The six stages of grief are said to be shock, denial, what-if’s or
negotiation, anger, sadness, and finally acceptance. I said to Liz,
that’s very superficial. Liz said, I can't talk about that right
The solution? Write about it! Here we go!
There’s something underlying that list that which has to do with
identity: identity maintenance and change. The logically necessary
phases of reasoning about a desired existing identity under
change-threatening conditions include the following seven:
(1) unawareness of any threat (the pre-state).
(2) Inchoate awareness of possibly-threatening conditions
(3) Non-inchoate awareness of the incompatibility of self-concept
with conditions, yet the committed presupposition of the identified
(bound) person is that self-concept, so this is called denial; it is
no longer uncomprehending, the challenge is understood as what it is,
but the presuppositional commitment remains, thus w.r.t. the
(4) Next, attempts at reasoning with self or others about how one
can retain the committed self concept. Reasoning with others is called
Negotiation; reasoning with self is called (by therapist Liz), the
(5) Next, continued commitment to the self concept, acting as if,
acting so as to retain or retrieve the self concept, this is called
Anger. See my theory of
anger; following the analysis there, the still-committed target or
goal-state for Grief is self concept retention, and all
known/available backoff strategies to obtain or retain that goal state
are applied in the committed attempt to achieve it up to and including
the two year old tantrum strategy (which always was successful), and
in which internal renegotiations always retain the option to
reevaluate commitment to that goal). After this phase one has actually released
one's commitment to retaining the goal state; it is known to be lost.
(6) Simultaneously contemplating the attractions or desireability
of the identity and its various qualities (which are the basis in
reasoning of the commitment to that identity) as well as the loss
thereof, is called Sadness.
(7) The last stage, Acceptance, comes in two forms, depending on
whether the person is in levels 1-2-3 or 4-5 of the 5 levels of
happiness (Aphorism #84).
Thinking about how to best explain this sequence, I had the thought that if we bleach the
circumstance of grieving loss to the mere physical dropping of a
valueless nothingburger, say, a stick from the hand, we might keep the
physical while dropping the emotional and mental aspects of this
transition, and understand grief-loss more deeply by comparison with a
loss that is insignificant, or, say, merely physical. If the event
were merely physical, then there is no threat, for threat perception
is a mental category or event; there is no shock since shock depends
on the experience of a threat; there is no cause for denial since both
the identity-commitment or attachment whose loss might motivate denial
and the denial itself are mental/emotional categories and events. If
the event is indeed a loss of no value then there appears no
motivation for negotiation with self or others; no anger in the
response (though playful grabbing-back might come up spontaneously),
no backing off to multiple backoff strategies (it's not worth the
trouble), no sadness contemplating the attractive ownership lost.
There is only the before (1) and the after (7.B). This would seem to
characterize the experience of detachment; experience of the world and
action within it, possibly playfully interactive, but without
emotional reactivity. I think I have also well described the
emotional experience of a dog with a stick taken from it:
- (7.A) In levels 1-2-3 the person must have a replacement
identity in order to move on; (blissful) nonidentification is not an
option and therefore study, evaluation, rejection, and selection of a
satisfactory new identity is a central preoccupation before Acceptance
can occur. That could mean getting a new job, new relationship
partner, etc., though work role as identity and relationship status
are only two of the infinite forms of identity commitment. (Note how
hungry people can’t afford to spend a lot of time on these phases and
have to get to work to feed themselves, so these are diseases of
leisure, but everyone will have time later to contemplate, eventually,
so they are unavoidable.) Moving on by a replacement identity
- (7.B) In levels 4-5 the failure to hold on to some limiting
identity is not an emotional impossibility so the search for a new
identity is either less urgent (4) or obviated entirely (5). In fact
identity loss is an opportunity for spiritual growth. To
recognize an identity as releaseable, changeable, is a big step toward
releasing all identities, toward being in the ongoing state of NOT
saying I am this or that, thus NOT limiting oneself in either concept
or consequent emotion, toward flow state, bliss, serenity,
unconditioned emotional (divine) flow.
But then I couldn't help myself, thinking oh a stick isn't enough,
let's make this slightly more interesting, let's make the lost thing
have at least the possibility you might care about it, what if it
were, say, a lollipop. And thus wrote this:
Compare grief versus someone or something taking a stick, or with
slightly greater valence, a lollipop, out of your hand. In phase (1)
you are unaware of anyone attempting to take it from you. In phase
(2), you are aware that something has happened to your stick or
lollipop but haven't come to clarity in your mind that it has been
taken away yet, even though it may actually be gone forever already,
you haven't got even the clear idea of it yet. In phase (3) you have
the idea, your lollipop or stick has definitely seemed to have maybe
been gone, you have definitely the idea of this, but you may not have
come to grips with the reality of it, it's just a conceptual flash,
the possibility, without the inner assertion in your mind that this is
how it actually is, that it has actually been taken and it's gone now.
Until you believe that assertion, you could be well described as in
denial, again (3). Next, by way of phase (4), if you cared, you might
try (negotiating with others) to negotiate with the taker to get it
back, or might imagine (negotiating with self) what would have
happened if you had held on more tightly.
By way of (5), anger: Recall
Anger as not existing except as a goal-directed action strategy in
a hierarchy of backoff strategies by a person committed to that goal.
