Reflections

Five Emotional Stages of HSV

flower with ladybug . cc by-sa 3.0

flower with ladybug . cc by-sa 3.0

based on the Five Stages of Grief [1] as defined by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. [2]

This article does not intend to predict what will happen for every one of us. Much like Dr. Kübler-Ross’ work, it’s not a research study but an observation of what we’ve typically seen in our combined decades of experience as veterans in the HSV community. It may give you an idea of what a lot of us go through after our diagnoses. More information about the Kübler-Ross Model can be found at the end of this document.


FIVE EMOTIONAL STAGES OF HSV



1. DENIAL

A lot of us experience a sort of shell-shock after diagnosis. 

We don’t tell anyone. We pretend it didn’t happen. We carry on as if nothing has changed. We might continue the risky behavior that put us in the situation.

2. ANGER

It’s extremely common to feel strong, negative emotions early in the diagnosis. 

We experience rage against the person who transmitted the virus to us, especially if we think they knew they had it. We imagine revenge scenarios against them. We may blame the world for failing to protect us. We blame the scientific community for the lack of preventative vaccines and cures. We hate society for the stigma it perpetuates against our community. We blame ourselves for the mistake of failing to exercise more caution, and find it difficult to feel any measure of forgiveness toward others and especially toward ourselves. We go through a variety of aggressive emotions that increase our stress and may lead to destructive behavior.

3. BARGAINING

Some of us have met certain H folks who attempt to diminish the impact of the virus on their lives, to an extreme. 

Some argue with scientific studies, to try to dismiss evidence that doesn’t match their personal preferences and theories. Some question the need to disclose to non-H partners. Some find ways to justify continued risky sexual behavior. Some may use their faith—a leave-it-in-the-hands-of-God approach—rather than taking steps to deal with their condition and protect others.

4. DEPRESSION

This stage is often the longest-lasting and hardest to get through, even though the negative thoughts and feelings associated with this stage are false.

We allow ourselves to fear the stigma associated with the virus. We begin to think of ourselves as doomed to be alone. We consider ourselves damaged goods. We fear that we will never have love, families or children. We begin to hide ourselves from the world. We turn down friends’ invitations and stay home. We stop engaging in the things that once interested us and that made our lives enjoyable. We allow the virus and the opinions of others about the virus to define us, to lower our self-esteem, and to overwhelm our lives.

5. ACCEPTANCE

If we persevere, we come to a place of acceptance, and for many of us, a place of solidarity, hope and even fulfillment and joy.

We begin to read, research, ask questions, and make ourselves fully informed about our condition. We discover that we are in the majority. We learn how to manage and live with the virus. We find and meet the online H communities. When we’re ready, we take the step to attend live support meetings and find living proof that we’re not alone. Soon we might find ourselves ready to attend live social events on the local, regional or national level. Our social lives expand. We make lifelong friends all over the country. We gain the confidence to begin to date within our community. We muster the courage to have The Talk and date outside the community. We become more discriminating about our dating choices. We become more aware about our and others’ sexual health. We may meet life partners, marry, and have children. We begin to volunteer in our live and online groups. We host social events. We become support leaders. We begin to help others who are just entering the stages we have successfullynavigated ourselves.

We come to realize that we have always been the Universe’s beautiful creatures, and that life can be wonderful and worth every second of living. Our futures are in our hands!

Be gentle with yourself – !

Cat >”<


The Kübler-Ross Model, commonly known as the Five Stages of Grief, was first introduced by Swiss American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her groundbreaking 1969 humanitarian work, On Death and Dying. [3]

Dr. Kübler-Ross wrote her book based on several exchanges with her patients about their reactions to impending death. She later applied this model to other forms of catastrophic loss and significant life events, including the onset of chronic illness.

Dr. Kübler-Ross asserted that these steps are not necessarily experienced in a set order, and some steps may not be experienced at all, though most patients experience at least two. Some steps may repeat themselves, some are experienced at the same time as others. [4]


1. Patricelli, Kathryn, M.A. with Dombeck, Mark, Ph.D., ed. “Stage of Grief Models: Kübler-Ross.” Betty Hardwick MH/MR Center (Web).

2. “Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Biography.” Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians (exhibition). National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (Web).

3. Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. Macmillan, NY. 1969.

4. Kellehear, Allan, M.D. “Foreword (excerpt).” On Death and Dying, 40th Anniversary Edition. Taylor Francis Ltd, United Kingdom. 2009. (Web)


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