How do I know if I am grieving properly?

 

What is grief?

In order to understand how to grieve effectively and healthily, we must first understand what grief is. Grief is a strong, natural emotional reaction that is non-discriminatory and touches us all. Grief can lead to the mental and emotional suffering or distress associated with a loss. To be with grief means appropriately responding to a loss – all kinds of loss, not just death. Here are some additional forms of loss where the effects of grief may also be felt:

  • Loss of a pet
  • Loss of friendships
  • Loss of a job
  • Loss of personal property
  • Loss of a romantic relationship (i.e. marriage)
  • Loss of dreams and hope for the future

 “No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of the night.” – Elie Wiesel

Impacts of Grief

The magnitude of impact from grief can be forceful and may create a shock wave through your life taking a toll on your overall well-being. The effects of grief can be endured in 3 major ways through the experience of psychological, social, and physical responses to the loss. Outlined below are the possible effects someone who is grieving may be experiencing:

Psychological Effects:

  • Increased fear and anxiety (i.e. How will I survive? What am I suppose to do?)
  • Thoughts and feeling of anger and guilt related to the loss
  • Separation pain, sorrow, and longing
  • Disorganization, depression, and despair
  • Diminished self-concern
  • Obsession with the deceased
  • Searching for meaning / identification with the loss
  • Grief spasms (acute upsurge of grief that produces painful emotional and physical sensations)

Social Effects:

  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Withdrawal and isolation from others
  • Involvement in self-destructive, high-conflict relationships
  • Frustration when others show concern for your grief
  • Excessively fearful for losing relationships

Physical Effects:

  • Decreased energy or motivation levels
  • Changes in appetite including weight gain or weight loss
  • Gastrointestinal disturbances
  • Fatigue and difficulties sleeping (too much or too little)
  • Heart Palpitations, trembling, and hot flashes
  • Chest pain and shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Tearfulness and crying
  • Restlessness or lethargy
  • Loss of pleasure/Feelings of emptiness

“Though we encounter it as suffering, grief is in fact an affirmation.” – Leon Wieseltier

Purpose of Grief and Ways to Grieve

Grief reactions are natural responses when you experience a loss and are separated from things you love. Grief responses help us express 3 important things:

1. Our feelings about the loss

2. Our objections to the loss and the desires to undo it and have it not be true

3. The suffering we experience from the impacts of the loss

However, the ultimate goal of grief and mourning is to encourage you to go outside of these reactions to the loss by actively working on adapting to it. The therapeutic purpose of grief and mourning is to get you to the point where you can live with the loss in a healthy manner, after having made the necessary changes to do so.  In order to get to this point, you must be able to embrace the process of grieving by fulfilling the following (not necessarily in sequence):

  1. To accept the finality of the loss and the change in your relationship with the loss;
  2. To acknowledge and express the full range of feelings we experience as a result of the loss that helps us develop a new sense of self;
  3. Adjust to our new environmental and take on healthy new ways of being in the world without your loved one;
  4. Find new people, objects, or activities in which to put the emotional investment that you once placed in your relationship with what was lost.

Essentially, the purpose of active grief work is to help you appreciate that your loss is real and then to make the necessary internal (psychological) and external (social) change to accommodate this reality. Grief s a continuing development, involving many changes over time and is highly individualistic based on our unique perceptions of the loss experienced. It is important to know that we may have our own methods for grieving and it is not necessary for you to have the loss recognized or validated by others in order for you to have permission to grieve.

If you are experiencing the effects of grief and are looking for someone to talk to, then I invite you to reach out and give psychotherapy with me a try. 

“Grief is love turned into an eternal missing….It can’t be contained in hours or days or minutes.”  – Rosamund Lupton

References

Rando, T. (1988). How to go on living when someone you love dies.

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