What Is Grief?
Grief is a normal human response to the loss of something or something significant. Grief is a journey toward healing and recovering from this significant loss.
Grief reactions may be felt in response to physical losses (the death of a loved one) or in response to symbolic or social losses (divorce, loss of job). Either type of grief reaction involves something being taken away.
Read more about loss.
Before healing from grief may begin, one must accept and manage the pain of loss.
Grief is as individual as each person experiencing it. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.
Grief is a very natural process but we, as highly intelligent humans, often think we can ignore our bodies and hearts and just "get on with it." Pay attention to your body, your heart, your soul and your family. They will never lead you astray.
Normal Patterns of Grief:
Several patterns of grief have been identified and documented, but it is important to remember that grief is as individual as the person experiencing it.
Early Phase of grieving is marked by shock, dismay and disbelief. It leaves a person feeling unproductive, dazed and mechanical as they try to function. This phase of grief may last hours, minutes, days or weeks, although thanks to psychological numbing, the person may not remember what has happened during this period.
Middle Phase of grief is marked by much intense pain with more intense reactions. The middle phase lasts many months. Even after life seems to be back to normal, a chance remark can cause those feelings to resurface.
Late Phase of grief is the process characterized by glimmers of hope, renewed sense of coping and a returning sense of well-being, and a renewed belief in life.
Abnormal Grief Reactions:
Anticipatory Grief is the emotional response that occurs before the loss itself. The emotional response has many of the characteristics of grief itself with a couple exceptions. With anticipatory grief, one hopes that the loss one anticipates will not occur. The uncertainty and wishing it would happen while dreading the finality of the loss make the grieving process more unstable.
Types of Grievers:
Grief is a very complicated emotion and one who is deeply grieving may feel as though he or she is "grieving wrong". There are several types of grievers - none are wrong. All are normal:
The Intuitive Grievers
A person who is an Intuitive Griever feels the experience of grief with great intensely. He or she may be helped by expressing his or her grief emotionally, often by crying. One of the best ways for the Intuitive Griever to cope with his or her grief is to express his or her emotions about the grief freely and openly, possibly in a group setting.
Common Characteristics of Intuitive Grievers include:
- Expresses his or her feelings openly.
- Anguish is expressed with sorrow with tears.
- An Intuitive Griever is not afraid to find support in other people.
- He or she allows the proper time to fully experience the inner pain.
- During the grief process, he or she may become physically exhausted or riddled with anxiety.
- During the grief process, he or she may experience long periods of confusion.
- The confusion may make way toward an inability to concentrate.
- Has the ability to openly discuss the grief.
- May benefit from support groups.
The Instrumental Griever
The Instrumental Griever feels grief, but less intensely and more physically. He or she may use thinking and problem-solve as ways of coping with the grieving experience. The Instrumental Griever must have a tangible, physical way to express the grief. He or she may be reluctant to talk about feelings.
Common Characteristics of Instrumental Grievers Include:
- He or she may push aside feelings of grief in order to cope with the present situation.
- Chooses active ways of expressing grief.
- May be hesitant to discuss his or her feelings.
- May use humor to express his or her feelings as well as to manage anger.
- Feelings may only be expressed in private.
- Needs - and seeks - solitude to reflect upon the grief and adapt to the loss.
- He or she may not find a support group setting an ideal place to discuss his or her feelings.
The Dissonant Griever:
The Dissonant Griever handles grief one way but feels uncomfortable with the manner in which they experience grief. A Dissonant Griever may feel that openly expressing his or her feelings about the grief may be inappropriate. Or, an Instrumental Griever may feel guilt and shame for being unable to express his or her emotions about the grief in the way that an Intuitive Griever can.
These conflicting feelings make it uncomfortable for the Dissonant Griever to deal with their grief and, therefore, harder for them to grieve
What Is Complicated Grief?
Complicated grief is grieving that is incapacitating, usually over a long period of time, and involves disorganized, depressed behavior. Professional help is always needed in cases of complicated grief.
Symptoms of Complicated Grief:
- Excessive focus on the loss
- Continued and intense longing/pining
- Difficulty accepting the loss
- Feeling numb or detached
- Distracting or consuming sorrow
- Feelings of bitterness
- Difficulty enjoying life
- Trouble moving on
- Difficulty performing normal routines
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- Thoughts that life is pointless
- Irritability or agitation
Abbreviated Grief: Abbreviated grief is grief that is short-lived but genuine. It may occur in situations in which the deceased is quickly replaced (by remarriage or something similar).
Absent Grief: Absent grief is a situation in which there are no outward signs of grieving following the loss of a loved one. Absent grief may be grief that is stuffed down deep inside only to emerge in other ways like irritability, anger, or depression.
Converted Grief: Converted grief is grief that is displayed through excessive physical or psychological symptoms that are not linked by the person to their loss.
Delayed Grief: Delayed grief involves the postponement of grief for weeks, months and years. Delayed grief can abruptly be ended by subsequent losses or losses of others that are similar to their own.
Disenfranchised Grief: Disenfranchised Grief is a type of sorrow not publicly or socially recognized and the reality of the loss is unrecognized by society. Society may, in fact, stigmatize the grieving of the loss. This may occur with abortions, suicide, drug overdose, or other socially unacceptable deaths.
Distorted Grief: Distorted grief is morbid grief reaction in which anger and guilt are the two distorted types of emotions displayed.
Inhibited Grief: For those who have inhibited grief, there is some outward evidence that the person is grieving, but his or her reactions are less than expected in respect to the loss. This may occur with people who have unresolved issues with the dead or other negative emotions regarding the loss.
Grief in Children:
Naturally children will display grief differently than adults. Children who are unable to express their complex feelings of loss may act out through increased demands for food, love, and attention or exhibiting babyish behavior. Because children have a limited ability to consider the world outside their own sphere of influence, they may blame themselves for a loss. It is important to address this concern with children and reassure them that the loss was not their fault.
Read more about how to talk to children about death.
If your grief is so intense that you have thoughts of suicide, please pick up the phone and dial 911. In addition, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is open 7 days a week, 24 hours per day: 1-800-273-8255.
Resource Pages on Different Loss Types
Resource Pages On How To Help Someone Who Has Experienced A Loss
Resource Pages Explaining Loss To Children and Teens
Other Topics Related To Grief
Additional Grief and Grieving Resources:
GriefShare is an international website which helps individuals locate local grief recovery support groups in the US, Canada, UK, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.
The Good Grief Center is a comprehensive resource for grief support and referrals.
GriefNet.org provides email-based support groups for adults and children experiencing grief.
Children's Grief Education Association has a wonderful site built for families helping children through their grief.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry provides an information sheet on grief in children along with more specific information on sleep problems, pediatric depression, and the loss of a pet.