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When Grief Becomes Complicated

Everyone struggles with death and the loss of a loved one in their own way. We should not expect everyone to express their grief in the same way. Healthy grieving can occur in many different ways. This does not mean that grief is an issue that always resolves itself with enough time. It is possible for us to become stuck in our grief. When this happens, our pain can feel as fresh at five years as it did on day one. This can be a miserable experience.

When the healing that should normally occur during the grieving process is interrupted, we call this complicated grief. While there are no formal criteria for diagnosing complicated grief it is a subject that is being discussed by mental health professionals. Commonly proposed signs of complicated grief include:

  • Thoughts that life has become meaningless, empty, or lonely due to the passing of a loved one.
  • Constant longing for the return of the deceased person. Intrusive thoughts about the loved one.
  • A desire to be reunited with the deceased by joining them in death.
  • Constant preoccupation with thoughts about the lost loved one.
  • Avoiding reminders of the loved one to the point of abandoning old interests that one used to enjoy with them.
  • Isolation from friends and family members/feeling disconnected from those who have not experienced a similar loss.
  • Constant feelings of numbness, shock, or disbelief after the loss.

It is important to note that complicated grief is different from depression. Intrusive reminders of the deceased are not a feature of depression. Likewise, the abandonment of old interests is not due to a lack of energy but is part of an effort to avoid reminders of the deceased. This distinction is important because depression is a risk factor of complicated grief and can worsen the effects of complicated grief. Being aware of complicated grief can help you determine if you or a loved one is struggling with complicated grief and should seek out professional help to address the loss and return to a healthy grieving process.