling numb.

  • Anger: Experiencing anger at the loss and its unfairness.

  • Bargaining: Trying to negotiate or bargain, often with a higher power, for a way out of the distress.

  • Depression: Feeling deep sadness and despair about the loss.

  • Acceptance: Coming to terms with the reality of the loss and starting to look forward again.

Attachment Theory

Developed by John Bowlby, Attachment Theory focuses on the deep emotional bonds we form with significant others in our lives. According to Bowlby, these attachment bonds are crucial to our survival and well-being. When an attachment is severed due to loss, it triggers a profound grief response. This theory delineates grief as a natural consequence of losing someone with whom we have formed a deep, emotional connection. It suggests that the intensity and duration of grief are influenced by the nature of the attachment and the security of the bond formed. In navigating grief, Attachment Theory emphasizes the importance of forming new attachments or relying on existing ones to find support and comfort.

Existential Perspectives

Existential psychology, with thinkers like Viktor Frankl and Jean-Paul Sartre at its helm, examines human existence, freedom, and the search for meaning. Grief, from an existential viewpoint, is seen as a confrontation with the realities of existence, including life's finiteness, isolation, and meaninglessness. This perspective encourages individuals to find personal meaning in loss and to confront the existential vacuum that grief can create. It posits that through the process of grieving, individuals are presented with the opportunity to engage deeply with existential questions, potentially leading to personal growth and a more profound understanding of their values and beliefs.

Dual-Process Model

Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut's Dual-Process Model offers a dynamic view of coping with loss. It proposes that effective grief management involves oscillating between two types of stressors: loss-oriented and restoration-oriented. Loss-oriented activities are those directly related to the loss, such as crying or thinking about the deceased. Restoration-oriented activities involve attending to life changes, taking on new roles, or engaging in new activities. This model suggests that moving between confronting and avoiding grief, rather than focusing solely on one aspect, facilitates a healthier adaptation to loss. It acknowledges that grief is not a linear process but a complex oscillation between facing the reality of loss and finding a way to move forward.


Understanding the stages of grief as well as the perspectives of grief through the lenses of Attachment Theory, Existential Perspectives, and the Dual-Process Model reflect some of the prominent psychological views of the grieving process. Each theory provides unique insights, from the importance of emotional bonds and the search for meaning to the dynamic balance of confronting and avoiding grief. Recognizing the complexity of grief reflects the individuality of each individual's experience and the various processes through which people navigate loss.

If you or a loved one are considering grief support, Contact PSYCHē for more information, learn more about our expert therapists, or schedule a consultation online.


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