Grieving is a perfectly normal, and healthy response; to loss in ones life. This is commonly loss of a loved one; but it can also be loss of something else (eg. your home, health or job).

Some types of grief are not as normal as others though; and understanding the type of grief is the first step toward getting past it.

Types of Complicated Grief

Some of the ways that abnormal responses to grief have been described now follow:

Anticipatory grief can occur when a person knows in advance that another person is going to die.  The person who is going to be bereaved will start to prepare psychologically for the death and begin the grieving process.  For example, if they are with someone who is terminally ill, the death itself may be the last stage of the grief.  

Once again, it does not always have to involve a death.  For example, if a person is going away to war, or to work in another country, the person left behind may prepare themselves for the end of the relationship, even without realising it at first. 

Unanticipated grief occurs when the loss is unexpected, such as an unexpected death from a car accident or murder.  The human mind needs time to come to terms with events and serious complications can arise in the grieving process when the death or loss is completely unexpected.  

With conflicted grief, an individual may have been in an ambivalent relationship with another person who has died or left.  The person may not show a lot of distress at the loss at first, but then start to feel a great deal of guilt and sadness because of the feelings they had for the person before they left or died.

Chronic grief can occur when an individual is totally dependent on the person who has left or died. They will feel insecure and anxious that they do not have that person any longer to soothe them, as they have never learned to soothe their own feelings. Their grief can therefore last for years as they are unable to let go of the person who has left or died. It is usually thought that grief is chronic if it carries on intensely for six months after the person’s death or loss, but as we say, there is no “normal” period for grief and some people with chronic grief can grieve for years.

Absent grief occurs when the person does not appear to show any grief at their loss.  Eventually the person may start the normal grieving process, but this may not always be the case.   This differs slightly to Inhibited Grief where some of the feelings associated with grief are not expressed.  Grief can also be delayed for a number of reasons. For example, a mother with young children may delay her grief as she feels she has to put her children first.  Or a man may put aside his grief for the death of his father, because his wife has just had a baby.  In life or death situations, people may put their grief aside until they are safe and have survived. For example, in terrible natural disasters, a person may know that someone in their family has died, but may have to put aside that grief until they themselves are safe and unharmed.

Distorted grief is grief that is associated with great feelings of guilt and anger. It is unusual and can take unexpected forms, such as the development of the same symptoms the deceased had before they died or intense changes in behaviour, increased hostility, self-destructive actions, and so on.  

With abnormally intense grief, the person demonstrates symptoms of a depressive disorder, but with abnormal intensity.  Depressive symptoms arise in many people who are grieving, this is normal, but sometimes the feelings can be extremely intense or go on for longer than we would expect in the normal grieving process.

In all forms of complicated grief, unresolved grief is a term that applies.  Grief is thought to be unresolved until the grieving person can go on and love again or find the emotional energy to move on with their life. Because everyone is different, it can be hard initially for practitioners to clearly diagnose if a person is suffering from normal grieving or abnormal grieving.


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