In that context, you might back off from the strategy of mere
maintenance (continuing to simply hold the thing as before) to the backoff
strategies (perhaps one after the other) of holding it more tightly,
or grabbing it, or reaching for it, or chasing it in order to capture
it again, or yelling at the thief to return it or to get others to
come in and help, or decompensating like a tantruming 2 year old in
hopes that your universal backoff strategy to get everything your 2
year old self might want (which is everyone's always-successful
strategy at the root of the tree of methods to get what one wants).
Next, by way of (6), you might contemplate how nice it was to have had
it and experience some loss or having+not-having, cognitive dissonance,
that it has been taken from you. By way of (7) you might grab a
different stick or lollipop because you feel you need to be holding
something (7A) or alternatively let it go not just the stick or lollipop
but the holding of any stick or lollipop, which you now can be
perfectly contented without (7B).
The same process (1-7), I'm saying, applies to the bereaved as to the
victim of the theft of a lollipop, not because the losses are
comparable, obviously, but because everything has a before and an
after (thus (1) and (7)) and every experienced loss of value goes
through a coming-to-awareness (2), an awareness potentially before
acceptance (3), comprising squirming under mental reconsideration of
what has happened (4) and trying if ineffectually to make it not be or
not happen for as long as one is committed to the alternative reality
which is painfully not so (5). Every desireable thing lost offers a
phase after we stop pretending or trying for it to not be so, a
phase of appreciation of the lost reality juxtaposed in the mind with
the loss of that reality, a phase of sadness (6). And whether we move
on to a substitute satisfaction (7A) or stop needing something in that box
to have satisfaction (7B), acceptance requires moving on.
I'm not telling the bereaved not to have their feelings. I'm just a
seeker of understanding trying to figure it out; so please forgive me
my insensitivity and impertinence. But today is a great day in
Science, because Many are here being reduced to Few. Specifically, I
describe what the so-called Six Phases of Grief reveal -- without
insight -- as a reasonless, apparently random, yet consistently
observed, pattern of response to the experience of emotionally
significant loss, by using a reasoned and logical breakdown of what
must or might occur in the mental/emotional transition from "have" to
"had", under minimal assumptions.
The assumptions are these:
- We assume organisms don't just undergo
changes but also somehow represent changes (early in the tree of life,
mere neurons satisfy this).
- We assume further that they represent
counterfactuals like what was but isn't, or what isn't but might be
(close to us in the tree of life, this needs a rich cognitive capacity
like that required for humor or planning or lying etc., but this is
obviously true for humans irrespective of grief).
- We assume they come
into awareness of new circumstances before recognizing all the
ramifications (any finite reasoning system has this property).
assume that they have attachment which might or might not be based on
Bliss Theory presumptions; that they are importantly social creatures
who can get needs met through negotiations with others, that they are
thinking creatures who can figure stuff out before their actions might
actually carry things out (true of humans certainly, imaginably of
- We assume they have anger which might or might not be a thing
fully characterized by Veatch's Theory of Anger (you can deny that
while accepting this).
- And we assume that they are capable of
substitution and deletion in their desire structure, substituting one
desireable for another in some way, or also potentially capable of not
having to desire, or not desiring, to necessarily have that kind of a
thing at all (also, finally, independently motivated, since humans do
change and grow emotionally).
Thus we assume Nothing that we don't have to already recognize as
basic to humans, so our theory adds Ockham's preferred list of
presuppositions, namely, Nothing, yet captures the Six Phases of
Grief -- you tell me if it doesn't truly capture the essence for each!
This analysis of Grief being generally within my primary project of
Bliss Theory, still I consider this could be maintained without Bliss
Theory's presuppositions, namely that emotions are mostly about
inhibition and identity: emotional regulation is emotional inhibition
subject to the inhibiting factor which is identity attribution. You
could believe that or not, while accepting this logical decomposition
of grief stages.
Simply, this analysis shows how any thinking/feeling identity-bound
organism must naturally go through the experience of the transition
from "have" to "had". If identity is implicated (that is, not as a
dog losing a stick, but as a person losing what they identify
themselves as having and valuing), then:
- one MUST have a before (1) and an after (7),
- one MUST begin to detect the loss (2)
- one MUST recognize or conceptualize the loss (3) and experience
it as an identity-challenge (3) under Bliss Theory or anyhow as
- one MIGHT use reasoning with self or others to reverse it (4),
- one MIGHT attempt a whole hierarchy of backoff action strategies
to reverse it (5),
- one MIGHT sit with the painful contradiction between desired and
actual for any amount of time (6), experiencing that contradiction
(per Bliss Theory, suffering the emotional inhibition of a phase of
sadness will last as long as the identity is held onto, the believed
thought that the loss characterizes oneself),
- and one MIGHT replace the loss with a tolerable or better
equivalent (7A), or find happiness without a substitute (7B).
These are the options; are there any others?
The Bliss Theory explanation underneath these phases is this. The
identity one might attribute to oneself, namely that I am a person who
had this valuable thing and now don't, has an associated emotional
evaluation of sadness, pain, loss. If one cognitively asserts
that identity attribution to oneself, then one's emotional system
(evolved to be logically bound to the consequences of one's identity
beliefs) downregulates to that very experience. Thus the very thought
Skipping ahead, Liz had asked, well what’s your solution then? I
answer: acknowledging what you are really going through (loss of self:
a conceptual/emotional version of death itself), having the actual
reasoning path laid out clearly so one can more easily understand and
traverse it, and having a happy ending on offer to draw one forward,
the bliss of a free heart, might give confused people some clarity,
and hurting people some healing. Good enough?
I think so.
But it's new, the product of a single day, so objections
counterexamples and reassessments are Most Welcome!
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