Between the 2nd and 8th December 2021, it is National Grief Awareness week in the UK. The premise behind increasing awareness is to reduce the stigma associated with grief. Often, we don’t know what to say to those who are grieving and we don’t know how to support them. We need to break down these barriers and normalise talking about bereavement, death and grief. Almost everyone will go through grief at some point in their life. This article aims to help you understand the emotions involved and suggest coping mechanisms to support you.
Historical theories about the process of grief
Sigmund Freud scribed the original theory associated with working through grief in 1917. His theory after the loss of a person in your life involved breaking the ties you had with the deceased. This followed with a period of adjusting to different circumstances in your life and then building new relationships.
This was developed further by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1960’s who identified five distinct phases of grief. These were denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut in the 1990’s proposed a dual process model. They described a process whereby the griever moves constantly between emotion focused coping and problem focused coping. More recently in 2011 Christopher Hall discussed issues linked with integrating loss and resilience and post traumatic growth.
The general view of having to work through your loss remains quite fixed, but it is not necessarily correct.
Is it normal to suffer from the consequences of grief?
The answer to that is both yes and no. We are all individual and our reactions to events that have occurred in our lives are also individual. There is no ‘one size’ fits all approach to experiencing grief. Any support or intervention must be tailored to the uniqueness of the person suffering. We should also consider the relationships and circumstances of said person at the particular time.
Some people will suffer with immense feelings of loss, sadness and depression. Some will need to seek support from a mental health therapist. However, for a large proportion of people, they will not become significantly distressed after experiencing a loss. Both situations are common and completely normal and neither situation is right or wrong.
Are you experiencing grief related issues?
As we have stated grief can affect everyone differently. How it affects you will depend on the relationship between yourself and the deceased. What will have the biggest impact on the person left behind is what emotional needs were being met by the deceased. If that person met a lot of their emotional needs then the loss will be that much more traumatic.
Grieving is a natural process but it can be frozen if the death is traumatic. If this is the case then therapeutic intervention can help the trauma to be processed and this can mean that grieving can then begin to move through its natural phases.
Other factors which can have an impact, will be how resilient you are. Also, what, if any, your previous experience with bereavement has been and what your coping mechanisms are. Previous bereavement related trauma will adversely affect a new bereavement.
Some things that can help when you are feeling grief, are accepting that you will feel new or different emotions. It is important to look after yourself by making sure you get enough rest, exercise and eat healthily. It can also be really helpful to talk through your feelings with someone. If there is trauma present it is useful to seek professional help to process it.
Reactions to Grief
People experiencing grief might have any of the following:
- Intense sadness or depression and feelings of loss.
- Anger or bitterness over the loss. This could be aimed at the deceased person or at the circumstances surrounding the death.
- A preoccupation with thoughts of death or dying and becoming obsessed with these thoughts.
- Disbelief and not acknowledging that the person has died.
- A sense of needing some meaning or purpose of the death.
- Feelings of guilt. These could be about the relationship the person had with the deceased or about the death itself.
- Drowning our sorrows or taking substances to negate the feelings.
- Undertaking unhealthy eating habits or cutting to help cope with the difficult emotions.
Symptoms of grief
It is expected to feel sad when we have lost someone. We are grieving the person who we will miss and will not see again. The loss can sometimes feel so overwhelming and all encompassing. We may become more withdrawn from our family and friends and stop doing things we enjoy. This is very natural in times of grief but it can also be a first step towards feeling depressed. The more inward our focus becomes the more withdrawn and depressed we may become. Depression can be very isolating but it is also very treatable. It is important to make sure your emotional needs are being met and that you have someone to talk to.
It is very common to feel angry when you have lost someone. Depending on the situation surrounding the death you may have a genuine reason to feel angry. The person may have died from an illness or an injury caused by another person. These feelings are justifiable and are part of you processing how you feel about something that was out of your control.
Often anger is more acceptable in society than sorrow, particularly and unjustly for men. The anger allows us to release the emotions we feel with less fear of judgement or rejection. Anger can also put up a wall between yourself and others and provides you with a defence from being consoled. Identifying the reason behind your anger will help you move forward.
Denial is often a process we go through when we are feeling intensely emotional about a situation. We may be feeling overwhelmed and because of this we try to minimise the reaction. We do this by reverting to a sense of denial. Talking about the situation and gradually coming to terms with your loss will help you.
Using alcohol, drugs, comfort eating and overworking are common signs of denial. These actions protect and prevent you from feeling the emotions that you want or need to feel.
People may feel guilty regarding bereavement for several reasons. They may feel they didn’t do enough to prevent the death occurring. This is particularly prevalent in suicide deaths. If there were issues within the relationship this may spark guilt when one party dies. The grieving person may feel guilty that the disagreement was outstanding. They may feel that they didn’t do enough to resolve the situation or make things right. It may be useful to talk to someone non-judgemental who maybe was not involved in the situation.
How to help someone grieving
It is difficult to know what to say or how to help someone who is grieving. We can often feel inadequate, awkward and unhelpful. Even though you want to ease their suffering remember that grieving is a process. You can’t push them to get through it faster or more easily. You can provide support by being available to talk but don’t force them to talk before they are ready. Try not to attempt to fix the situation because you truly can’t, the grieving person can’t be fixed. Focus on being uplifting and good humoured and try to help with day-to-day situations that you can fix. For example, you could bring them some meals so you know they have eaten healthily. Or you may take over paying their bills for a short period so they have less to worry about.
Above all, allow the person to feel heard and understood without judgement. They are feeling what they are feeling. It doesn’t matter if you feel they should have progressed further in their grief, it is their own journey, and they need to travel it in their own time.
How can we help?
If you or someone you know is suffering in anyway due to grief then please contact us to discuss how we can help. We will look at the circumstances on an individual basis and discuss the right treatment specifically for you and your experience.
We use a combination of NLP techniques, Hypnotherapy and Mindfulness techniques along with CBT tools to help people overcome their mental health issues.
I hope that this information has been helpful. As always, if you know someone who would benefit from reading this, then please share. Why not head over to our website for more blogs, information and resources.
With warmest wishes