Navigation Links Adds Up the Emotional Costs of Foreclosure With the Five Stages of Foreclosure Grief

BERKELEY, Calif., April 17 /PRNewswire/ -- Losing your home to foreclosure can feel as traumatic as the death of a loved one. And with so many Americans facing this dreaded possibility -- more than two million U.S. homeowners are currently in default, according to USA TODAY (Nov. 11, 2007) -- it's important to acknowledge the psychological effects as well as the financial and practical ones.

In her seminal book On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages that dying patients commonly experience when given a terminal prognosis: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

"Not everyone goes through these stages in the same order," says Dr. Jeff Wood, licensed psychologist and author of Getting Help. "People experiencing foreclosure, while it's not a life-threatening scenario, will have similar symptoms," he added.

Denial. "People commonly ignore the first warning signs of impending foreclosure -- the missed payment, the call from the lender, even the formal 'Notice of Default' that is the prelude to a foreclosure sale," says Stephen Elias, President of the Bankruptcy Law Project and author of Nolo's The New Bankruptcy: Will it Work for You? He adds, "Envelopes go unopened, notices go unread, and phone messages are quickly erased. If you're like many homeowners, learning that you might be facing foreclosure triggers fear of ending up in the street."

It's important to remember that foreclosure is an orderly process, Elias says. You'll get notice before the process starts and before the house is eventually sold, if it comes to that. It usually takes the lender quite a while to get the property into the hands of a new owner. Even then, in most states, the new owner has to give you a notice to leave, typically 30 days. In other words, you'll almost certainly have plenty of time to make new shelter arrangements.

"Avoidance," explains Wood, "is the core element of most anxiety disorders." While losing your home can be traumatic, avoiding the reality won't help your state of mind.

Anger. "When it finally dawns on homeowners that they might actually lose their house, they become angry -- with themselves, their spouse, or the lender," says Elias. "After all, it must be someone's fault that they signed a variable interest note that would reset much higher in a year or two, or that they bought a house they obviously couldn't afford."

Bargaining. Anger gives way to negotiation. People may try to strike a bargain with God -- "please just let me keep my house, and I'll get a better job and work harder and be a better person. ..."

Depression. As the foreclosure proceeds with no solution in sight, it's natural to be unhappy and feel insecure. They may feel that things are hopeless -- and so miss out on opportunities to fight the foreclosure or make the best financial decisions given the circumstances.

Acceptance. A homeowner who accepts the situation, and can move beyond denial, anger, and depression, can take steps to fix things. Even people who are behind on the mortgage may be able to keep their houses. Their first step should be to call a free, nonprofit foreclosure counselor, approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for help in working something out with the lender. You can find a HUD-approved agency at or by calling 800-569-4287. (Nolo's Bankruptcy Resource Center) has helpful articles on a variety of situations related to foreclosure. Additionally, bankruptcy or real estate attorneys may be able to offer creative solutions to keep people in their homes. Information about local attorneys can often be found through Nolo's new, free Lawyer Directory, which provides profiles of local lawyers (

Psychologists use a term called "radical acceptance," says Dr. Wood. "You don't have to like something, or agree it's a good thing. But the sooner you're able to confront it, the quicker you'll be able to recover from it."

About Nolo

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