The 5 Stages of Transformation

Lately I’ve been ‘seeing’ a ridiculous number of relationships ending, mostly among my clients, but among friends, as well. The relationships vary: marriages, lovers, friends, siblings, coworkers, a man and his job, a woman and her home. And I’ve noticed that the pattern remains the same. Often I can see that it’s really over before my clients do. Why?

It’s because the pattern is obvious to me, partly because I’ve seen it so many times, and partly thanks to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (On Death and Dying (Scribner Classics), who identified it in terminally ill patients in the 1960’s. The pattern she identified, consisting of the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, really applies to any death — death of a relationship, losing a job, losing a home, etc. All deaths precede a transformation; after all, physical death is the ultimate transformation. Conversely, it seems that all transformation is preceded by a death, even if that is the death of a single belief.

For a relationship, the five stages go something like this: He isn’t really ignoring me, he’s just working really hard (denial). How dare he stay out so late — three nights a week? How dare he treat me like this? Is there another woman? (anger) Maybe if I lose weight, and cook a good dinner for him every night, and don’t mention my suspicions (which he denies), then maybe he’ll come home to me (bargaining). Can’t I do anything right? Am I not good enough for him? I’m so depressed, I can barely get out of bed in the morning to go to work. I have to force myself to smile at him (depression). Oh, I get it, he really is out of this relationship — he’s been seeing another woman for six months. Now what do I do? (acceptance)

For the loss of a job, the five stages might go like this: I know there are going to be layoffs, but it won’t happen to me (denial). Maybe if I do an extra project, I can make myself so essential that it won’t happen to me (bargaining). I got laid off! How dare they do that to me, after 10 (or 15 or 20 or 45) years of service? (anger) What did I do wrong? Why is this happening to me? Who am I without this job? I can’t bear to even look for a job, I’m so upset (depression).  How am I going to survive? What do I do next? (acceptance)

The stages don’t necessarily go in neat order. It’s quite common to bounce back and forth between, say, denial and anger, anger and bargaining, anger and depression, or depression and acceptance.   

If you’re in one of the stages of loss, i.e the stages of transformation, what can you do about it? If you’re in denial, not much, because you don’t know what you don’t know. The good news is — that can only last so long, because something, perhaps a physical ailment will call your attention to the impending transformation.

Once you get to the stage of anger, there is something you can do. You have to ask yourself, what specifically am I angry about? What am I pretending not to know that keeps me here? What is my part in this? Is there an internal change I can make? When you change, aka transform, your reactions will be different, so the world, including the relationship, will be different.

If you are already at the stage of bargaining, there is a different set of questions. If you are having to bargain to keep something, you have to ask yourself if you want it badly enough to do all the extra work. Maybe the answer is yes; maybe not. In my experience, though, once you are even at this stage, it’s really over. It may take years for the whole thing to play out — you can bounce back and forth between denial (everything’s okay) and anger and bargaining (we hit a rough patch again) for a long time. Occasionally, in a lover or marriage relationship especially, the bargaining forces a real change in one or both of the parties, so the relationship transforms, but without breaking up. 

The difficult thing about depression is that a lot of times, people get there without even knowing what specifically depresses them. People will often medicate themselves out of the feeling of sadness or depression,  with cigarettes, alcohol, or legal or illegal drugs, without ever dealing with the underlying issue. (I’m not a doctor, but I do understand that there are some depressions that are purely chemical, that is, from neurological problems; brains that don’t produce normal amounts of certain chemicals. I’m not talking about these people.) You have to deal with the underlying situation. Sometimes it’s obvious. Sometimes you really have to think back to what triggered the feeling.

It helps to ask yourself what you lost, or what you fear losing (though if you’re here, it’s probably already lost). And what you lost doesn’t have to be a person, or a job, or a thing. It can be just an idea or a belief — and sometimes these are the most profound triggers of transformation. When you lose something (or someone), it’s important to ask what you have instead, because that points in the direction of hope or actions you can take to move into acceptance of the change.

When you realize what is going on, you can consciously choose to move through these stages.  By asking the questions above, as well as others unique to your situation, you can shorten the time frames of the stages of transformation. You can see the glimmer of acceptance, and a new situation, even as far back as the stage of anger.

If you want help moving through your particular situation more quickly and easily, please call me at 888-4-hollis (888-446-5547) to discuss options.

Hollis Polk is a personal coach (, who has been helping people create lives they love for 15 years, using neurolinguistic & hypnotherapy techniques, decision science, clairvoyance & the common sense learned in 20+ years of business. She is an NLP Master Practitioner, hypnotherapist & has a BSE in engineering from Princeton & a Harvard MBA. She is also a successful real estate broker, investor & business owner.