Worried Man © Corbis

Many years ago, I wrote up my original seven stages of debt, as adapted from the five stages of grief described by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book "On Death and Dying."

Experiencing the emotional loss of a loved one and going through the loss of your financial life are similar in some distinct ways. However, the emotional stages of debt have two additional components that the grief stages lack. And these stages are almost magical, as they can lead to a new and better life.

When I was going through my financial troubles, I distinctly remember passing through all the stages of debt. And in helping thousands and thousands of people over the years deal with their financial problems, I've clearly witnessed them passing though these same stages.

But people don't necessarily pass through these stages in an orderly fashion; they may jump back and forth. Yet in the end, the healthiest way to deal with any debt problem is to acknowledge each stage of debt and be aware of how you are feeling at the moment. This will help you understand how your emotional state may be clouding your judgment about how to deal with your debt.

If you are living with financial problems, I challenge you to identify what stage you are in now.

The 7 Stages of Debt

1. Denial: It begins a long time before the financial problem rears its ugly head and gets in your face. Denial distorts reality like a street drug. It's addictive. As an impartial observer, I've seen bad situations brewing time after time. But the person about to land in the sticky stuff often says the same thing: "It won't happen to me."

Whatever you are in denial about will wind up smacking you in the face like a cinder block on a rope. Even if you don't know what that's like from actual experience, I think you can imagine what kind of a mark it will leave.

2. Anger: In most situations, especially when it comes to money troubles, anger is a waste of time and emotional energy. Remember what I said before? Your situation just is what it is. You can be angry all you want, but things will get better faster if you can turn that anger into a fire inside of you that creates intense motivation to properly deal with the underlying situation and take positive action to repair it.

3. Depression: There is no question that money troubles are unpleasant. They typically lead to some kind of loss, and that makes us sad or even seriously depressed. The loss can be anything from cutting out the cleaning service to having to sell your home and move to a cheaper area. No doubt some of the things you might go through may be difficult, but rather than stew over them, try to put them into perspective.

If you had your choice of either dealing with what you are going through right now or getting poked in the eye with a sharp stick, which would you do? It's a no-brainer, right?

Also, for some people depression is rooted in brain chemistry. No matter how hard you try to lift yourself up, you may need to talk to a psychiatrist or other doctor about medications to help you escape the cycle of depression. I've watched the miracle of recovery from depression in ones I love after they worked with a medical professional and were prescribed specific medications. It took a while to fine-tune the dosage, but the results were lifesaving for them.

Here is the easiest advice to give but the hardest advice to follow: Suck it up or take action and get medical help so you can move on toward a solution. Bad things happen to good people. Life is unfair and sometimes cruel. It is what it is. Heard that before?

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