Governments and the 5 stages of grief

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross created and introduced a model of grieving, a hypothesis commonly known as the five stages of grief. These were 5 emotional responses shown by those suffering grief. This model has, of course, been greatly contested over the years when it comes to its application in individuals.

However, I actually think it is worth considering in the context of the plight faced by current national governments. As a consequence of destructive international competition, governments are severely restricted in the policies they can put forward and implement. Accordingly, we now have governments which are effectively powerless in the face of global markets and globalised money.

The end result is that government, as it currently exists, is dying. In this context, there is perhaps much that the Kübler-Ross model can tell us.

So here it is:

The stages, popularly known by the acronym DABDA, include:[2]

  1. Denial — “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
    Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of possessions and individuals that will be left behind after death. Denial can be conscious or unconscious refusal to accept facts, information, or the reality of the situation. Denial is a defense mechanism and some people can become locked in this stage.
  2. Anger — “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; ‘”Who is to blame?”
    Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Anger can manifest itself in different ways. People can be angry with themselves, or with others, and especially those who are close to them. It is important to remain detached and nonjudgmental when dealing with a person experiencing anger from grief.
  3. Bargaining — “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…”
    The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I will die, but if I could just do something to buy more time…” People facing less serious trauma can bargain or seek to negotiate a compromise. For example “Can we still be friends?..” when facing a break-up. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution, especially if it’s a matter of life or death.
  4. Depression — “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die soon so what’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
    During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed. Depression could be referred to as the dress rehearsal for the ‘aftermath’. It is a kind of acceptance with emotional attachment. It’s natural to feel sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty when going through this stage. Feeling those emotions shows that the person has begun to accept the situation.
  5. Acceptance — “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
    In this last stage, individuals begin to come to terms with their mortality, or that of a loved one, or other tragic event. This stage varies according to the person’s situation. People dying can enter this stage a long time before the people they leave behind, who must pass through their own individual stages of dealing with the grief.

See what I mean? This model actually gives me some hope. It seems likely, by this reckoning, to get much worse in the short term. But if we can move through to the final stage, to acceptance that the current system cannot persist, we can have have hope for the future – for something better.

Interestingly, there is a related model called the Satir change model, which is clearly based on the same principles, only describing it in a group setting.  Here’s a diagram of that model:


The failure of this model, for me, in the context of the present governmental situation, is that is present the trigger as a ‘foreign element’. In our context, which is the entirety of global civilisation and governance, no foreign element is possible! Instead, the trigger is a quality inherent to the system as a whole.

Nevertheless, I think by combining elements of both models, we can create a synthesis that shows how events may progress as we go along. The compatibility of the models can be neatly seen here.


Equally, my hope from earlier is not diminished, but rather strengthened by this synthesis. I can see that, though times may be hard and getting ever harder, through Simpol, we can look to a better future.

Mark Horler – Simpol-UK


11 thoughts on “Governments and the 5 stages of grief

  1. I find the 5 stages of grief theory so unbearable eomotionally controlling andmorally cruel, that if I ever find I’m going to die I would top myself for the sake of not following the 5 stage unless I could succeed in forcing folks to believe I won’t follow them.
    Anyone politically concerned should hate as evil the idea of anyone ever living in acceptance of anything ever. Should recognise the class motive, for social control, behind every shred of acceptist propaganda there has been in psychology or religion for 3000 years.

    • I’m not sure how to address that to be honest. We all have to reconcile ourselves to death eventually. The point is, that nothing lasts forever and we have to, as some point, come to terms with and accept that fact.

      This is just as true in the political context, which is the point this piece seeks to make.

  2. Responding to both comments above, the difference in the political context is that the “death” of the nation-state is not a finality but actually a breakthrough to a new level; that level being some form of bottom-up, people-centred global governance such as Simpol. As such, the lesson is not that we must accept present injustices, etc – quite the contrary! It is that we must accept the need for global governance in order to solve those injustices!

    The grieving process is very apt, particularly for each of us personally:

    Denial: This is broadly the current phase. Most people still believe interventions by national governments or protest by NGOs or CSR or whatnot can solve our global problems. But they can’t (mainly because they fail to take destructive international competition into account). It is precisely these beliefs most people need to let go of.

    Anger: This is the stage about to come. Things are only going to get worse and existing efforts by NGOs and governments, CSR, and all the other thousands of efforts short of global governance are going to fail (in my view). When they do, people will get angry; they’ll resort to street protest and insurrection.

    Bargaining: There will be attempts to hang on to the nation-state system in its current form; trying to get away with accomodations that fall short of a proper global agreement that covers multiple issues; i.e. binding global governance. (In some ways that is what present efforts at international treaty-making are – futile bargains which attempt to make the nation-state system work for the good of all, when it simply can’t).

    Depression: In this context, rather than depression, other models (eg. Scott Peck’s ‘community building process’) describe this stage as ’emptiness’; as a stage when we empty ourselves of our old pre-conceptions, and open ourselves to what is to come. We take the scary but necessary bungee jump in which we let go of all that. But this, we will find, takes us not down to the depths of depression, but to the new, higher level of community; to the realisation that we are all one and need a form of global governance that expresses that.

    Acceptance: This is the action phase. Where we feel compelled to put the new level into action; to make it a living reality.

    Ready to jump?

    • Nicely put John,

      For anyone who may be interested, a brief description of the community building process mentioned above, can be found here.

      I think this model fits nicely with the two already outlined in the piece.

  3. I am not sure that I completely agree with your interpretation of the ‘acceptance phase’. To me the meaning in the original model is that we cannot change an inevitable event, so instead of this, let us accept that we do not have control over it, rather than accepting that we can change it.

    • Hi Robert,

      I write that there must be ‘acceptance that the current system cannot persist’. I think this fits with what you see as the meaning – that the end of the current system is inevitable.

      If that is the case, then it will leave a vacuum, which must be filled by something else. We can either choose that something else, or take it as we find it. I would personally advise the former. 🙂

      • But, on balance, why could there not be the notion of “acceptance that the current system cannot be changed” at this stage of denial?

      • It’s a question of context, I think. In the piece, I am using the model to compare the reaction to the death of an individual with the reaction to the ‘death’ of a system. In this context “acceptance that the current system cannot be changed” would be akin to saying, in the case of the individual, acceptance that the person is going to live. The model would clearly no longer apply!

        It not, then, that other interpretations aren’t possible/valid. It’s just a different model, a different context.

  4. Pingback: Governments and the 5 stages of grief | Peer2Po...

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