At some point in our lives, we will be stricken by grief from losing a loved one.
Whether it is for a family member, a pet, a dear friend, or even a person whom we admire, grief affects us all at some point. You can also experience grief when you lose not just someone, but something you love and value. It is a human emotion which is shared among everyone yet experienced differently by each individual. Your grief will be similar yet completely different from another’s.
In this post, we’ll be going through the different types of grief that you can experience while going through a loss. We’ll also make some suggestions for how you might be able to deal with the grief in whichever form it presents itself.
What Is Grief?
Grief is the normal and natural reaction to a significant emotional loss of any kind. It can be a conflicting feeling caused by the end of, or change in, a familiar pattern of life. It might be felt in a small way, such as grief at long trip ending or even a TV series.
The death of someone in your life is the most dramatic change which occurs in someone’s life. Grief following the death of a loved one can be felt when you are used to getting support from someone who has always been there, only to find when you need them again, they are no longer there.
Grief reactions are individual and unique. There are no stages of grief, as there are in facing death and dying. This is a common confusion. Many people think that there are stages of grief, as outlined by Elizabeth Kubler Ross’s study of dying and death. The stages of coping with death and dying and death are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Grief, on the other hand, cannot be neatly be categorized into stages and is not linear. Grief can be highly cyclical and affects different people in different ways. The only thing it has in common among everyone is that it is natural and affects all human beings.
The way grief affects you depends on what kind of loss you have suffered, your upbringing, your beliefs or religion, your age, your relationships, and your physical and mental health. Your experience can be as physical as it is mental and emotional.
The type of loss can also affect the type of grief you experience. For example, a sudden loss may be experienced differently than a loss that occurs at the end of a terminal illness.
The 8 Types of Grief
Although grief cannot be neatly categorized into stages, researchers have been able to chart out the many different types of grief. The following are the various types and how they develop.
1. Anticipatory Grief
Anticipatory grief occurs in anticipation of an impending loss. For example, if you know that someone has terminal cancer, you will feel sadness at their loss even prior to their passing away.
2. Normal or Common Grief
When going through normal or common grief, people are able to function and continue with basic daily activities. Although they may find that daily life is more difficult, they are still able to continue working, cleaning, and completing the other routine tasks.
Normal grief includes emotional reactions ranging from numbness, shock, and disbelief. Powerful feelings of separation anxiety are felt by people going through normal grief. People suffer from painful feelings of yearning, visions of their loved one’s death, and other preoccupations with their loved one while undergoing normal grief.
Normal grief is typically expressed through crying, sighing, and having dreams of the deceased. You may seek relief from these feelings by taking refuge in things or places associated with the passed individual. When suffering from normal grief, physical symptoms include insomnia, lack of appetite, fatigue, and trouble concentrating.
Usually, normal grief comes with intense pangs of distress that last between 20 to 30 minutes. During these episodes, bursts of crying and emotions may make any functioning impossible. These can occur completely unexpectedly.
As time moves on, these bursts become less frequent, less intense, and shorter. Following the loss of a loved one, normal grief generally diminishes in six to 24 months, after which people overcome their grief and re-contextualize the loss of their loved one. Although the normal grief experience is painful, most people are able to cope fairly well and may even experience personal growth from the experience.
3. Complicated Grief
Complicated grief occurs in about 7 percent of people facing a loss. Complicated grief is when you are completely overwhelmed with grief. You are constantly thinking about the death, worry about what “could have” happened, and obsessively avoid any reminder of the death.
Rather than reflecting upon the reality of the death, a person with complicated grief gets caught up with irrational thinking about what could have been done differently. A person with complicated grief may catastrophize about the future or worrying incessantly about a range of bad things that may happen because his or her loved one is gone. They are not able to come to terms of with the loss at any time and are almost constantly facing intense bursts of grief.
Complicated grief symptoms often interfere with normal daily functioning and with the person’s ability to find meaning and purpose in life.
This type of grief is best diagnosed by clinicians. Those afflicted with complicated grief typically need counseling to return to normal and avoid developing a mental illness.
4. Delayed Grief
One common experience among the bereaved is delayed grief. When a loss occurs and a person is not in a position to fully experience the grief and sadness, the feelings can surface at later times. Things that can block the initial grief process include:
- Age: Losing a parent at a young age can delay the grieving process. Young children are especially prone to this as their brains are not developed enough to deal with the loss.
- Substance use: Using substances or drug abuse to dull the pain of loss will prevent a person from grappling with grief and overcoming it. When the grieving process is interrupted in this way, it comes back at a later point.
- Social context: If you were encouraged or forced to bury your feelings after a loss, as many are during a war or another dangerous situation when grieving is impossible, this may interrupt the grieving process.
5. Inhibited Grief
This is when people avoid or escape their grief instead of experiencing the emotions of grief. You might find that you distracting yourself by spending a lot of time cleaning the house or keeping your mind busy all day. You might also passively avoid it by suppressing your thoughts and feelings or not expressing how you really feel to people you’re close to. Inhibited grief prevents a person from fully digesting the experience, and may lead to delayed grief.
6. Disenfranchised Grief
Disenfranchised grief is grief that is not socially accepted or even acknowledged. Examples of disenfranchised grief include loss of a pet, abortion, loss of a body part, loss of a personality from dementia, and loss of a loved one who is not blood-related like an ex-spouse. Society disenfranchises grief and mourners by not recognizing the relationship between the deceased and a survivor, the importance of the loss, or the need to grieve.
7. Absent Grief
This is where a person shows little to no signs of distress about the death of a loved one. This pattern of grief is thought to be an impaired response resulting from denial or avoidance of the emotional realities of the loss.
8. Exaggerated Grief
This is where grief remains prominent in a person’s life years beyond the loss. It doesn’t seem to ease like in normal grief and bursts of emotions still happen for an extended period beyond normal grieving times.
How to Move Forward From Grief
The most effective way to get through grief is to allow it to run its course, experience the feelings of sadness when they arise, and seek mental health professionals as needed.
There are many support groups available for those going through a significant loss. Many of these groups have grief support programs which can be a valuable addition to your life as you go through the grief process.
Don’t avoid regular activities — try to return to a normal routine. Your loved one wouldn’t have wanted you to fall into despair, and the best way to start to climb out of a pit of sadness is by feeling like your normal self again.
Expect that sadness will arise at various times throughout the day. When this happens, take a step back and take a few breaths. You can even consider using Spire, which will send you a friendly warning when you are feeling stressed — for example, when grief is arising.
Grief and Personal Growth
When we are in midst of grief, it may seem like you’ll never feel better. But the reality is that you will. It may take a lot of time, but one day, you’ll feel as normal as you used to be.
Although it may be hard to acknowledge, grief does have a positive aspect. It can be a huge source of personal and emotional growth. It can help you relate to many more people and give you an important perspective on your own life.
We have no choice about loss. We have no choice about the grief that ensues. But we do have a choice in how we let grief change us and how we process the experience.