America is experiencing a crisis of grief

Politicians, financial experts, pundits and main street America would love to predict what’s going to happen to America in the next five years. But we don’t have to dust off the Dow Jones or the S&P, or even wonder what the Feds are going to do about Medicare, taxes, the debt ceiling or Afghanistan.

All we have to is understand the five stages of grief first developed by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross was a Swiss American psychiatrist and author of On Death and Dying (1969) where she first discussed the five stages of grief. These five stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, and were originally studied in people who were faced with a terminal diagnosis. Since then her work had been applied to the survivors of those who have died as well as many other difficult situations.

America is experiencing a crisis of grief, similar to that experienced by an individual whose family member has died. We can predict what will happen to America in the next five years, simply by applying Kubler-Ross’ stages of the grieving process to the collective experience of millions of citizens.

The first stage of grief is characterized by denial. “I can’t believe this is happening. Not to me.”

In the aftermath of 2008 financial crisis, America was characterized strongly by denial. The very instrument that created the crash, a housing bubble, was itself a form of denial. It’s been over 4 years, and many Americans still strongly deny that we have a problem.  A serious problem.

The second stage of the grieving process is characterized by anger. “How can this happen?! Who’s to blame?”

We can still hear the echoes of anger, frustration and blame propagated throughout the media today in surround sound. We’ve been outraged by 9/11, outraged by Iraq and Iran, outraged by Osama bin Lauden ,outraged by gun violence at Aurora, Columbine, Newtown and Virginia Tech. We seem to be angry at everyone else except ourselves, for causing our crisis.

Next, the grieving person may pass through a bargaining stage. “I’ll do anything for this to change.”

Today’s politics is filled with perpetual bargaining chips.

“If we cut spending and raise taxes, we’ll be able to balance our budget by 2023.”

“If we privatize Medicare, we will reduce the cost of healthcare through increased competition.”

Depression typically follows the stage of bargaining, especially when the reality of the situation comes to a head. “It’s no use. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

With the exception of Occupy Wall Street, a cry of anguish, many people feel they as individuals are powerless to affect change, especially when <1% of our population controls >40% of the total wealth in the country and growing. They might feel that systems and rules and policies must be followed, or are too well-entrenched to change, or that the powerful and rich will fight back, throw them in jail or otherwise hurt them. Many people who are older have accepted that they will die soon. They feel sorry for the next generation, but they themselves feel there is nothing more they can do.

The final Kubler-Ross stage of grief is acceptance.

In this last stage, the individual comes to some sort of resolution. They understand that things are going to be okay.

America seems to be stuck somewhere prior to this stage. Politicians are still trying to fix things, using smoke and mirrors to proclaim that we will be in the “black” in a few years if we just “stay the course.” With respect to healthcare and other unfunded entitlements, a major debt obligation, America still hasn’t accepted the reality that there is no more money left for 64 million retirees to cash in on promises their government made in the 60’s.

We still seem to be waiting wide-eyed and breathless for a “Rosa Parks” incident, or someone else to step up to the stage, an Arab Spring or another Occupy Wall Street, only this time more organized.

We still see to be waiting for something or someone else to change our current situation.

When an individual is stuck at any one of the Kubler-Ross stages, they are never able to progress or move ahead toward concrete solutions. They remain stuck, shifting back and forth through any one of the main stages at any one time. But it is only at full acceptance by a critical mass of people that poor America will finally begin to reclaim some of her stature, and create a different future.

Now that you have been able to predict America’s future by using the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross model, the final question remains with you, an individual who is a component part of the whole country called America.

Which stage are you stuck in?

Natasha Deonarain is the founder of The Health Conscious Movement. She is the author of the upcoming book, The 7 Principles of Health and can be reached on Twitter @HealthMovement.

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  • Barry Nuechterlein

    An interesting viewpoint, and it may provoke some useful thoughts and observations. However, I’m not so sure Dr. Kübler-Ross’ excellent work on individual psychology can be extrapolated to provide a useful framework for understanding societal and economic problems.

    Grief is, in the end, individual. What is going on in the economy is collective. While an individual’s reaction to joblessness, being underwater on a mortgage, etc., may be to grieve, I think this is a case of “apples and oranges.” I don’t think the stages of grief can be used to predict societal developments at all.

    • http://www.health-conscious.org/ Natasha Deonarain, MD, MBA

      Even if one of us individuals, all put together, make up the collective?!

  • Mengles

    I honesty this is our “new normal” and things are more likely to get worse, not better.

    • http://www.health-conscious.org/ Natasha Deonarain, MD, MBA

      What do American’s DO after they’ve gone stomping around the world, declaring they’re the best at everything, pillaging and plundering, only to come home to realize they’re filled with the hot air the rest of the world knew about?

  • Wy Woods Harris

    I just wanted to add a statement I heard in the Church Health Conference and Westberg Symposium from Reverend Bob Willis that moved my soul, He said “Giving voice to grief puts us in a mourning mode and this is when comfort comes!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/kate.curry.3950 Kate Curry

    Maybe acceptance would come if the losses stopped washing over us. Or maybe some of us, LIKE ME, have no intention of accepting the deconstruction of America. That’s where I am, thank you very much.

  • http://www.health-conscious.org/ Natasha Deonarain, MD, MBA

    What happens after we “refuse” to accept the deconstruction of America? What does each one of us DO about that?

    • http://www.facebook.com/kate.curry.3950 Kate Curry

      Excellent question. Those of us who trumpet that we won’t stand for it — what the heck ARE we doing? There’s a whole lot of talking going on and not much doing. That’s part of the grieving . . .feeling there truly is something we (I) should and could be doing — that a better outcome is possible,, but slipping away.

  • John Henry

    I can’t say I agree. Americans enjoyed a three decade long period of abnormal prosperity following the second world war. Our currency was de-facto the world standard, our homeland was not in ruins, we had cheap energy and money to buy it and a well-advanced industrial infrastructure. We thought to take things easy and as a nation, indulged in the activities of empire, whole deluding ourselves into thinking we were no an empire, at least not like those other empires. We fooled ourselves into thinking that mediocre efforts at education, work, savings, and personal self discipline would carry us onward in safety and comfort, ignoring the determination of many other societies to rebuild themselves. Now the money is running out. Other nations have disciplined and highly-educated and hard-working populations, and still others are pushing hard toward the same. We are discovering we are not the country or the people we imagined ourselves to be, that our notion of American exceptionalism was a misinterpretation of the accidents of history or worse, a pathological exercise in self-delusion. We are learning the hard reality that history and economics eventually punish the stupid and the lazy. This isn’t an evolution of a society through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief, where eventually we reach “acceptance” and “everything is going to be “OK.” This is decline of empire, and no, things do not necessarily end up “OK.”