Is grief a problem?
Grief is a painful and often miserable experience. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is a personal journey, so we travel on our grief journey at our own pace and in our own way. Most of the time in grief, it is not the inherent nature of the behaviour that qualifies it as being a problem. Rather it is how that particular grief response manifests itself in the individual's day to day life. Sometimes it is hard to identify when our grief is beginning to be a problem. It can be very useful to make the distinction.
In order for any emotion or behaviour to feel abnormal, it needs to be out of context for the situation. Certain situations call for more extreme responses than others. When someone dies, it is normal to feel a range of distressing emotions - sad, empty, angry as well as irregular sleeping and eating patterns. These responses can be intense but they usually reduce over time. Each response to bereavement is an individual one.
Studies indicate that for most people, grief intensity reduces as we deal with our grief and we are usually and significantly on the mend by six months; this does not mean that the sadness and loss have gone away, just that life goes on, having felt it had paused for a while. However, this moving forward needs to be seen in the wider context - when many losses happen together the grieving process often takes longer, interrupted or delayed.
There may be good and bad days and certain dates and anniversaries may be triggered for difficult emotions but they usually grow less frequent and with less intensity. If we withdraw from everyday life for too long then such withdrawal may be considered no longer helpful behaviour. Grief can bring new and unfamiliar emotions, thoughts and experiences - related to losing control, being unsafe or feelings of emptiness or nothingness. These experiences may be new and we may struggle to cope with them.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, then it is important you seek professional help and get support because these thoughts are indicating intense personal distress. Finally, when we are grieving it can impact on the people and relationships around us; such interactions can become fraught. Others may want us to 'get back to normal'. But we can only do that when we are ready to do so.
My article on complicated grief explores how people often feel when they believe they do not have 'the right' to grieve. They often remain isolated and on the edge; and as far as they are concerned, how they feel is of less importance to the person who has directly experienced the loss. This can impact on relationships; communication and conflicts can emerge which can leave all concerned feeling further isolated, lost and frustrated.
Characteristics of problematic grief can include anger, episodes of rage, an inability to focus on anything other than the death of a loved one, focusing intensely on reminders of the deceased or excessive avoidance of such reminders. Intense feelings of sadness, pain, detachment and longing for the deceased; and self-destructive behaviour can also be present.
Getting support and joining a bereavement support group can help; grief typically causes feelings of isolation so talking about our situation with others mourning a death might help to gain a different perspective. Some challenges might or might not be attributed to problematic grief, this can include delayed grief, sometimes because we have too much stress and need more time to process the reality of the loss; or feel we do not have the right (we do!) which does not always get acknowledged so we feel we have no alternative but to mourn in private when we would prefer to talk about it.
Generally speaking, it usually helps to have extra support, help and guidance when we are grieving.
Grief is not a single emotion. It is an experience of being. And it is very personal to each of us.
We do it in our unique way and it is normal to cry, to feel lethargic, withdraw from social events and relationships. Feelings of guilt, of loneliness and depression, can be followed by a return to a 'new normal' in the following weeks and months; we don't entirely forget our loss but, thanks to the ability of us humans to adapt, we learn how to cope with the absence and the scar on our heart and soul.
Talking to someone is important in order to gain an understanding of what is going on for you and to get some perspective. A professional therapist can help.
Please remember you do not need to have a problem to 'get help'. Support and guidance can take place wherever we are on our grief journey.