Selfishness and Grief

Does Grief Make You Selfish?

Whether the loss of a loved one is sudden or expected, there’s no telling how you’ll react to the news. Each cherished person in our lives is unique in their own way, which means the experience of their loss is equally unique. Even if you’ve suffered several losses throughout your life, each encounter brings its own set of emotions and challenges. An unexpected loss will certainly cause shock and disbelief. When a loved one is managing a terminal illness, family and friends are often provided with a foreseeable, finite timeline. Even though there is time to put affairs in order and say goodbye, it still doesn’t prepare people for the experience of losing that loved one.

Grief is complex. The relationship you shared with your departed loved one was one-of-a-kind. A limitless array of emotions and feelings can express themselves. Sometimes they make sense, and sometimes they don’t. It’s not unusual for feelings to conflict with one another. As we face our grief, one of the many feelings that may come forth is selfishness. There’s nothing wrong with this feeling because it’s a natural response to your grief. Like all feelings and emotions associated with grief, they should be acknowledged and processed without judgment. When we face our grief, we allow ourselves to heal in a healthy way. That includes feelings of selfishness.

How Does Grief Make You Selfish?

When we first learn of the passing of a loved one, it’s very common to feel shock. The idea of your loved one not being a part of your life from this moment forward can be unbearable, so much so that it causes people to deny the truth, to shut out any notion of this harsh reality. Grief can be all-encompassing. The world around us begins to dim as our focus draws inward. The mind and body activate “fight or flight” mode to protect itself. Too many signals are firing in the brain. Simple tasks that are normally handled without a problem now become increasingly difficult, such as getting dressed, making a phone call, or carrying on a conversation. The high level of stress we experience during the grief process can cause us to put ourselves first in several ways to survive the ordeal. Here are a few areas where the bereaved or those associated with the bereaved may observe selfish behavior:

Holding On Too Long

Grief has many forms. While grief is usually experienced after the loss of a loved one, we can also grieve for those who are still alive. This type of grief is known as anticipatory grief. A loved one who is afflicted with a terminal disease may be enduring severe pain. It can be extremely difficult for family and friends to witness their struggle; however, it can be just as hard to let them go. In some instances, family members experiencing anticipatory grief may do everything possible to help keep their loved one alive. It can be a confusing time. Knowing what the best course of action to take can be difficult. In any event, those in grief may be partly motivated to hold on to their loved ones as long as possible because they aren’t ready or able to say goodbye.

Times of Need

When a loved one passes, the bereaved need lots of support. Whether it’s help handling household chores, walking the dog, or talking about their feelings, grief-stricken individuals may seem needy or selfish, but the overwhelming stress can take a toll. We’re all human, and there’s only so much we can handle. The minds of the bereaved are mainly focused on their loss. Everything else can get pushed by the wayside. While it may seem selfish, one of the most important aspects of processing grief in a healthy way is to focus on self-care. If a bereaved person can’t return to some sort of manageable baseline, then they aren’t going to have much to offer their friends and family.

Not Getting Over It

For many on the outside looking in, it can appear that the bereaved are indulging in their grief.
Even though some people have a timeline in mind for how long the grief process should take, it doesn’t work that way. There is no timeline. We never fully get over the loss of a loved one. The bereaved simply find a way to manage their loss and move forward with life.

Not Showing Up

As time goes by after the loss of a loved one, grief-stricken individuals may still have difficulty engaging with the world. They can become so fixated on their loss that normal responsibilities continue to be overlooked, such as work obligations, handling bills, or responding to social invitations.


When the bereaved resort to tactics to numb the pain of their loss, such as alcohol or other substances, they are suppressing their feelings and emotions. By doing so, they remain in a constant cycle of despair. As time goes by, their self-destructive behavior can impact relationships with family and friends negatively. Being overwhelmed with grief is not being selfish; however, denying responsibility for your grief-related behavior can be considered so.

How to Deal with the "Selfish" Side of Grief

Grief has a way of alienating the bereaved. It’s a singular experience that only the grief-stricken individual can fully understand. The relationship you shared with your departed loved one is one-of-a-kind, and there will never be another like it. While no one can know your pain, it’s important to acknowledge it to heal. Whatever you authentically feel is valid. Taking care of yourself in a time of stress is not, in and of itself, selfish. However, if you feel troubled by the “selfish” side of grief, the best way to deal with it is to own your grief by facing your feelings, honoring them, and expressing them. Talking to a family member, friend, or counselor can provide comfort and support. Only by owning our grief do we begin to heal and reclaim the beauty in life.

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