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Part III: The Process of Grief > Bowlby’S Basic Phases Of Loss And Mourning

Chapter 11. Bowlby’S Basic Phases Of Loss And Mourning

John Bowlby, M.D., of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London studied the reactions of very young children to separation from their mothers. He developed an outline of what happens as a result of this separation (Bowlby, 1980). Because we believe that all attachment and bonding has a basic survival function, this has a direct application to the reactions of adults dealing with significant loss. It is as if there still is a “little one” inside each of us, who reacts as a child would to loss or the threat of loss. It is important to note that people may move back and forth in these phases and may overlap phases.

  • PHASE I:

    Protest of the loss, and attempts to recover what was lost. A time of yearning for the lost object or situation, despite no hope for recovery of what was lost. A time of anxiety and wishful thinking about that which was lost.

  • PHASE II:

    Despair sets in as hope fades for recovery of what was lost. A period of longing, apathy, hostility and sadness. A breaking down of the old bonds; disorganization; pulling away and mourning. This phase is critical to the growth and healing of the next phase.

  • PHASE III:

    Reorganization takes place after detaching from what was lost. The grief work has been significantly addressed, and new attachments have been or are being made. Without the breaking of the attachments in Phase II, reorganization is incomplete at best and usually impossible.


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