Understanding and processing grief

September 1, 2022

When we think of grief, we tend to associate it with a ‘primary loss’, such as the death of a loved one. However grief applies to many human loss experiences relating to social, financial or lifestyle factors. We can grieve for any number of reasons, from stillbirths, miscarriage and terminations, the loss of opportunities or jobs, loss experienced from natural disasters or the loss of a relationship. In addiction and mental illness we may grieve the loss of our health and wellbeing. Grief is a normal, and healthy part of the human experience, but when we don’t process our grief our mental health can suffer. Processing grief is not about ‘getting over it’ or ‘moving on’, but about the ability to make room in your life again for other people, places and things after a loss is experienced. 

There are different types of unprocessed grief: 

Complicated Grief

When a person avoids feelings of grief or stays ‘stuck’ for an extended length of time this will begin to interfere with the person’s ability to connect with self and others and normal grief becomes complicated. Complicated grief is not uncommon when working with childhood trauma, codependency, addiction. Unprocessed trauma is an added risk for complicated grief.

Disenfranchised grief

Grief that for different reasons is not openly acknowledged or is not validated by family, friends, community or society, such as, infertility, loss of relationship that is not acknowledged, LGBTQ+ e.g loss of partner in a gay realtionships may not be acknowledged by your family of origin. Types of secondary loss surrounding relational trauma and addiction aren’t necessarily acknowledged, therefore, they are not grieved. As a result, they often remain disenfranchised.

Compounded/Cumulative Grief

This is sometimes referred to as grief overload and is a pile on effect, where one after another experiences or events of loss are endured. The losses can be connected, such as you lose your partner, then you lose your home etc. Sometimes the loss is unrelated but the cumulative effect makes the grief a difficult load to process and accept and increases the risk of complications.

Transferred Grief

When unprocessed and/or accumulated grief is transferred onto a person, place or thing.

Processing grief

Grief does not follow a predictable pathway and is a process of varying duration. In order to process and move beyond grief, we need to grieve all the loss that is unique to our story.

We may experience a variety of emotions and feelings – from shock to anger, disbelief, isolation and loneliness, guilt and sadness. The pain of grief can also impact us physically, making it difficult for us to eat, sleep, work or function normally. It can also lead us to question our beliefs, depression, or to self-medicate with process and substance addictions. Try not to ignore or bury the pain and sadness you are feeling. Instead, acknowledge and accept that it’s normal to feel this way after experiencing loss and be kind to yourself. There are many physical, behavioural and spiritual reactions to grief, but perhaps the most poignant experience of grief is the powerlessness that we feel.

Working through grief 

William Wardens four stages of mourning proposes there are four tasks that need to be completed for mourning to be completed. This model also acknowledges that grief is not linear and each stage may be revisited. 

1. Accept reality 

2. To work through the pain and grief 

3. Adjust to the new environment 

4. Find an enduring connection with loss 

Grief is a deeply personal experience that can trigger a range of emotions. All of us will go through loss at some point in our lives, but it’s important to remember that the grieving process is different for everyone. The truth is, it takes time and healing happens when we understand and process our grief. Whatever the loss you are grieving and the feelings you are experiencing, it’s important to be patient and kind to yourself, and seek out support.

Working through our grief is to acknowledge the pain, allow the feelings to surface and have this process witnessed and released. Seek support through friends, family, bereavement groups and/or individual counselling, and take care of your health by eating well, exercising and getting plenty of rest. Give yourself permission to cry. There is an opioid released from the tear duct down the eyelashes when crying that is very healing. Finally, look for things that make you feel safe and nurtured.

Indicators of healing 

Learning how to move forward and heal from your grief takes time. When healing has begun, you might start noticing that you experience longer periods of wellbeing in between sadness or thoughts of despair and that your grief symptoms are less intense than they once were. You might also find yourself reinvesting in life and relationships, practising self-care and feeling more hopeful about the future. One of the most important indicators of healing is the ability to tolerate emotional reminders without being overwhelmed by your grief. At this point, you might start to see the journey in retrospect, accepting that you’re allowed to feel good without guilt and moving on. 

If you need some support processing your grief, you can call our team seven days a week on 1800 063 332. South Pacific Private can support you in your recovery journey.

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