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Why is Grief so Complicated?

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

Grief is an experience that many of us can relate to on some level. While the standard understanding of grief is typically the physical loss of someone we know or love, there is much more to grief that can make it feel complicated. While we all will experience grief at some point in our lives, most of us don’t really know what to do with it when it shows up. So why is it so complicated? Why is there no one size fits all in processing grief? Here are some uncomplicated facts about grief:

- Grief can have many different forms: physical loss of someone (living or deceased), loss of something significant in your own life (job, home, etc.), or a major life transition (divorce, relationship, identity).


- Physical grief symptoms can show up as: digestive problems, weight changes, pains/illnesses, sleep problems, or difficulties with daily activities (Very Well Mind).


- Just because we may have already grieved a loss (such as gone to a funeral) does not mean those feelings/emotions go away completely, rather we learn that grief has no timeline.


- It’s normal to have conflicting feelings about our loss (guilt/shame often show up when we are feeling conflicted about the loss of someone or something).

While this list is just a short example, it can feel overwhelming with all the information available. Let’s break down some key things about grief to better help you process any grief you may be experiencing.

Different Types of Grief (Provided by: Psych Central)

1. Abrupt Grief: sudden or unexpected loss (job, relationship, death, etc.)


2. Prolonged Grief aka Complicated Grief: grief that stays around long-term. (may significantly impair different areas in your life (or show up in different ways like depression or anxiety. It may be helpful to speak with a trained professional if you are experiencing this form of grief).


3. Absent grief: experiencing a loss but not having typical feelings of grief (or any feelings surrounding the grief at all).


4. Delayed grief: may feel like absent grief, but can show up later in your grief timeline (think of months after the loss has taken place and you get an overload of grief).


5. Disenfranchised grief: loss that is stigmatized or disregarded by society.


6. Collective grief: this type of loss affects many people within our communities, cultures, etc. (war, mass shootings).


7. Climate grief: loss surrounding the environment (global warming).


8. Secondary loss grief: stems from the result of a loss (such as death of a loved one or divorce) and the aftermath from the loss (Example: people in your life pulling away after the loss happens).


9. Anticipatory grief: knowing beforehand, the inevitable loss that is coming and experiencing feelings of grief. (Example: loved ones preparing for the loss of someone who has a long-term illness).

Understanding different types of grief can be helpful in navigating the feelings you may be experiencing and can help put a name to what is going on for you. Check out below to see some common stages of grief that you may also be identifying with.

Stages of Grief

The Kubler-Ross model of Grief (5 stages of grief) helps provide some primary emotional reactions when dealing with loss. There is no specific order these stages go in. You may also notice that you go in and out of these different stages throughout your grief process.

- Denial: Some people may experience difficulties with accepting the loss. If dealing with relationships or other forms of loss, some people may try to convince themselves this isn’t true, nothing really happened, or they may have unrealistic expectations about getting back with their partner, etc.

- Anger: Sometimes people may experience pain in another form other than what we normally hear with grief (sadness). Anger often comes up when dealing with loss and because this emotion is often avoided as “bad,” people may not process what’s underlying that feeling of anger.

- Bargaining: This stage helps people hold onto some form of hope when experiencing pain from a loss. Often, people may think about doing anything or sacrificing anything to get back to how they felt before the loss occurred (also note that feelings of guilt may be another emotion that comes up during this stage).

- Depression: For many people, this stage is often felt throughout the grief process. Sadness is a universal response to loss. Depression is felt and experienced in different ways, so never worry that you are feeling the wrong way during this part of your process. When depression (or sadness) is at an intense level, you may also notice fatigue, distractedness, sleeping and eating difficulties, not wanting to get up and do anything, or not experiencing joy in things you used to love. While this stage can be overwhelming, it is a part of the process (note that if you are feeling prolonged symptoms of depression, it may be helpful to reach out to a trained professional for additional support).

- Acceptance: This stage may feel very conflicting. The word “acceptance” doesn’t mean that you have moved on, forgotten, or are ok with the loss that has occurred. People go in and out of this stage (as with all the other stages), so there may be days that feel like you’ve reached this part of the process and other days where it is hard to accept. All these experiences are normal and necessary. Like I’ve said in my previous blog, feel your feelings in any way that they show up for you.

Psych Central has some additional information on the 5 stages of grief, as well as other stages that may be helpful to look at.

How to Cope with Grief

While each experience of grief is different for everyone, this also goes along with the way people cope with their loss. Not everything will feel right for you, so take time to explore different options and ideas to help you along the way. Grief is hard, complicated, and at times messy. There is no set timeline on how long we grieve our loss or what stages we should be in during this process. Tune into what your mind and body are telling you, reach out to support when needed, and feel those feelings! Listed below are additional information and helpful tools if you or someone you know is grieving a loss.

Tools:

Articles:

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