Grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss. Because it is a reflection of what we love, it can feel all-encompassing. Grief is not limited to the loss of people, but when it follows the loss of a loved one, it may be compounded by feelings of guilt and confusion, especially if the relationship was a difficult one.
Coping with the loss of someone or something you love is one of life’s biggest challenges. You may associate grieving with the death of a loved one—which is often the cause of the most intense type of grief—but any loss can cause grief, including:
The sadness of losing someone you love never goes away completely, but it shouldn’t remain center stage. If the pain of the loss is so constant and severe that it keeps you from resuming your life, you may be suffering from a condition known as complicated grief. Complicated grief is like being stuck in an intense state of mourning. You may have trouble accepting the death long after it has occurred or be so preoccupied with the person who died that it disrupts your daily routine and undermines your other relationships.
Symptoms of complicated grief include:
Because grief obeys its own trajectory, there is no timetable for feelings of pain after loss; nor is it possible to avoid suffering altogether. In fact, attempts to suppress or deny grief are just as likely to prolong the process, while also demanding additional emotional effort.
Similarly, the misperception that “more” grief is better or that there is a proper way to grieve can make the process more difficult.
For some people, grief is a short-term phenomenon, also known as acute grief, although the pain may return unexpectedly at a later time. But other individuals may experience prolonged grief, also known as complicated grief, lasting months or years. Without help and support, such grief can lead to isolation and chronic loneliness.
Myth: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it
Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing, it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.
Myth: It’s important to “be strong” in the face of loss.
Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.
Myth: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.
Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.
Myth: Grieving should last about a year.
Fact: There is no specific time frame for grieving. How long it takes differs from person to person.
Myth: Moving on with your life means forgetting about your loss.
Fact: Moving on means you’ve accepted your loss—but that’s not the same as forgetting. You can move on with your life and keep the memory of someone or something you lost as an important part of you. In fact, as we move through life, these memories can become more and more integral to defining the people we are.
Many of the symptoms of grief overlap with those of depression. There is sadness, and often the loss of capacity for pleasure; insomnia; and loss of interest in eating or taking care of oneself. But symptoms of grief tend to lessen over time, although they may be temporarily reactivated on anniversaries or when other reminders of a loss arise. While negative thoughts such as “life is unfair” and “I’ll never get over this” are part of the normal grieving process, it is important to prevent them from guiding your actions.
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