What's Your Grief Theory? Multidimensional Adaptive Grieving Dynamics

Grief Theory / Grief Theory : Eleanor Haley

For further articles on these topics:

It's been quite a while since we've broken down a new grief theory here on WYG. According to my research, the last theory we discussed in earnest was a deep dive into continuing bonds in 2018. So, we're excited to add a new installment to our grief theory library with this discussion of the Multidimensional Adaptive Grieving Dynamics model.

Grieving is a universal human experience, yet its intricacies are as diverse as the grievers themselves. I suspect this paradox is what makes grief theory so tricky. Putting language and structure to the universally individual nature of grief is no small feat.

As we have discussed, various theories attempt to describe grief, with the most famous models of the 1900s viewing it through the lens of stages or phases. Then, the 1990s and 2000s ushered in our favorite theories – the Dual Process Model of Bereavement and Continuing Bonds Theory. And finally, the last decade brought some newer theoretical frameworks, including the one we're talking about today: the Multidimensional Adaptive Grieving Dynamics (MAGD).

In this theory, author C.D. Bagney Darian, sets out to create a new model for grief. The aim is to embrace the diversity of grievers and the myriad types of losses they face in ways that previous models have yet to capture. This ambitious task is simultaneously this theory's greatest strength and weakness (what do you know, another paradox!)

In its efforts to reflect the vast range of human grief experiences, the model offers a depth and complexity to grief that is absent in so many other models. At the same time, its specificity leaves me wondering, "Do these adaptive dynamics really capture it all?"

The Multidimensional Adaptive Grieving Dynamics Model Explained

At the heart of the MAGD are four essential adaptive grieving dynamics distilled from an extensive review of the grief and bereavement literature. These dynamics serve as pillars, encompassing the breadth of adaptive responses individuals may have when navigating grief.

In other words, they're saying they studied a lot of the existing research on grief, and this research indicates that most people naturally adapt to loss by engaging in the following four dynamics in a balanced way. The different pillars are based on the adaptive purpose of the behavior (i.e., why they are doing something); rather than just describing a specific emotion or behavior (what they are doing). In this way, the author lays out a conceptualization that makes room for a wide range of thoughts and emotions.

The Four Pillars of the MAGD

Pillar One: Adaptive Lamenting

This dynamic encapsulates distressful, disheartening, and painful responses often associated with grief. It acknowledges the raw emotions that arise from loss and the need to express and process them.

In the coping literature, these responses are often labeled as "negative" emotions, but lamenting is not always seen as negative by grievers. Lamenting responses can help us express, process, and integrate the changed realities of loss. They can also serve as *tempering mechanisms, keeping us from being overwhelmed by the changes.

*Of note: it may be useful to know now that the word "tempering" is used here to refer to something akin to pacing or taking one's time.

Pillar Two: Adaptive Heartening 

In contrast to lamenting, heartening involves experiencing gratifying, uplifting, and pleasurable responses amidst grief. It recognizes moments of solace, connection, and even joy that can emerge amid sorrow.

People often label these responses as "positive" emotions, but like lamenting, the experience can feel both negative and positive. Heartening responses can also help us integrate the changed realities of grief by allowing us to experience the heartening aspects of a loss. At the same time, they can act as tempering responses that keep a griever from fully integrating the changes.

Pillar Three: Adaptive Integrating 

Integrating focuses on assimilating the internal and external changes brought on by the loss. It involves reconciling differences in past, present, and future realities and incorporating the impact of the loss into one's sense of self and identity.

Integrating involves finding a new balance after a loss. Lamenting and heartening responses can assist in this process by allowing us to experience and express the distressful and heartening aspects of the loss.

Pillar Four: Adaptive Tempering

Tempering urges individuals to avoid chronic attempts to integrate changed realities that overwhelm their resources and capacities. It emphasizes the importance of self-care and setting boundaries to prevent exhaustion and burnout during the grieving process.

Lamenting and heartening responses can each serve as tempering mechanisms that prevent a griever from being overwhelmed by trying to fully integrate the new realities before they are ready or able to do so. 

As Darian describes, in the dual process model (Stroebe & Schut, 1999), a person coping with grief can reduce the stress of dealing with loss by concentrating on tasks to restore their life, such as finding new routines or connections. Similarly, they can alleviate stress related to restoration by focusing on tasks related to acknowledging and processing their loss.

Tempering acknowledges that coping can also involve avoiding both types of stressors simultaneously. Individuals might choose which specific stressors to confront or avoid, resulting in a complex process where they simultaneously integrate some aspects of their loss while tempering others. Ultimately, this selective and paced integration creates a multidimensional approach where individuals simultaneously navigate the realities of loss and restoration.

There are countless ways to engage in each of these adaptive dynamics. For one person, lamenting may take the form of painful emotions, while for another, it might take the form of hopeless cognitions and physical pain. One griever's "heartening" might happen in storytelling and collective, public acts of remembrance. For someone else, it might come through moments of silence and solitude in nature.

