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Posts Tagged ‘Kubler Ross stages of grief

We live in times when there is plenty to shock us

I have an old-fashioned habit of switching on the radio to catch the news.  It really is a habit I must break because the quality gets more variable by the day.

Today, a little tired from a full Friday night’s work, I feel particularly jaundiced by gibberish that is put out by the (frankly) pale, male and stale – with a few opinionated women thrown in.  The ranting is pretty bad today because some people in the establishment have taken abrupt status drops and are feeling pretty sorry for themselves.  Some have been around bad things that would shock anyone.

And we find out who our friends are

It is in times like this though, that we really find out who our friends are.  Our friends don’t egg us on. Our friends don’t invite us into the public domain to rant and rave and say the incoherent and often unpleasant things we feel in the midst of grief and in the grip of chagrin.

We need our friends to lead us quietly away to grieve in private

Our friends lead us quietly away until we’ve had the chance to grieve with the people who are part of the same tragedy.  Our friends help us sort out what happened. Our friends help us to think out the consequences.  Our friends help us to work out what is dark, what is untimely, what is embarrassing, what is unfair, and what just is.  We don’t want to do that on the radio.

We can be sure that we adding negative consequences to negative consequences when we rant incoherently in public in our immediate shock.  Our friends should not let us.

Can I COUNT ON you?

In times like these, I hope I can COUNT ON YOU to lead me quietly away.  I hope I can COUNT ON YOU to put an arm around my shoulder.   I hope you can COUNT ON YOU  to make me a cup of tea and something easy to eat.  I hope I can COUNT ON YOU to listen but not remind me later of things I said but made no sense.

I will calm down but I hope I can COUNT ON YOU to give me time to make sense of outrage and not attack me while I am in that state nor make me into a public spectacle.

And if you were not to be COUNTED ON

And if it turns out that I COULD NOT count on you, and that you did not protect me when I could not protect myself, then I know you are not a friend.

I will not blame you for the outrage that led to my grief but I will know that you are not to be COUNTED UPON.

In times of shock, please

Lead me quietly away to deal with my outrage.  People who were not there and who were not part of the outrage will only see the jumble in my mind as incoherence.  Talking about my confusion in public doesn’t explain anything to them or give dignity to my predicament.

Lead me quietly away, put an arm around my shoulder and make me a cup of tea.

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Psychologists have a good 5 point rubric for understanding our reactions to grief, and anything unsettling.

First, we can’t take in the bad news.

Then, we get angry and look for someone to shout at.

When that doesn’t work, we sulk and bargain.

Failing again, we are confused, dejected and flail about without a plan.

Eventually, thankfully, we fall in love with life again.

Working, living and leading the bereaved

When we watch someone dealing with the death of a loved one, these stages are very clear.  Because the death is a fact, it is clear that they are having trouble absorbing the new reality into their life.  We do it easily because the person didn’t play such a big role in our lives and we have less to rearrange.  Our time will come.

Adjusting our identity

When the loss is something more nebulous, like our identity (not our credit cards but our sense of worth), then it is harder to see that someone is travelling a painful path. We just see someone who is being ill tempered, confused, difficult.

When the little boy asked Obama this week, “Why do people hate you?, Obama took great pains to explain to to the 9 year old the grief that his opponents feel in losing the election. He has the political maturity to understand why people are difficult and work with them anyway.

How long does it take to move through the grief cycle?

As a distant observer, I’ve been watching the underlying changes going in the States. Because I am not so close to the action, I watch dispassionately to see what is happening and to learn something that is not written up well in the psychological literature.

How long does it take for a population to adjust to stunning and inescapably bad news .   .   .  .  like Bank crashes, like the assumption of power by a new generation (Gen x)(if you are a Baby Boomer), by the invention of science we did not learn at school?

At lot has happened in the last two years.  When will we find our way out of the grief reaction?

2006 – We couldn’t believe that we were overspending.

2008 – Once Lehman crashed, we railed at irresponsible bankers.

2009 – We don’t want to work with the incoming President, redesign our banks, work with Nobel winning scientists even though they are already in the WhiteHouse.

When will we move into depression, and when will we fall back in love with life?

I suppose we must expect a period of depression and dejection soon.

