Frazer Blog

Complicated Grief: How to Cope and Find Hope After a Loss

by | Oct 3, 2017 | For Families

Sad woman looking through the window

We all know that grief is unique to everyone and that there are different types of grief. However, if those grieving don’t find healthy ways to grieve, they may develop complicated grief. It can negatively impact your everyday life, so it’s important to find healthy ways to cope.

In this blog post, we’ll define complicated grief, how it works, and healthy ways you can cope with a loss.

Defining Complicated Grief

Naturally, complicated grief is complicated to define. To put it simply, it’s when someone isn’t going through a healthy grieving process. But rather, their grief symptoms last a long time and affect their ability to function in everyday life.

If they’re unable to accept the reality of their loss, they can’t learn to adjust to life without them. By pushing away their feelings, they’re deprived of a healthy grieving process.

Common Symptoms

According to Mayo Clinic, some common complicated grief symptoms are:

  • Extreme sadness and pain when thinking about your deceased loved one.
  • Feeling bitter when thinking about your loss.
  • Feelings of numbness or detachment.
  • Being extremely irritable or easily agitated.
  • Their death is the focus of your thoughts.
  • Not being able to face the reality of the death.
  • Intense longing for your loved one.
  • Not being able to find meaning in life anymore.
  • Withdrawal from social events.
  • Not communicating with loved ones.

Approximately 10% to 20% of those grieving have symptoms that develop into complicated grief, per Psychology Today. If your grief symptoms prevent you from completing your daily activities, you should consider seeking professional guidance.

Potential Causes

The biological causes of complicated grief are unknown, but these four factors may contribute to it:

  • Body chemical makeup
  • Environment
  • Genetics
  • Personality and how you grieve

And according to Mayo Clinic, these experiences may put you an increased risk of developing complicated grief:

  • Sudden and unexpected death
  • Violent death
  • Death of a spouse
  • Death of a child
  • Close relationship with the deceased
  • No strong support system
  • Other stressful life events occurring simultaneously
  • History of depression or other mental health conditions

Also, although depression and complicated grief share similar symptoms, they’re two different things. Depression is a result of grief when feelings of extreme sadness and helplessness are long-lasting.

The Brain and Complicated Grief

When someone grieves, ScienceDaily explains how the brain works like a pinball machine. While grieving, the brain bounces back and forth between different grief stages. However, these back and forth bounces eventually lead to acceptance and finding ways to healthily cope. But this isn’t the case for complicated grievers.

According to Healthline, studies found that complicated grief affects the part of the brain associated with reward. This part of the brain also causes the extreme longing for a loved one. It also can affect the part of your brain associated with avoidance behaviors. This explains why grief may last a long time if complicated grievers avoid their feelings and don’t accept the loss.

How to Help a Loved One Cope

It’s important for everyone to realize that they don’t need to stop grieving their loved one. Grief isn’t something to get over, but they can learn to find a new normal for themselves. It’s difficult adjusting to a new reality without the deceased, but they can find ways to memorialize them.

You can help a loved one cope by listening and helping them understand their thoughts. If they accept the death, then they can find healthy ways to grieve and find meaning in life again. And by having a trusting support system by their side, they don’t have to feel alone.

What other ways can you help a loved one cope? Share them with us in the comments!


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