Learning The Grief Definition Is The First Step To Finding Peace
Updated November 14, 2019
Reviewer Dawn Brown
Grief is an integral part of the human experience. Some say that if we never know the depths of grief, we can never fully appreciate moments of joy, beauty, and peacefulness. Yet, grief is a difficult thing to go through. If you've ever grieved, or if you or someone you love is grieving now, the first step on your path to peace is to understand the complete grief definition.
What Is Grief?
So, what is the best way to define grief? Grief, first of all, is a natural process. It isn't a disorder or an illness. You may be grieving about anything you've lost, whether it's a loved one or a job. Grief is an emotional reaction to change. It may entail many different feelings or changes in behavior. You may grieve a loss that has happened or one that you know is coming, such as when a loved one is terminally ill.
Types of Grief
You may be surprised to know that there are several distinct types of grief. Whether you're in bereavement or a state of loss, you can have acute grief or complicated grief.
Bereavement is the state you're in and the process you go through after a loved one dies. It's a period of mourning, but it isn't necessarily a specific time period. Long ago, the period of mourning was specifically defined by cultural norms. During bereavement, you weren't allowed to remarry, date, or in some cases, even spend time alone with a person of the opposite gender. However, now, the period of bereavement is determined more by how quickly you pass through the process of grieving. Whether that's 6 months or a year is completely up to you and how you are able to process your grief.
While most of us think of death when we hear the word "grief," any loss might cause us to grieve. If you were fired from a job you loved, you might grieve. If you moved to a different city after leaving a home that was extremely important to you, that loss could lead to grief. If you lost an eye or a limb, you would surely grieve. Even if your favorite possession was destroyed, you might grieve that loss.
Acute grief is the grief you typically feel immediately after a loss or the death of a loved one. To understand grief, define it, and learn to accept our new situation is a challenging task. Grief has been described as a psychological syndrome that includes intense physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. Acute grief either passes or becomes complicated grief.
Complicated grief is a syndrome that happens when your ability to move through the grieving process is prolonged by maladaptive behaviors, obsessive thoughts, and uncontrollable feelings. Most often, people who have complicated grief have had a very close and rewarding relationship with the one they lost. If you feel you have complicated grief, it's crucial that you seek help, so you can readapt to your new situation.
Symptoms of Grief
Many of the symptoms of grief are just what you have heard about or what you might expect. Certainly, there is sadness in grief. However, the symptoms can range from physical to mental/emotional to behavioral. These are the symptoms we often use to define grief-stricken.
Symptoms of Acute Grief
If you or a loved one has lost someone important to them, you're probably aware of many of the symptoms of acute grief. Having symptoms of acute grief is normal, as long as they don't go on too long. The following are some of the signs that you or someone you love is experiencing acute grief.
- Bodily feelings of distress or pain
- Frequent sighing
- Empty feeling in stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in throat
- Choking sensation
- Muscle weakness
- Chest pain
- Hair loss
- Excessive crying
- Preoccupation with deceased's image
- Feelings of unreality or disbelief
- Feelings of guilt
- Feeling of emptiness or meaninglessness
- Becoming emotionally distant from others
- Feelings of irritability or anger
- Difficulty concentrating
- Trouble keeping up with normal daily activities
- Thinking about your own death
- Obsessing about the loved one's death story
- Hallucinations of the deceased
Symptoms of Complicated Grief
Many of the symptoms of complicated grief are the same as symptoms of acute grief. However, they are typically more intense and may go on much longer. If you haven't resolved your grief well enough to readjust and move on by the time a year is up, you likely have complicated grief and could benefit from grief counseling. The following are signs of complicated grief.
- Intense sorrow and pain that doesn't go away
- Obsessive thoughts about your loved one
- The deceased is your primary focus in life now
- You can't accept the death
- You long achingly for the person you lost
- You feel numb or detached
- You experience feelings of bitterness
- You feel you can't trust others
- You can't enjoy life anymore or even think of happy moments with your loved one
- Life seems to have no purpose
- You can't carry out necessary daily activities
- You isolate from others
- Sadness pervades your worldview
- You are stuck in depression or sadness
- You have thoughts that you should have died with your loved one
Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross came up with a 5-stage model of grief in 1969. This model has become well-known and respected and has been used extensively in grief counseling. The 5 stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although Kubler-Ross first presented these stages as a linear model, therapists now suggest that you can pass through these stages in any order and may revisit stages several times before the grief process of complete.
