Grief is a natural response to losing someone close to you or something you value highly. Grief can result from several types of losses, including diagnosis of a terminal illness, job loss, end of a relationship, loss from theft or natural disaster. Feelings may be intense and can be debilitating at times, often resulting in sadness, anger, anguish, ache and longing for the lost. Other times, people feel numb or disconnected.
Grieving is a process that cannot be predicted or controlled. Being able to connect with others around loss and pain can be helpful in reducing suffering and working towards acceptance. Grief can last for a few weeks to years. Oftentimes, grief can ease with time, however, there are times when grief is more complicated.
What is Complicated Grief?
Complicated grief refers to factors that interfere with healing. These factors could include characteristics of the bereaved person, to the nature of the relationship with the deceased person, the circumstances of the death, or to things that occurred after the death. For example, the death of a child, death of loved one to suicide, loss of a partner, or loss of someone who was abusive are all losses that may all lead to complicated grief.
People suffering from complicated grief know their loved one is gone, but they may not be able to accept it. There may be strong feelings of yearning or longing for the person who died that don’t seem to lessen as time goes on. Someone suffering from complicated grief may have difficulty concentrating, as thoughts, memories, or images of the deceased person are often on their mind. They might have strong feelings of bitterness or anger related to the loss. They find it hard to imagine that life without the deceased person has purpose or meaning, or may be overwhelmed with sadness, guilt, shame, or anguish.
What is the treatment for Grief/Complicated Grief?
It is important before any treatment begins, an assessment of problems and goals is completed. Understanding how grief may manifest in anxiety, depression, or problematic behaviors such as substance use or avoidance can help inform treatment. Oftentimes grief treatment can involve:
- Working to accept the reality of the loss
- Learning how to recognize and manage emotions, including anger, guilt, and sadness
- Processing memories and identifying the impact that the loss has had
- Addressing cognitions and meaning to align with personal values
- Building relationships with others and getting involved in connection
- Connecting with spirituality