As natural as grief is, it is one of the most difficult emotions to process and understand. There are many misconceptions surrounding grief, including how it should look and how long it should last. But whatever type of loss has occurred, there is no right or wrong way to traverse the experience. Taking the time to understand the grief process can help individuals to find healthy ways to cope with their emotions.
Grief is the emotional pain and suffering someone feels when something or someone they love is removed from them. Often, the pain experienced after a loss can seem completely overwhelming. Individuals experience unexpected and challenging emotions, from disbelief, shock, and denial to anger, sadness, and even guilt. Grief is not only emotional, however – it can adversely impact physical health, often disrupting sleep, eating habits, and concentration.
The most intense grief is typically associated with the death of a loved one, but many situations in life may cause these emotions. These may include the following:
- divorce or the breakup of a relationship, loss of a friendship
- retirement, loss of a job, or loss of financial stability
- personal illness or illness of a loved one
- the death of a pet
- selling a long-time family home
- unfulfilled dreams
- loss of security or safety after a traumatic event
Loss, and the grief associated with it, are intensely personal to every individual. No one should feel embarrassed or ashamed about their feelings, even if the event wouldn’t trigger the same emotions in someone else. If the person, animal, relationship, or situation was meaningful, it’s normal to grieve the loss on some level.
Myths About The Grieving Process
There is no “right or wrong” or appropriate way to grieve. An individual’s experience with profound sadness depends on many factors, such as personality, life experience, faith or belief system, and the loss’s significance.
Although grief is unpleasant, and you may want it over quickly, healing is a gradual process that plays an important role. You cannot force or hurry emotions along. While some people begin to feel better in a few weeks or several months, others experience grief for years. The most important thing to remember is that there is no set timeframe for grieving. There are, however, some misconceptions about grief that should be dispelled.
- It is easier to cope with grief if you are “strong”: Many people think hiding their true feelings will help their family or friends cope more easily. But feeling scared, lonely, or sad after a loss is expected, and crying is a normal reaction. Showing authentic emotions can help your loved ones to feel comfortable expressing theirs. However, if you do not cry, it does not mean you are feeling any less pain. Remember, the response to grief is deeply personal.
- Ignoring the pain will make it go away more quickly: Suppressing or ignoring grief doesn’t make it disappear, but it can make healing even more difficult. True healing requires an individual faces their pain and actively process it.
- A year is enough time to get over a loss: There is no set time frame for grief, and some people never truly get over a significant loss. But expecting a neat conclusion to suffering is likely to cause despair or confusion when it does not occur. The opposite reaction is to feel guilt if ready to move on. Moving on does not mean that you have forgotten the loss, but rather that you have accepted it. In the case of losing a loved one, they will always represent special memories that define who you are.
6 Steps to Coping with Grief
- Acknowledge the loss and pain.
- Understand that grief can trigger various unexpected emotions.
- Know that your grief process will be unique.
- Welcome and invite support from those who care about you.
- Take care of physical needs to support emotions.
- Realize the difference between grief and depression, which may require treatment.
Grief is a natural part of every life, and those experiencing it should know they are not alone. The most intense feelings of grief typically dissipate over time, and the individual resumes everyday life and activity, even if those things look different.
If you cannot seem to move past the grief or feel the feelings are too intense to manage on your own, do not be afraid to ask for help.
Denise Schonwald is a nationally certified mental health counselor based in Sarasota, Florida.