Complicated Grief: Is Healing Possible?
There’s an old adage that time heals all wounds. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, we don’t heal from a loss in the way people expect. Most days, we’re alright, and we move through life easily enough, and then other days, grief knocks us over, rolls us around, and tosses us out on our backside. This is complicated grief.
Maybe healing from grief isn’t the right goal. Maybe learning to live in a new world is a better aim. Loss alters our lives – whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, or any other major life change. We must learn to accept grief as a natural part of our human capacity for love.
At SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services, we understand that your experience of grief is unique. We don’t aim to rush you through a grieving process focused on the stages of grief. Rather, we work to guide you toward a new reality so you can enjoy your daily life and build healthy, happy relationships.
What is Grief?
Experiencing grief is a sign of your capacity to love others. The more you care for a family member, friend, or loved one, the more profound their loss will be for you. Symptoms of grief include sadness, anger, disbelief, or even numbness.
When people talk about grieving, they often talk about death or dying, but you can experience grief over other parts of life as well. Grief is a natural response to types of loss such as separation or the end of a relationship, life changes caused by illness or injury, or even losing a career.
Sometimes grief is more complicated. You think you’re doing well and finding a way to live this new life. Your day looks different than you thought it would, but you manage just fine, and other days grief sweeps you away as if the loss just happened. This sort of grief is more common than you think.
Grief Doesn’t Follow Stages
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote On Death and Dying in 1969 and described the “Five Stages of Grief.” She detailed the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, and people have talked about getting over loss and grief as if it’s a step-by-step craft project ever since.
A bereaved person needs to move through loss in their own way. Your individual experience of grief may be like a thunderstorm – powerful and rapid, followed by sunny skies. It’s also okay if your experience of grief is more like an ocean. It comes in waves that can be large, medium, or small. Sometimes your grief may be calm. There is no wrong way to experience grief.
Grieving doesn’t follow a specific timeline. You may feel like you move on quickly, only to experience a major setback months later. Or, you may sit in a place of numbness for a while before finding the strength to move through your grief.
How to Honor Grief
Suppose you experience complicated grief that won’t abate or grief that comes around again and again on anniversaries or holidays. In that case, it’s important that you find a way to honor your grief without trying to avoid the feelings.
When symptoms of grief pop up, the first step is to recognize them. This looks different for everyone. Maybe grief makes you tired or causes you to lose energy. Maybe when you’re grieving, you crave closeness with other loved ones, and maybe you just want to be left alone. Identifying how grief feels in your body and the thoughts and emotions it brings up will help you know when you need to activate your grief-recovery process.
When you are experiencing grief, create a support plan to get you through. Make sure you get enough sleep, nourish yourself with good food, and reach out to loved ones for bereavement support. (It’s also okay to tell people to leave you alone if that’s what you need.) Your experience of grief is your own, and what you need to help you recover will differ from others.
Working with a mental health professional or finding a grief support group can help you develop a recovery practice that can keep you from being completely undone by grief.
Channel Grief into Positive Change
Many people find it helpful to channel the energy of their grief into positive action. Some people who experience a life change due to illness or injury find a renewed sense of purpose as they tap into other gifts and create a new career that works better for their new stage of life. They may reach out to others differently, start support groups, or even write a book.
When you experience a significant loss, such as a child’s or life partner’s death, it can feel impossible to move forward. Please understand that you never need to “get over” your loss – sometimes, that’s impossible. But you do need to find a way to live your life despite the loss.
Some people start advocacy groups for illnesses that claim the lives of a loved one. Others join the American Cancer Society events to raise money and awareness. Some people who’ve experienced a significant loss start their own organization that gives back to the world. Grief is energy, and if you channel that energy into something new and inspired, you can find a new dimension of healing.
Get Help Processing Grief
Complicated grief can lead to depression and other mental health conditions if not addressed. You don’t have to get over your loss, but finding a way to move forward and find healing will allow you to honor your grief while supporting your well-being.
If your grief reaction is too difficult to handle on your own, or you worry that it’s affecting your mental health, career, or relationships, you may want to seek help from a mental health professional.
At SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services, we have several providers who specialize in working with grieving people. We can help you make sense of your loss, create a self-care plan that supports your grief process, and find ways to channel your grieving energy into something new and beautiful. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment and learn more about managing complicated grief.
Looking for More?
For more about how grief impacts our lives, get on the waitlist for the new book, Unbreakable by Soribel Martinez, LCSW, CEO of SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services. The book releases in Spring 2023. It’s a story of one woman’s journey through adversity and how you can use her principles to build the life of your dreams. Join the waitlist here!