Seeking Equilibrium, Not Completion

What sets the MAGD apart from traditional stage models is its depiction of these dynamics as interrelated, complementary pairs—lamenting and heartening and integrating and tempering. Rather than viewing grief as a linear progression through stages, the MAGD acknowledges its complexity, recognizing that dynamics can be experienced simultaneously and influence each other in intricate patterns. It understands grieving as an ongoing process of negotiating equilibrium between the four dynamics rather than a sequential progression.

Because one must flexibly engage in lamenting, heartening, integrating, and tempering responses to grieve adaptively, Darien suggests mapping one's responses to identify any imbalances. In other words, is a person doing a whole lot of one and none of another? And if we're leaning too hard in any one direction, it might be helpful to seek greater balance.

What we like about this grief theory:

Though I am not convinced the MAGD is sufficient to capture all of the dynamics of grief, there are a few key things we especially like about this theory.

Equilibrium, not resolution

Adaptive grieving is portrayed as a continual negotiation among the four dynamics, rather than a process to be completed. It underscores the ongoing nature of the griever's relationship with the loss and grief itself.

Repetitive patterns, not linear paths

The dynamics are not confined to a linear sequence but are experienced repeatedly in unique patterns throughout the grieving process. This cyclical nature acknowledges the ebbs and flows inherent in grief.

Multifaceted experiences, not just emotions

Each dynamic can manifest across various dimensions—physically, emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally, spiritually, and socially. This holistic perspective recognizes the complexity of human experience in grief.

Take Aways

Our belief about grief theories is that none will give you everything, but most can give you something. MAGD offers an expansive, multidimensional view of adaptive grieving that accommodates the diversity of grievers, losses, and responses. It reframes grieving as a complex, dynamic, and perpetual process—a journey of negotiating essential adaptive responses rather than reaching a definitive endpoint. Needless to say, we’ll embrace that all day long.

In embracing the complexity of grief, the MAGD provides a framework that honors the individuality of each grieving experience while offering pathways toward healing and resilience. In the spirit of those unique pathways, take what resonates with your grief experience and leave the rest.

Let’s be grief friends.

We post a new article to What’s Your Grief about once a week. Subscribe to stay up to date on all our posts.

Related Blog Posts

Related Blog Posts

See More

4 Comments on "What's Your Grief Theory? Multidimensional Adaptive Grieving Dynamics"

Click here to leave a Comment
  1. Charlotte Pion  April 28, 2024 at 3:42 pm Reply

    I’m glad that grief can be recognized as complex . I am in my 6th year of losing my husband, and, still incredibly heartbroken. I have always been an analytical person, very sensitive, and prone to depression, so in some ways I’m not surprised I have taken it so hard.
    Most days I feel I will never fully recover and feel true happiness again.
    Thank you WYG and the articles you provide for helping me through my grief

  2. Bruce F  April 16, 2024 at 6:51 pm Reply

    My first love, Sarah, died 44 years ago aged just sweet sixteen in a terrible car crash. I miss her still. I like that the MAGD model doesn’t suggest that we should be working towards, and hoping for, an endpoint.

    I initially buried my grief, other than those days between hearing the tragic news of Sarah’s passing and her funeral, for the following four decades. I hope to carry my cherished memories of her to my own last breath.

    Adapting to live with my grief is how I want it to be. I never want to, and never will, get over Sarah not being just there to reach out and touch. Some days are harder than others but, do you know what, that’s normal and to be expected.

    Even now, I begin and close each day by saying, “Hi,” and “Goodnight,” to my dear lost love. While my brain is active, it will always remind me of the brief time that we shared together; and so it should do.

    Thank you to all at WYG for your enduring hard work.

  3. Linda Hutsell-Manning  April 16, 2024 at 12:11 pm Reply

    I very much appreciate your grief site. I first discovered your Grief Chart and am finding it most helpful. My husband of 63 years died in November 2023 after a brief illness. We were not expecting this. AT 88, he was active, tech savvy, doing yard work and driving until this happened. We met when I was 18 and married right after I turned 20. Because of his encouragement and support, I became a successful writer with a substantial number of commercially published books. During his brief illness, I was giving library readings for a recently 2023 published book. My three adult children and countless good friends have been an enormous help but many days grief still consumes me. I look forward to each of your newsletters. Thank you. http://www.lindahutsellmanning.ca

  4. Eva L Merrill  April 5, 2024 at 11:23 am Reply

    I wish I would have read this so many years ago. It probably wouldn’t have resignated so completely with me then this is definitely the time when it does lol that seems to be how life is though
    My grief is always been censored around the loss of me. Chronic debilitating disease, mental health issues drama childhood drama etc.
    Not a sense of feeling sorry for myself just wondering what could have or would have been


Leave a Comment

YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WILL NOT BE PUBLISHED. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.