Bereavement Counseling

A Look Into Complicated Grief and Noticing The Signs For Help

Grief is a natural response to loss. While it is a universal experience, every personal experience can differ. While conventionally grief is an emotional response, extreme cases can have physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, cultural, spiritual, and philosophical responses. The continuing, heightened state of mourning is identified as complicated grief. Individuals experiencing complicated grief, should seek help to be able to heal and move on from loss.

Close up of a sad person leaning & clutching hands with another person comforting them

The Signs of Complicated Grief

As the saying goes, time heals all wounds. Some people can find themselves healing from grief in a relatively short period of time, being able to move on, can continue to day-to-day activities and carry out social interactions. For other people, grief can leave them stuck in the same spot while life moves on around them. There are several signs to look out for if you or someone you know is having trouble dealing with grief.

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Depression
  • Constant crying
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased irritability or anger
  • Panic Attacks
  • Blaming oneself for a loved one’s death
  • Loss of passion for hobbies/activities
  • Constantly keeping yourself busy to avoid facing your emotions
  • You/someone you love are experiencing unexplained illnesses
  • You/someone you love have experienced multiple losses in a short period of time
  • Intense longing for passed loved one
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach aches
  • Frequently visiting familiar places in hopes of seeing a loved one or avoiding familiar places entirely to avoid triggering memories
  • Substance abuse/addictive behavior (alcohol, drugs, gambling)
  • Avoiding social interaction, even with close friends and family
  • Suffering unexplained illnesses
  • Hallucinations/voices
  • Numbness to emotions
  • Fear of forming new relationships entirely
  • Unable to perform self-care
  • You/others expressed worry for well-being
  • Denial that a loved one has passed away
  • You/someone you love lacks support

The Different Grief Models

In 1969, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified the Five Stages of Grief:

Denial – a defense mechanism that helps the brain not only numb the intense emotions that come with grief but gives individuals more time to overcome these same emotions. Moving out of the denial stage will cause suppressed emotions to arise, which can be quite difficult for people to face.

Anger – this stage is considering a masking effect that hides the other emotions and pain one carries with grief. This anger can be directed at other people or inanimate objects. Not everyone experiences the anger phase, while others tend to linger here. When the anger subsides, the rational part of your brain begins to process what is happening.

Bargaining – while feeling vulnerable, helpless, and experiencing intense emotions, it is normal for people to try to regain control by creating “what if” and “if only” scenarios.

Depression – this is considered the “quiet” stage of grief. Some may find themselves lost in their emotions while others embrace them and work through them in healthy manners. Depression is not a well-defined mental state; it can be messy, vary from person to person, and leave individuals overwhelmed and confused.

Acceptance – though this stage may seem like the silver lining, acceptance is not necessarily a happy experience. Though individuals may have not moved past the loss entirely, they have come to accept and understand how life is now. Continuing moving forward will bring good and bad days, but acceptance can help start the healing process.

The Dual Process Model of grief was created by Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut in 1995. This model breaks down the process of grief into loss-oriented activities and restoration-oriented activities. It is believed that during the grieving process, individuals will switch between both activities until they have accepted or “moved on” from the loss.

Loss-oriented activities are stressors related directly to death which include crying, yearning, sadness, denial, anger, dwelling on death and avoiding restoration activities.

Restoration-oriented activities are stressors that actively distract you from grief. This could include adapting to a new role, developing new ways of connecting with loved ones, working, cleaning, tending to everyday chores, exercise and even cultivating a new way of life.

In-Person vs Online Counseling

When an individual decides to get help with their grief, there are in-person and online options to help best suit the person mourning and their lifestyle.

Circle of people sitting together holding hands

In-Person Counseling allows one-on-one time with a counselor where individuals talk about their feelings of grief then the counselor will suggest healthy coping mechanisms. Another option for in-person counseling is a grief support group. These groups, usually run by a trained facilitator, offer a safe place to work through your emotions with people who share similar experiences.

Online Counseling has a wide range of options for dealing with grief. If an individual has limited time or mobility, they can get access to online support forums that offer help and information from home and do not always require interaction. One-on-one grief counseling can take place over the phone, FaceTime, Skype, or similar applications for people in rural areas, who have limited health resources, or social anxieties. There are also online grief support groups if an individual wants more structure than a forum. Typically, you can join a group session in real time or view a recording later.

Moving on From Mourning

If you or someone you know are experiencing the signs of complicated grief and are ready to receive help, Research For Life has resources to connect people with Bereavement Counseling. Sometimes grieving can feel endless, regardless of if an individual was prepared for loss or not, but it does not need to stay that way. In addition to receiving counseling, it is important to take care of oneself by facing/expressing feelings, maintaining interests, not letting people dictate how one grieves, and looking after one’s physical health. With the right help, moving on, healing and acceptance is possible for all.

“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.”
– Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

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