The Hero’s Journey and the Kübler-Ross Model

The Kübler-Ross model details how we react, emotionally, to loss/adversity. These are the stages:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Deliberation
  • Choice
  • Integration

Adversities kick off archetypal experiences cycles or pheres:

  1. An adversity arises and produces adverse symptoms. We ignore the (worsening) symptoms until we can no more.
  2. We apply a fix or work-around to suppress the symptoms – which continue to worsen – until we are forced to do something about it.
  3. We research the cause of the symptoms and find a solution.
  4. We try the solution

How do our emotions respond to a phere?

  1. Adversity rises: shock, denial
  2. Work-around to suppress the symptoms fails: anger, bargaining, depression
  3. Research cause: deliberation
  4. We try the solution: choice and integration

How do these emotional stages align with the Hero’s Journey? These are the (revised) phases of the Hero’s Journey:

Beginning Hook

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. Rising of the Antagonism
  3. Call To Adventure
  4. Refusal of the Call
  5. Arrival of the Mentor/Herald
  6. Forced Call to Adventure
  7. Acceptance of the Call
  8. Formulation of the Want

Middle Build

  1. Crossing of the Threshold
  2. Test and Trials, Allies and Enemies
  3. Ordeal
  4. Seizing the Tool
  5. First Stand-off with the Antagonism
  6. All-Is-Lost Moment

Ending Payoff

  1. Resurrection
  2. Reflection
  3. Second and Final Stand-off
  4. Evolution

If you want to know the reasoning behind the revision of the phases of the Hero’s Journey, read this article.

Since every story begins with the rise of adversity – the Inciting Incident –  it makes sense to apply the Kübler-Ross stages to the Beginning Hook.

The Call to Adventure confronts the protagonist with the shocking symptoms of an antagonism.

“This is not happening!” the protagonist shouts and runs the other way.

The symptoms of antagonism pursue him. He gets angry but finds out soon that he is helpless. He resorts to bargaining – with the antagonist, fate, or God. Nobody gives a damn and the protagonist slips into depression.

The Arrival of the Mentor is a good timing for kicking off the Kübler-Ross cycle too. At first, the protagonist doesn’t take the symptoms of antagonism seriously until the mentor explains to him that the world is about to end and he is the only one who can save it.

The Forced Call to Adventure changes everything. The protagonist realizes that he gotta do something. He deliberates and arrives at the Crisis. He chooses a course of action (the Want), accepts the call to adventure, and off he goes into the Extra-ordinary World. There, he goes through various tests and trials during which he tries to suppress the symptoms of adversity.

It is not until the end when the protagonist reflects over the reason for his All-Is-Lost moment and makes an effort to understand the cause of antagonism that he is ready for cognitive and emotional integration.

Heros Journey Revised Kübler Ross

Another good place for kicking off a Kübler-Ross cycle is the All-Is-Lost moment. The tool fails during the First Stand-off and the antagonist crushes the protagonist. “This is not happening!” The protagonist goes into shock, hides, gets angry, bargains with God and the world, gets depressed, reflects, discovers the elixir, and decides to put up a last fight. He overcomes the antagonist in the Final Stand-off, takes the elixir home, and finds integration.

The second Kübler-Ross cycle makes a lot of sense, but the writer doesn’t have much time to elaborate it since the story is racing two hundred miles per hours towards the finish line. Time for subtexting.

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