How to Cope with the 9 Types of Grief

9 Types of Grief and Ways of Coping

Grief is a complex, multi-faceted emotional experience that can express itself in various ways. While it may be very common, it’s also an often misunderstood area. No matter how many times we face grief throughout our lives, each encounter is unique. With loss, there’s no telling how we’ll react in any given scenario because the relationships we share with the departed are one-of-a-kind. Understanding the different types of grief is essential for navigating the intricate labyrinth of emotions that accompany loss. When we acknowledge our loss and face our feelings, we can healthily process grief. Here are eight types of grief the individuals may encounter:

Normal Grief

Grief is a normal response to loss. While grief is different for each person, many people have “common” emotional reactions in the following days, weeks, or months following a big loss. Some normal symptoms include shock, denial, sadness, anger, confusion, and loneliness. The range of emotions stemming from normal grief can have an impact on a person’s physical health, behavior, and even social interactions.

Anticipatory Grief

Even though a loss hasn't occurred yet, it’s still possible to feel grief. If an individual is expecting the loss of a loved one in the near future, they may be experiencing a form of grief known as anticipatory grief. An impending loss, such as a terminally ill family member, can be days, months, or even a few years away. While anticipating an upcoming loss can be stressful, there is a silver lining. Individuals have an opportunity to express love, provide comfort, hold meaningful conversations, and develop some form of closure with terminally ill loved ones before they pass. Having this quality time together may help soften the blow once the physical loss occurs.

Complicated Grief

There are no set timelines with grief; however, normal grief usually begins to fade away around six months or so after a loss. Complicated grief is a very intense, prolonged continuation of grief that shows no signs of dissipating. Those suffering from complicated grief may feel heightened stress and anxiety. It's one of the most challenging forms of grief to process because it doesn’t resolve on its own. Seeking the guidance of a mental health professional is critical for working through complicated grief healthily.

Disenfranchised Grief

While a particular loss may have a devastating impact on an individual, others may not openly acknowledge it. Some examples include the loss of a pet, a non-traditional relationship, a former spouse, or a loss from suicide. When grief-stricken individuals find their grief invalidated, they're experiencing disenfranchised grief. Support is a key component for processing any type of grief healthily. Disenfranchised grief exacerbates normal symptoms of grief because the bereaved aren’t able to express their feelings on the loss fully. Minimizing, isolating, or shunning a person with grief is detrimental to their mental health. Those suffering from this kind of grief must find a supportive community and seek professional counseling to cope properly.

Delayed Grief

Delayed grief is a postponed reaction to a loss. Sometimes, it can surface several years later. For some people, the immediate time around the loss is filled with a whirlwind of activity. It can cause feelings and emotions to be put on the back burner in order to keep up with various demands. Delayed grief can also happen when individuals encountering a loss try to suppress their feelings in order to avoid dealing with them. It's important to face these feelings in order to heal.

Distorted Grief

Distorted grief is a very extreme reaction to loss. It's an intense manifestation of complicated grief. Individuals suffering from distorted grief tend to express extreme emotional or behavioral changes. For example, they may lash out at others regularly. Their behavior can be very self-destructive. Feelings of anger, guilt, or hostility towards others are telltale signs of distorted grief. They may even demonstrate a desire for self-harm.

Cumulative Grief

Also known as grief overload, cumulative grief occurs when more than one loss is experienced in short succession. Before a grief-stricken individual is finished processing the initial loss, another one presents itself. The compounding of losses can completely overwhelm the bereaved, making it extremely challenging to process. Prioritizing self-care and reaching out to professional support is crucial for coping with cumulative grief.

Masked Grief

With masked grief, a grief-stricken person may be acting out of character or exhibiting strange behavior like persistent irritability. Friends and family may be unaware that the individual is suffering from grief because they are trying to hide their pain. In our society and many others, men, particularly, are not encouraged or supported in their grief process, causing them to carry on stoically.

Collective Grief

Collective grief transcends an individual grief experience. When a tragic loss affects a large group of people or even an entire community, they are encountering collective grief. Some of the most common instances occur during major catastrophic natural disasters, such as hurricanes. It can also take place during times of war. Collective grief can have a long-lasting impact on the bereaved. In today’s day and age, some of the most troubling versions of collective grief center around mass shootings in schools and terrorist attacks. Collective grief can even have national and global implications. The recent COVID pandemic is the best example. Many people also find a deep connection in grief when a beloved public figure passes away, such as Queen Elizabeth II, Nelson Mandela, and Robin Williams. Because it’s a shared experience, collective grief can draw large groups closer together.

Facing our feelings and emotions is the key to processing grief. No matter which type of grief an individual is experiencing, it needs to be addressed in order to move forward healthily. Some of the best ways to do so include reaching out to trusted friends and family for help, joining support groups, and seeking professional guidance from grief counselors. Navigating the depths of grief is a challenging journey, but with awareness and support, individuals can move toward healing and resilience.

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