Grief and Loss

What is Grief and Loss?

Grief is a response to the loss of a loved one or object.  This response could be emotional, psychological and physical and usually involves feelings of sorrow and despair.  Grief is a normal human response to the loss of someone or something to which a bond or affection was formed.  However, this can progress to a more prolonged reaction which could affect the daily functioning of those experiencing grief.

What are the stages of grief?

Those experiencing grief usually go through five stages.  These are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Denial is a defence mechanism used to protect an individual from becoming too overwhelmed as a result of the loss.  As the individual slowly comes to terms with the impact of the loss, denial will gradually fade away.  Bargaining involves incessant thoughts and ideas about how the loss of a loved one could have been prevented.  Intense feelings of remorse or guilt could set in if this is not resolved appropriately.  Depression tends to set in in some after they realise the permanent nature of the loss and start to process the fact that the loved one or object is not coming back.  Anger occurs in response to feeling helpless and powerless and realising that the situation is beyond our control.  This anger may be directed towards life in general or a higher power.  With the passing of time, an individual will gradually come to terms with the situation and accept the fact that the loved one or object is not coming back.  Healing can commence after acceptance has taken place.

What factors may affect the grief and healing process?

The healing process that occurs after the loss of a loved one or object could be affected by a number of factors.  These are usually defence mechanisms employed by an individual to make the situation bearable or to distract themselves from experiencing distressing emotions.  People may distract themselves by overworking.  Those experiencing grief may use alcohol, drugs or other substances to cope and numb the emotional distress.  Compulsive behaviours such as gambling could be used as a form of distraction.  All these tend to serve as a form of avoidance and may temporarily reduce the emotional distress associated with grief, however, this is short lived and if grief is not dealt with appropriately it may escalate into a dysfunctional psychological and emotional state such as depression, anxiety and addiction disorders.

What can happen if grief is prolonged or complicated?

If grief continues for a significant period of time it can lead to a more pervasive emotional and psychological dysfunction.  Some of the complications of grief include a depressive disorder, anxiety and panic attacks, addictions, suicidal feelings, hopelessness, helplessness and an intense desire to be with the loved one.

What can I do to help resolve my grief?

Grief is a normal human emotional and psychological response to the loss of a loved one or object.  It is important that those experiencing grief progress through the stages and recognise that it is entirely appropriate to experience intense feelings of sadness, anger, despair and all the distressing emotions that accompany the grief reaction.  It is important to:

  • Allow yourself to experience the thoughts and feelings associated with grief without significant attempts to block these
  • Crying and verbal expression of feelings and thoughts associated with grief is cathartic and should not be suppressed
  • Talking to loved ones and close friends about your feelings and how the loss has affected you
  • Engaging in bereavement support groups.  Receiving support and supporting those in a similar situation will re-inforce the normality of the emotions being experienced
  • Accepting that grief has become too unbearable and distressing that professional help may be required.  Seek help sooner rather than later.
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