And after that, we can get on with the job of using new developments in science, reaching out to other countries to build a new world order, include more people at home in the decision making and in the benefits of a strong economy, use the internet to make everything easier and work out the rules of a newer more respectful economy.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance & the financial crisis

Over the last one -and-a-quarter years, since the run on Northern Rock, I’ve been making a concerted effort to understand the credit crunch, the financial crisis and the recession.  The nature of understanding big, bad events is that we are so busy trying to understand them that we have little time to reflect.

Typically, we follow a five stage process.

  • First, we deny the crisis either saying “I’m OK – it doesn’t affect me” or conversely ranting “This can’t be happening.”
  • Then we move on to anger, when we are quite clear we are not to blame and that someone else such as politicians and bankers should be punished for getting us in to our mess.
  • When we are a bit further along, we work out what will stay the same in our lives and what we can can cut out.
  • The next stage is to resign ourselves to our mess dragging on for twenty years or so,  and we are actually secretly relieved because if the mess is that big, there is nothing you and I, ordinary Joe citizen, can do about it.
  • And eventually we begin to dig beneath the surface of the crisis and, in this case, set about upgrading our financial know-how and skills.

Where are you?  And where are the people around you?

My job as a psychologist

I have a page where I store good, accessible explanations of how we got into the financial crisis and I will expand it to include the financial know-how that you and I should have.

Being a psychologist though, I think it is my job to bring to your attention key psychological ideas that equip you for understanding the recession and the ways we react to it.

  • The first psychological idea in this post is described in the at the beginning.  We often respond to bad news in five rough stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  We go through these stages when we hear of the sudden death of a loved one.  And we are going through similar stages as we get our heads around the idea that our financial system has been subject to a the equivalent of a major earthquake.
  • The second psychological idea in this post is that objective knowledge matters.  Positive psychology emphasizes that our attitude to a problem makes a big difference.  It does, and I will return to that in other posts.   But objective information matters too.  It is foolish to pretend that a large box isn’t heavy.  We are much better off when we understand the principle of levers.  We do need to take charge of our education about the financial system.  We clearly did not understand it well enough to play our role as informed voters, wise buyers and sellers of stocks and shares, and savvy consumers of mortgages and credit cards.
  • The third psychological idea is the one I wanted to highlight today because I think it will be key to the mental housekeeping required to come to terms with the recession.

In the west, we have a weird idea that time is linear

Of course, we ‘know’ that yesterday was before today and today comes before tomorrow.  Unfortunately our separation of time into yesterday, today and tomorrow, has some peculiar side effects.   This works in two ways.

  • In good times, we spend like mad and rack up debt.   We take ‘Carpe Diem‘ or ‘seize the day’ far too far.   Tomorrow features insufficiently in our thinking about today, and when tomorrow comes, we are in a mess.
  • Equally, in bad times, we look ahead, see a diminished tomorrow, and we feel dejected.  In short, we bring tomorrow far too much into today.

This inability to act appropriately in time is an inability to ‘give unto Ceasar’ or to accept that ‘for everything there is a season’.  The net effect is that we enjoy life a lot less.  We also rack up unhealthy deficits and one day we wake up very disappointed with our lives and where we have taken ourselves.

And then we are into the five stage process I described at the outset. This cannot be happening. It is not my fault.  OK, I will compromise.  Oh, this is impossible.  And then ultimately: OK, I’d better get on and understand this.

Are you acquainted with philosopher Alan Watts?

At the end of this post is a video presentation, about 3 minutes long, that accompanies the late English philosopher, Alan Watts, talking about the way we confuse time.

He begins “you get into kindegarten, then you get into first grade  .  .   .”  And ends, life “was a musical thing and you were supposed to dance or sing while the music was being played”.

Do watch it!

I grew up in a competitive culture so this resonated with me.  I have long protested that we should let 3 year olds be 3, and 18 years olds be 18.  Preparing for the next year is part of a 3 year old’s experience but it is not all of their task.  And being 3 should never be dreary.  Nor should being 84!

Recessions are simply part of life

Like preparing for a test or examination, they are there to be enjoyed (!) along with all the other activities that come at the same stage.

It takes time to work through the five stages of our reaction to bad news.  And we work through at different paces.  So we need to be patient with ourselves and each other.  But we also do need to resolve not to become stuck at any stage.

We may be in for a long and difficult time in this financial crisis.  What I am suggesting is that we sing and dance to the music nonetheless!

Come with me!

Here is the link to this great presentation accompanying Alan Watts.  Do enjoy it and have a good weekend!  There is a season for everything!

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