According to Psychology Today, grief is the acute pain that follows loss. Experts usually refer to grief as a process or response, rather than confining it to an unchanging set of experiences. Grief is confusing and complicated by nature. Most of all, grieving is part of human nature – so you shouldn’t expect a clear pathway through.
Although grief is known for Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), there’s no straightforward way through mourning the loss of a loved one. In fact, few people will undergo these stages in a linear way. Some people may even skip stages altogether or add their own.
Since the grieving process is unique to each individual, it makes more sense to divide grief into two categories: healthy and unhealthy.
While grief is painful in itself, certain actions may prolong it, causing the bereaved to suffer more. Actions like avoiding one’s feelings fit into the “unhealthy grief” category. On the other hand, healthy grief won’t dismiss difficult feelings, allowing them to lessen in intensity as time passes.
Here are the differences between healthy and unhealthy grief – as well as how to grieve in a healthier way.
Healthy Grief vs. Unhealthy Grief
Healthy grief supports the notion that, no matter how difficult things are now, they will pass. That doesn’t mean you’re forgetting the person who’s gone, but rather that your feelings will naturally ease into fond memories.
What’s more, feeling well or happy doesn’t mean you’re letting go of that person. It simply means you’ll remember them with affection rather than sadness. In order for that to happen, you first must allow yourself to grieve in a healthy way.
In order for grief to be healthy, there should be no suppression of emotions. The bereaved should know that there’s no time limit to grief, and, above all, that there is no right or wrong when it comes to the grieving process. The most appropriate way to endure this trial is to respect one’s feelings without judgment.
That being said, unhealthy grief can be physically and mentally exhausting. Also known as complicated grief, it doesn’t follow a natural course of improvement and may worsen over time. Unhealthy grief can be divided into four categories: delayed, prolonged, absent, and exaggerated.
In the case of delayed grief, the grieving person may have been busy with other priorities at the time of loss. Keeping themselves busy may have been a way of delaying their painful emotions. Because of this, these feelings they’ve been avoiding may manifest themselves in strong waves later down the road.
In prolonged grief, the person may still be feeling dejected for over a year after the loss. Even though the process may ast several years, feelings like hopelessness or extreme anger should have subsided after about one year. In the case of prolonged grief, these feelings do not subside and in some cases may worsen.
In absent grief, a person may deliberately run from their feelings of sadness. By avoiding necessary feelings, they’re apt to build up a lot of stress and pressure. As a result, this may take a heavy toll on physical and mental health.
In exaggerated grief, the bereaved won’t experience a range of emotions like anger, sadness and frustration. Instead, a single emotion is likely to overrule the others, which isn’t a natural flow of grief.
Healthy Forms of Grief
Avoid Running From Your Emotions
When you’re grieving, you’ll experience a range of uncomfortable emotions. However uncomfortable they may feel, it’s important not to shut them down, but to welcome them. To disregard these painful emotions will only delay the healing process.
Again, you should allow yourself to grieve in a healthy way to release the pain of loss. So allow yourself to feel and welcome each emotion. Cry as much as you need to, speak with your friends and family about your feelings and remind yourself that these uncomfortable emotions won’t last forever.
Take Time to Accept That It Wasn’t Your Fault
Your loss wasn’t your fault, and there’s nothing you should or shouldn’t have done.
Easier said than done, right? But if you think about it, this is exactly what you would tell a grieving friend, and you would mean every word. So why not treat yourself with the same compassion you would a family member or friend. Be gentle and kind to your own healing process. This is a sensitive moment and you need yourself to be patient now more than ever.
Don’t Rush the Process
Even years after a loss, you may find yourself dreading birthdays and anniversaries. But that doesn’t mean you’re not making progress or “not grieving right”/ As long as your feelings are improving year after year and you’re taking good care of yourself, there’s not reason to worry.
Take all the time you need to grieve. It’s your time, not anyone else’s.
Grief is inherently human in that it’s also inherently dynamic. In the wise words of David B. Feldman, Ph.D, “grieving appropriately means allowing ample time to remember and feel the loss as well as embracing occasional opportunities to distract ourselves and regroup.”
In other words, feel what you have to feel in your own time. No one’s counting, and no one will judge you for taking time to get back on your feet.
“As a general rule, the only way out of grief is through it,” says Feldman. It may not look like it right now, but these feelings will make you a stronger and more empathetic person in the future.