Denial, a stage of grief that most bereaved people go through, means you don't accept the loss you've experienced. A person close to you has died, and you feel and behave as if nothing has happened. Or, your boss fires you from a job you've succeeded at for many years, and you go back to work the next day as if the falling-out had never occurred. You can also be in denial that you're in denial.
In the anger stage of grief, you feel extreme anger. The anger might be directed at someone you feel has caused or contributed to the death. You may be angry at the other members of your family because you feel that they aren't grieving appropriately. You may be angry at the doctors who cared for your loved one or at yourself for not being good to your loved one while they were alive. You may feel so angry at God for the unfairness of it all that you avoid religious places and people for a time.
Bargaining is a stage of grief in which you try to make a deal. Many people bargain with God when they or their loved one is terminally ill. They pray, begging God to take them instead of their loved one. They might say they'll be a better person if only they can recover from their illness. Children who are grieving sometimes try to bargain with their parents, not understanding that the parent can't stop or reverse death.
According to Kubler-Ross, depression is one of the stages of grief, and many people do have symptoms of depression when they've lost a loved one recently. They may have disturbances in their sleep, poor appetite or frequent sadness. As a stage of grief, depression is natural. Yet, talking to a counselor can help you find ways to cope.
You may accept the death and begin to move on at any time in the grief process. However, if the process isn't complete for you, you may move back into other stages of grief before you finally readapt to life without your loved one.
Is Grief Necessary?
Whether grief is necessary is a matter of opinion. However, most people can't move on with their lives after a serious loss until they have grieved. If you feel no sense of loss when something happens that is actually a loss that affects your life, you can benefit from talking to a grief counselor who help you figure out whether you need help experiencing the feelings that are natural with grief.
Why We Grieve
Why do we grieve, anyway? After all, death is a part of life. Adults know this, and children soon learn it. One of the biggest reasons we grieve is that we are human. As such, we have taken the chance of loving someone and then lost them. We care for them so much that it breaks our hearts if they suffer or die young. In short, we empathize with the loss.
Another reason we grieve is that our own lives are changed forever. Whether you're suffering because your marriage is over, your favorite pet has died, or your spouse is terminally ill, that loss will cause permanent changes you'll have to live with from now on. Your love and/or enjoyment you felt in that situation or with that person no longer has a direct, present outlet.
Tasks of Grief
Kubler-Ross's 5 stages of grief are perhaps the most well-known, but a psychologist named J.W. Worden came up with a different model of grief. He called it the tasks of grief. Worden's model not only provides definition of grief, but it outlines what we have to do to move on after a loss.
Accepting the Reality of Loss
First, we have to accept that the loss has really happened. We not only need to be able to recite the fact, but we need to know completely, in all our thoughts and with our emotions that our time with that person or thing is over.
Work through the Pain
Working through the pain is sometimes the hardest part of the grief process. Too often, we find ourselves avoiding all our feelings surrounding our loss. If the feelings do come, they may be so overwhelming that we have problems carrying out our daily routines. Your emotions may also be mixed, no matter how healthy and rewarding the relationship was. You might also have emotions you don't understand, such as a feeling of freedom or relief.
Working through the pain means letting yourself feel your emotions, but it also means releasing those emotions and letting positivity back into your life. You may need to talk to a counselor while you go through this painful period, to get support, a feeling of permission to feel your grief, and help in getting beyond the pain.
Adjust to Life without the Deceased
After the pain has subsided, the next task is to adjust to your new life and circumstances. You may feel at a loss as to what to do with your life now that the relationship is over. Even if you intellectually know where you want to go from here, you might not feel emotionally able to follow that path. Support is helpful during this task, too, as you gather the courage, the knowledge, and the resources to make a new beginning.
Maintain a Connection while Moving On
Although your loved one is gone, you still need to maintain a healthy connection with memories of them. Forgetting them altogether isn't the point of moving through grief. You do need to move on, but it's beneficial to carry memories and small reminders of the time you shared together. If you find yourself avoiding all reminders of them, you probably aren't finished with the grieving process.
Can Grief Counseling Help?
If you or a loved one is having trouble coping with loss, it's time to find a better way to manage your grief. Grief counseling can help you accomplish all the tasks of grief. It can help you move through the stages of grief in whatever order and as many times as is necessary for you to feel it is complete.
BetterHelp.com has grief counselors who can stay with you from the first signs of grief until you can accept and experience your feelings of loss and adjust to your new situation. Talking to a grief counselor at Better Help is confidential, affordable and convenient. With licensed counselors ready to help, there's no time like now to get started!