Grief, Loss, and How To Move On
Two people can go through the same traumatic event yet have completely different experiences. One may experience intense trauma requiring therapy intervention, and the other may walk away unscathed. Grief is no different. Two people can experience the same loss yet grieve in very different ways.
You may grieve the loss of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or a drastic change in your life caused by injury or illness. You may feel angry, sad, hopeless, or any other strong emotion – and it’s common to struggle with those feelings. You may move through the grieving process quickly or have a slow, grueling experience. Some days it may feel like you’re through your grief, and on others, you may find yourself bawling into your oatmeal.
How do we process grief while managing the rest of our lives? How do we explain our suffering to family members and friends? How do we answer questions from people who don’t understand? When will we feel like ourselves again? Your grief process is individual and doesn’t have a timeline.
Grieving Thoughts and Behaviors
While everyone moves through the grieving process differently, there are common thoughts and behaviors shared by many who experience loss. You may experience these in any combination, all at once, intermittently, or not at all. Knowing these are common for grieving people may help you give yourself some grace as you find your new normal.
Imagine you recently lost your spouse. You wake in the morning and begin making breakfast for two, only to remember halfway through making eggs that your spouse passed. Forgetting about your loss or feeling numb to it are symptoms of shock.
Initially, grief causes shock – you can’t quite believe your loss. You may experience this shock as bursts of intense emotion or numbness. It’s also possible to waiver between the two. You may even forget about your loss as you move through your daily routine, only to be reminded by something that happens or something someone says. You may have trouble sleeping, or you may sleep too much. The way you experience grief immediately following a loss will be inconsistent.
One of the most common symptoms of grief is irritability or feeling short-tempered with family and friends. At a time in your life when sleeping and essential self-care are complex, it makes sense that you have difficulty regulating your emotions.
When you lose your temper or lash out, remember that your grief may present in a multitude of ways; you may catch yourself sounding more annoyed or frustrated than you mean to. While it isn’t the fault of anyone, it’s essential to utilize this as an opportunity to acknowledge to whomever you shared your frustrations that communication is something you plan to work on improving. Grief doesn’t give you a free pass to treat others poorly. Be sure to apologize to your loved ones as well as yourself. The irritability will subside as you process your grief in your own time.
Trouble Using Your Typical Coping Mechanisms
We all have coping skills to help us manage stress, show up fully in our lives, and reach our potential. When you’re grieving, however, you may have difficulty using your typical methods.
If you rely on exercise when stressed, you may find you lack motivation or don’t perform as well. That doesn’t mean you should skip exercise altogether – it’s a great way to help yourself feel better during a difficult time, even if the reprieve is temporary.
If you typically meditate, read, or engage in another quiet activity to destress, your grief may make it impossible to relax enough to enjoy them. Don’t stop trying – quiet moments are essential to your wellbeing. Instead, try doing these things in smaller doses than you typically would. Rather than trying to meditate for ten minutes, try getting even one minute in. If you usually curl up in your favorite chair and read for hours, maybe try managing five minutes of focus on a new novel.
Whatever trouble you have with your typical coping mechanisms, it’s vital to realize that these struggles are temporary. You will find your equilibrium and learn to enjoy a new normal in your own time.
Lack of Focus
The inability to focus can extend beyond your coping mechanisms and affect your productivity at work, interactions with friends and loved ones, and ability to complete household tasks. Rest assured, this lack of focus is temporary – even if you experience prolonged grief.
Overwhelming Fatigue Even After Sleeping
During grieving, your body is constantly alert for triggers or unexpected emotions. Your mind may constantly churn through thoughts of your loss and the pile of things you need to do. When your mind and body don’t get a break from the flood of hormones, you may feel constantly tired, even if you sleep well. Often, fatigue dissipates ad you process your grief.
Choosing to avoid social situations is a common symptom of grief. It’s particularly common for young people who don’t have others in their social circles who’ve lost a loved one. You may avoid socializing for various reasons, including
- The fear of losing control of your emotions.
- Worrying that friends or family will bring up something you aren’t ready to discuss.
- Worrying that people will ignore your loss.
- Fearing that others won’t understand what you’re going through.
You May Have Trouble Sleeping
Whether you’re consumed by grief and unable to relax, waking in the night to nightmares, or waking too early in the morning with memories coursing through your brain, trouble sleeping is a classic symptom of grief. Irritability, trouble focusing, and even physical health symptoms can be caused or exacerbated by a lack of sleep.
