What is Grief?
Grief is a natural response to loss. It can be accompanied or compounded by various emotions, such as sadness, loneliness, confusion, and guilt, especially if it is a response to the loss of a close relative or friend through death. However, grief can also arise from many other losses, such as the loss of a pet, a job, a relationship or an important role.
It is common to experience some losses in life and each person would need to go through their own grieving process. The grieving process doesn’t always look the same or follow the same trajectory. Particularly when the type of loss we face is different, we can expect differences in the way we work through our emotions.
Anticipatory grief, which occurs before an impending loss, is experienced by many people whose loved ones have received a diagnosis of a terminal illness. These people often need to keep caring for their ill loved one whilst coping with the impending loss. The grieving process is also complicated by feelings of hope and uncertainty, given that it has not actually happened yet.
Ambiguous grief occurs when there is physical presence with psychological absence, or psychological presence with physical absence. People who are experiencing this form of grief may not realise that they are grieving, especially if the loved one is still alive. For instance, when a loved one suffers from a condition like dementia or addiction, it may feel as though the person you knew and loved is not there for you the way they used to be. Conversely, in situations such as miscarriages, missing person cases, and loss of physical contact due to immigration, feelings of loss may arise because our loved ones are not physically around.
Because of how personal and specific each loss is, there is no one proper way to grieve. Stages of grief have been theorized, but these general patterns may show up differently or in a different order. Evidently, grief is not always easy to recognise.
What is Complicated Grief?
Complicated grief lasts for a much longer time than normal grief does. While there may be differences in the grieving process, it should eventually lead toward acceptance of the loss. Many people who experience complicated grief are unable to accept the reality of the loss and may have trouble directing their focus away from what they have lost. They may perceive life as meaningless, which can lead to challenges in day-to-day functioning. When grief persists for much longer than it usually does, and does not diminish in intensity, it may be a sign that a person is facing complicated grief.
It is unclear whether complicated grief can be prevented. Some of the predictive characteristics for complicated grief, such as attachment style, prior loss, and the nature of the relationship, are not within one’s control. Other factors, such as the availability of social support and one’s stress level, are circumstantial. However, seeking professional help soon after a loss is likely to be helpful, especially because complicated grief is more likely to follow when an individual already has a mental health condition such as depression. In any case, therapy can help with the process of working through their grief and other emotions, and to learn healthy coping skills.
How Can You Support Someone Who Is Grieving?
Between coping with the loss, and possibly feeling alone in the journey toward healing, grief can be a lonely experience. This can be compounded if one’s grief does not fit into societal norms which prescribe how long, for whom, and the ways in which people should grieve.
Here are some tips on how you can better support someone who is grieving:
Try to refrain from judging. People may feel judged or alone when others pass remarks on the way they are grieving, such as when they are perceived to be insufficiently upset, or if they have been grieving for too long. This also takes the focus away from the person you are trying to support.
Give the person space. While we may want to encourage others or help them to get on with their lives, grief follows its own timeline. It may be unhelpful to urge someone to seek closure before they are ready to.
Listen and talk to them in a way that suits their needs. It may be challenging for you to understand how a person wants to be supported, which makes it all the more important to listen. Try asking sensitive questions about how they feel and how they would like you to help, encouraging the person to express their needs to you.
How Therapy Can Be Helpful
The grieving process is necessary, and you need space to work through the emotions that come with it. If grieving is healthy and natural, why consider therapy? Simply put, working through these emotions can be challenging. Visiting a professional can provide you with a safe space in which you can talk about what you are going through. It can also help you to find healthy ways to adapt to the loss.
Loss is often very emotionally stressful as the grieving process involves experiencing painful feelings and finding meaning in life, whilst accepting the loss as part of reality. Therapy can help you to navigate this difficult experience and work through your thoughts and emotions in a way that is healthy and productive.
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