5 stages of debt emotions

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler wrote a classic book “Of Grief and Grieving,” explaining the stages people tend to go through when faced with loss. The experience of being in debt closely mirrors this experience and looking at the 5 stages can help us realise what is happening to us and help us to help others through the debt process. The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with loss. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. Through the process.

Debt repayment is not merely a technical exercise of budgeting and negotiating with creditors; it is deeply emotional.

The 5 stages of (debt-) grief

Stage 1: Denial – “This isn’t happening to me!”

In this stage you say things to yourself like, “It’s not serious. I can handle it. So-and-so is much worse than me. I’m, ok, I don’t have a problem. If you think you have money problems, listen to your gut instinct because it’s right: you have problems. And if you think you have time on your side, you are sadly mistaken. You don’t: time is your enemy. You have to take action as fast as possible, because the more time you spend in denial, the worse your problem is going to become.  In this stage, ignorance is not wanting to accept you have a serious problem. It needs to be faced up to.

Stage 2: Anger “Why is this happening to me?”

You face your situation and realise your situation and get angry at the situation you are in, your creidtors and the circumstances. You look to place the blame on anyone else than yourself. You feel the pain and maybe guilt at getting into debt. You get angry at yourself and feel yourself a failure. This is a dangerous time for married people and can result in hurt feelings and isolation.

You feel a failure, but realise - everybody fails, it’s life. Learn from your failures and don’t repeat them ever again. Use them to your advantage, let them make you smarter, so that if there ever is a next time, you will use your experience to make much better decisions.

Stage 3: Bargaining – “I promise I’ll do better if only…”

The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control through a series of “If only” statements, such as: - If only I had taken the advice … - If only I had listened to my spouse - If only that creditor would show some patience

Secretly, we may make a deal with God in an attempt to postpone the inevitable, and the accompanying pain. Guilt often accompanies bargaining. We start to believe there really was something we could have done differently 

Stage 4: Depression - "I don’t care anymore."

The solution isn’t coming.  Still drowning in debt.  Unable to comprehend the situation. How did it get so bad? You have feelings of loneliness, isolation and not knowing where to start. You grieve the loss of the life you wanted to live—a life of spending without consequence—and realize that to gain financial freedom your habits must change. You feel despondent over the change you are going to have to make and may struggle with sad reflection, emptiness, and isolation.

Stage 5: Acceptance "I’m ready for whatever comes."

You begin to feel more positive about where you are headed and hopeful for a solution. Yiu are ready to cooperate with people who can help and be open about the situation and accountable. You start to make a plan, evaluating your spending, trying to cut spending so that you create a margin to pay off the debt. You keep open communication with your spouse and helpers and resolve never ti go back to your old habits.

Remember, you are not alone– you are not a loan!

You thank God for the situation you are in and trust in Him for the outcome.

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

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