If you have difficulty sleeping is an ongoing problem, it’s a good idea to talk to your health care provider. Medication or other interventions may temporarily relieve sleeplessness so you can function and improve your overall wellness.
The Process of Recovering from Grief
We’ve already mentioned that the grieving process is individual, and there’s no right way or pace to move through this difficult time. So why do we hear so much about models of grief and the stages of grief?
Having labels for the experiences, you’ll have as you process your loss can help people feel less alone and give them language to explain their experiences to loved ones. Since the grieving process is so individualized, we at SMPsychotherapy don’t like to assign labels to stages or cycles. We look at each bereaved person holistically, meet them where they are, and ride the rollercoaster of grief so they can find peace and even happiness after loss.
Sometimes the symptoms of grief continue so long that they interfere with your ability to move on and create your new normal. If you have intense feelings of grief and hopelessness a year or more after your loss, you may have complicated grief. Complicated grief can cause depression or even suicidal thoughts, so it’s vital to seek help from a mental health professional if you cannot process your grief.
Signs of complicated grief include:
- Intense emotional pain over the loss of your loved one
- Continued inability to focus on daily tasks, work, or other relationships.
- Focusing on reminders of the loved one or avoiding reminders
- Problems accepting the death
- Numbness, detachment, or substance abuse
- Intense anger about your loss
- Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose after your loss
- Inability to trust others
- Inability to enjoy life
- Social isolation
- Wish you had died along with your loved one
Prolonged grief can cause mental health issues, and if you had mental health struggles before your loss, you might find they get worse while you process grief. Finding the right kind of support is essential. You may work with a grief counselor or find a support group to help you sort through your difficult emotions.
Sometimes we grieve in ways that differ from how society says we should. Often people think of grief as the emotional experience after the loss of a loved one and expect it to fit into a series of stages. Many models focus on the five stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In reality, though, grief doesn’t always follow a script.
When your friends and family expect you to move on quickly after ending a relationship, or you attend social events even though you just lost a loved one. When your experience doesn’t fit what society tells you grief should look like, you may experience disenfranchised grief. Some situations that commonly lead to disenfranchised grief include:
- Jobs involving regular loss experiences, including paramedics, police officers, doctors, and firefighters, may have workplace cultures that expect you to carry on despite exposure to death.
- Losing people who aren’t spouses or immediate family members because people may expect you to move on more quickly from losing a friend or may not see the relationships as legitimate.
- Ending a relationship, especially a friendship, or a relationship that others saw as “not serious.”
- Experiencing a loss due to chronic illness. Often, when someone develops a chronic disease that affects their personal lives, changes their bodies, or results in the loss of a career, others don’t understand why – if they’re still alive – they can’t just move on and accept their new life.
The problem with disenfranchised grief is that feeling like your grief is wrong may keep you from appropriately processing it so you can move on.
Grief Therapy Can Help
Therapy may help if you experience prolonged grief or have trouble managing the symptoms of acute grief. Grief counseling provides an hour each week to focus on processing your loss, moving through the complex emotions, planning for all the tasks you must complete, and planning for your future.
The treatment approach and therapy techniques we use depends on where you are, what you hope to accomplish, and what type of loss you’re grieving. Whether you’ve lost a loved one, are going through a divorce, or sever ties with family members, our therapists are ready to help you process grief in your own way. You’ll learn tools and strategies to help you rebuild your life, find things to look forward to, and realize that happiness after loss is possible. Reach out to our office today to schedule an appointment and start your healing journey.
Frequently Asked Questions About Grief Therapy
If you’re considering grief therapy, you may have some questions and concerns. Here are answers to the questions we get most often. If you don’t find the answer to your question, contact our office for assistance.
Won’t rehashing my loss in therapy make grief worse?
Suppressing your feelings of grief is problematic and can lead to numbing behaviors such as overeating, substance abuse, overexercising, social isolation, and other unhealthy behaviors. Setting aside time to learn coping skills that help you find a new normal can help you move through the grief process with more structure, confidence, and optimism.
How long does grief therapy take?
The duration of grief therapy is different for everyone. How long it takes to process your grief and create a new normal depends on how you show up at each session, whether or not you’re holding back, and if you complete your homework after each session.
Do I need to tell my therapist everything? That will take forever!
Processing emotions doesn’t require diving into everything right away. We can discuss your loss and your history surrounding loss as things arise.
What if my family wants to join me for grief therapy?
Suppose family members want to join you so you can process grief together. In that case, you’ll want to work with a marriage and family therapist so they can help manage family dynamics and how they affect the grieving process.