Speaking of unfortunate situations, attachment theory also has applications in the understanding of the grief and trauma associated with loss.
Although you may be most familiar with Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief, they were preceded by Bowlby’s Four Stages. During Bowlby’s work on attachment, he and his colleague Colin Murray Parkes noticed four stages of grief:
- Shock and Numbness: In this initial phase, the bereaved may feel that the loss is not real, or that it is simply impossible to accept. He or she may experience physical distress and will be unable to understand and communicate his or her emotions.
- Yearning and Searching: In this phase, the bereaved is very aware of the void in his or her life and may try to fill that void with something or someone else. He or she still identifies strongly and may be preoccupied with the deceased.
- Despair and Disorganization: The bereaved now accepts that things have changed and cannot go back to the way they were before. He or she may also experience despair, hopelessness, and anger, as well as questioning and an intense focus on making sense of the situation. He or she might withdraw from others in this phase.
- Reorganization and Recovery: In the final phase, the bereaved person’s faith in life may start to come back. He or she will start to rebuild and establish new goals, new patterns, and new habits in life. The bereaved will begin to trust again, and grief will recede to the back of his or her mind instead of staying front and center (Williams & Haley, 2017).
Of course, one’s attachment style will influence how grief is experienced as well. For example, someone who is secure may move through the stages fairly quickly or skip some altogether, while someone who is anxious or avoidant may get stuck on one of the stages.
We all experience grief differently, but viewing these experiences through the lens of attachment theory can bring new perspective and insight into our unique grieving processes and why some of us get “stuck” after a loss.