Grief & Loss

Grief & Loss

Written by: Ashley Gilmour
Clinical Psychologist

Grief and Loss

Losing someone or something that you truly love and care for is the most painful part in anyone’s life. If only we could stay with them forever. While we exist in this physical body, the experience of loss is inevitable, and grief is a natural part of the healing process. When we lose someone, all sorts of difficult emotions arise that at the time we wonder if we will ever heal from the emotional pain. While there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there are healthy ways to move through the grief that that will allow you to move forward from the loss

Grief is very much a normal pain in response to loss. It is the emotional suffering you experience when that someone or something that we once had, is no longer with us. The more important the loss e.g., the closer our attachment to that person who has now passed, the more intense our grief will be for the loss. The grief you will feel for hearing of the news of a person in another country whom you have never heard of previously or met will typically not be the same level of grief as that for a close loved one such as a family member or a best friend. The acknowledgment of grief, time, emotional support, and healing processes facilitate the grieving process, allowing an opportunity for a person to appropriately move through the loss to a place of healing. Often times, we need other people in order for us to get through our losses.

What Causes Grief

People usually experience grief when they lose someone close to them including those listed below.

    • Loss of a close friend
    • Death of a partner
    • Death of a classmate or colleague
    • Serious illness of loved ones
    • Relationship breakup
    • Death of a family member
      However, it is important to understand that it is not only the loss of a person close to us that we can experience grief for. Subtle or less obvious losses can also cause strong feelings of grief, even though those around you may not understand your grief feelings. Some examples include:
    • Leaving home
    • Illness/loss of health
    • Death of a pet
    • Change of job
    • Move to a new home
    • Graduation from school
    • Loss of a physical ability
    • Loss of financial security

Stages of Grief

An important part of the healing process is allowing oneself to experience and accept all feelings that arise during the grieving process. The following are five stages of grief and were developed by ElisabethKübler-Ross. Whilst not everyone going through grief experiences all five stages here, or in this exact order, these stages are commonly experiences. The person may bounce between the stages, even more than once.

  • Denial, numbness, and shock: This stage serves to protect the individual from experiencing the intensity of the loss. It may be useful when the grieving person must take action (for example, making funeral arrangements). Numbness is a normal reaction to an immediate loss and should not be confused with “lack of caring”. As the individual slowly acknowledges the impact of the loss, their denial and disbelief regarding the loss will lessen.
  • Bargaining: This stage may involve frequent thoughts about things that could have been said or done prevent the loss from having occurred. People can become preoccupied about ways that things could have been better e.g., “If only I did not have that argument with them before they died”, or “If only I saw them at the hospital more while they were sick”. If this stage is not properly resolved, strong emotions of regret or guilt may interfere with the healing process.
  • Depression: This stage of grief occurs in some people when the reality of the true extent of the loss has occurred. Signs of depression may include sleep and appetite disturbances, a lack of energy and concentration, and crying spells. A person may feel loneliness, emptiness, isolation, and self-pity. For some people, the depressive symptoms can be sub-clinical, while for others these depressive symptoms can turn into a clinical depression. Click here for more information about clinical depression.
  • Anger: This reaction usually occurs when an individual feels helpless and powerless. This can then result in the grieving person looking for someone to blame e.g., “if the ambulance personnel only came sooner, they would still be alive”. The survivor can also be angry at themselves for not having done or said something before the person passed. This can also turn inward as guilt. Anger can also come from a feeling of abandonment through the loved one’s death e.g., being angry at the deceased loved one for having ‘left’ them. An individual may also be angry at a higher power or toward life in general for the death.
  • Acceptance: In time, an individual may be able to come to terms with the emotional pain from the loss and accept the fact that the loss of the person in their physical body has occurred. Healing can begin once the loss becomes integrated into the individual’s set of life experiences.

Unrelieved Grief

Grieving is a personal and highly individual experience. How a person grieves varies for many reasons including differences in personality (e.g., how one thinks) and coping style, your life experiences, your faith, and of course the nature of the loss. The grieving process takes time. Some people find it extra challenging to move through the grieving process. This is where the person may experience unresolved grief. There is no definite point in time or a list of symptoms that define unresolved grief. Unresolved grief lasts longer than usual for a person’s social circle or cultural background. It may also be used to describe grief that does not go away or interferes with the person’s ability to take care of daily responsibilities.

Unresolved grief tends to be more common in people who:

  • Are unsure how they feel about the person they lost.
  • Have a negative opinion of themselves (low self-esteem).
  • Feel guilty about the loss, such as people who think they could have prevented a serious accident or death.
  • Think the loss was a result of unfairness, such as losing a loved one as a result of a violent act.
  • Experienced the unexpected or violent death of a loved one. People who experience a traumatic loss are at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • Experience a loss that others might not recognize as significant, such as miscarriage.How people express unresolved grief varies. People may:
  • Act as though nothing has happened or they may refuse or avoid talking about the loss.
  • Become consumed bythe memory of the lost person where they may not be able to talk or think about anything else.
  • Become overly involved with work or a hobby as a way to distract themselves.
  • Increase their consumption of alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, or prescribed medicines.
  • Become overly concerned about their health in general or about an existing health condition and see a doctor more often than usual.
  • Become progressively depressed or isolate themselves from other people.People with unresolved grief who do not seek treatment are more likely to develop complications such as depression as a result of grieving.
Psychological Treatment for Grief

The most important factor in healing from loss is having the support of other people, especially those close to you, or those whom you trust. Even if you are not comfortable talking about your feelings under normal circumstances, it is important to express your emotions about the loss in one way or another during the grieving period, as you have every right to feel however way you feel about the loss, whether you feel angry, guilty, or even relieved. Sharing your loss with others whom you trust makes the burden of grief easier to carry. Wherever the support comes from, accept the supportrather than grieving alone. Connecting to others will help you heal.

When a person’s grief-related thoughts, behaviors, or feelings are extremely distressing, unrelenting, or incite concern, a qualified mental health professional may be able to help. Therapy is an effective way to learn to cope with the stressors associated with the loss (e.g., change in financial circumstances etc) and move through the grieving process and into a place of healing.

Each experience of grief is unique, complex, and personal, and your psychologist will tailor treatment to meet the specific needs of each person.
In addition to individual therapy, group therapy can be helpful for those who find solace in the reciprocal sharing of thoughts and feelings, and recovery results are often rapid in this setting. Similarly, family therapy may be suitable for a family whose members are struggling to adapt to the loss of a family member.

How Can We Help

If you know someone who is manifesting the symptoms mentioned, the most important thing you can do to help is to get them the right diagnosis and treatment. It is important to get the right team to help out.

Here at Vitality Unleashed Psychology, we have experience in helping people experiencing unresolved and complicated grief, and we are able to help you recover from your grieving problems with an evidenced-based psychological approach.

Vitality Unleashed Psychology provides Medicare rebates on consultations to individuals with a Mental Health Care Plan from their GP. To find out more information about psychology treatment under Medicare, click here.

To make an enquiry about how we can help you or to book an appointment over the phone, call us on 07 55743888.

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