Grief Theory and Cognition

By Tess Thompson



Practically all grief theories mention that grief-- normal or complicated-- is not a medical diagnosis. If the experiences that comprise grief are not a medical diagnosis, then it raises some questions about the validity of these theories.

Various theories about grief and the grieving process look only at the emotional aspects that a person goes through from different perspectives. Elizabeth Kubler Ross would have us believe that there are five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance that overlap each other.

John Bowlby and Colin Parkes define the grieving process differently, but in almost similar words in four phases: shock and numbness, yearning and searching, disorganization and despair, and reorganization. J. W. Worden emphasizes the four aspects of grief/mourning as accepting the reality of the loss, experiencing the pain, adjusting to a life without your loved one, and finally being able to reorganize and carry on with life.

Grief is what we feel inside us when we are engulfed with an intense feeling of sadness and sorrow and feel it difficult to come to terms with the changed situation. Any grief theory must necessarily take into account why the grieving process is actually different for every individual.

Cognition plays an important role in the level of the emotional distress that we pass through when we lose a dear one due to death or separation. Cognition is the psychological result of perception, learning, and reasoning. The manner in which we react during a loss depends upon our cognitive abilities. The manner in which we perceive life is instrumental in the mood swings that we experience during grief. A person with a positive mental attitude may not go through any of the stages or phases of grief mentioned above. At the most, he may have momentary emotional responses to the circumstances.

Grief is also dependent upon other factors such as the relationship with the deceased, the circumstances of death, the amount of financial loss that is suffered, and issues like the amount of hurdles expected to be faced due to the loss. The death of an aging grandparent on a life support system is bound to cause less stress as we are prepared for the eventuality. Many times, even a huge financial loss does not lead to what is normally termed as complicated grief because we feel we will be able to bear it if we work hard enough.

There can be no complete list of emotions that one feels during a grieving process. They differ according to how the brain processes the information while managing emotions and does not follow a set pattern. It is dependent upon many factors that include societal and physical factors as well as cognitive abilities. Grief theories are derived from experiment and observation rather than theory. It is not only about mood and emotion but also about situations, overall emotional health, and attitude.

References:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grief
http://www.hospicenet.org/html/knowledge.html
http://psychiatry.jwatch.org/cgi/content/full/2007/326/1
http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/297/7/716
http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2007/02/20/grief-stages.html#skip300x250

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