do i have unresolved grief?
An essential guide on what unresolved grief feels like and how to unblock the grieving process.
Are you grieving the death of a loved one or a pet? Perhaps a relationship breakdown? Maybe you are grieving sudden unemployment or the loss of your health, freedom and independence? Have you experienced any other significant loss, such as the loss of your country of birth, culture or language?
If so, how long have you been grieving?
If it has been for an extended period, you may be stuck with unresolved grief.
Are there stages of grief?
Many people are under the impression that grief goes through the following five linear stages:
Even though these are all common symptoms of grief, in reality, there is no set order to grieving. The process of grief is as unique as the person who experiences it and will have its own unpredictable journey back to feeling whole again.
A dark, empty void?
I recently lost my dad to cancer, and my grief certainly followed its own path. First, there was peace and acceptance, then sadness and jealousy.
Yes, jealousy! Because I could not physically be there for my dad, unlike other family members.
This was followed by anger and ‘just getting on with life’.
Five months on, my grief feels like a dark, empty void. It is as though a part of me has been ripped out from my chest with no knowing how long the painful aftereffects will last.
Does this mean that I have unresolved grief? Not necessarily! But I do know that each one of us instinctively seeks what we have lost, even when we know it cannot be found again.
Symptoms of grief
First of all, it is pretty normal for people to experience a range of symptoms after a significant loss. Not only do these symptoms have far-reaching effects on our emotions. They also influence our mind, body, behaviour, social and spiritual well-being.
Can you relate to any of the symptoms below? Perhaps you have other symptoms not listed here?
- difficulty concentrating
- slowed thinking
- difficulty making decisions
- excessive focus on loss
- daydreams or flashbacks
- blaming self for the loss
- increased dreams or nightmares
- self-destructive thoughts
- disbelief and denial about the loss
- being preoccupied and forgetful
- agitated or angry
- blaming others
- craving more attention and affection
- pulling away from others
- seeking reassurance from others
- withdrawing from social activities
- jealousy of others
- feeling different around others
- avoiding long social interactions
- inauthentic in one’s own grief
- frequent colds and infections
- changes in sleep patterns
- changes in eating patterns & weight
- a pounding heart
- muscle tension
- easily startled
- headaches and stomach ache
- feeling weak and tired
- feeling numb
- staying busy
- increased creative expression
- avoidance of reminders
- more clumsy
- crying easily
- loss of interest in usual activities
- not caring about things
- excessive focus on reminders
- changes in activity levels
- needing more alone time
- feeling lost and empty
- angry with God
- questioning the reason to go on living
- questioning religious beliefs
- feeling abandoned by God
- a sense of not belonging
- finding hope in spirituality
- seeking forgiveness
- seeking one’s purpose in life
- spiritual connection with deceased
Does grief get any better?
Experiencing grief and loss is a painful experience. The cliché that ‘time heals all wounds’ may seem like the best solution to those who are grieving. However, it is not specifically ‘time’ that heals.
It all comes down to the person’s ability to find ways to cope with their loss.
A great analogy is to imagine a pot plant being uprooted and planted into a bigger pot. Over time, this plant will grow more roots and get bigger. It will adjust to its new environment.
In the same way, despite the immeasurable heartache and pain, most people will find ways to adjust to their loss and continue to live full and satisfying lives.
When grief is unresolved
Unfortunately, a small percentage of individuals suffer from prolonged or complicated grief. Complicated grief is more common in people who have experienced the death or loss of someone/something they had a very close relationship with.
Along comes COVID
In addition, with the onset of COVID-19’s travel and contact restrictions, we are seeing an increase in the disruption and disturbance of the normal grieving process. Because people cannot be physically present when their loved one is dying, or are unable to attend a funeral, they are suffering immeasurable heartache.
If, like me, you have experienced the despair of not being able to talk with your loved one, laugh at your favourite memories and cry together in their final days, you likely have unresolved grief.
Your grief may be compounded if you were not physically close to your loved one to hold their hand as they were dying. Your grief may also have been suppressed or cut short if you were unable to say your final goodbyes alongside family and friends at a funeral, wake or other ritual.
Do I have unresolved grief?
If more than a year has passed since your loss and you are still experiencing one or more of the following symptoms, it may very well point to unresolved grief:
- a persistent longing for the ‘one’ you have lost,
- intense sorrow and emotional pain,
- emotional numbness over the loss,
- preoccupation with your loss and the circumstances surrounding the loss,
- being bitter or angry over the loss,
- blaming yourself,
- excessive avoidance of reminders such as favourite places, music, food, etc.
- ongoing depression,
- feeling that life is meaningless and empty without the ‘one’ you have lost,
- a desire to die to be with your loved one,
- significant impairment in your ability to socialise or continue with work.
How to grieve properly
Unfortunately, unresolved or complicated grief does not subside on its own. Grieving is an experience that has to be worked through.
If you feel stuck in your sorrow, the best solution is to see a professional therapist who will help you work through your pain.
Some of the strategies the therapist may use include:
- reviving both the ‘good’ and ‘not so good’ memories of the ‘one’ you have lost,
- dealing with any emotion, or lack of emotion when revisiting memories,
- acknowledging the finality of your loss,
- exploring the link between the legacy of what you have lost and what it means to you.
To better cope with your loss, you may need some extra courage to open up and talk about it.
Is it too painful to verbally express your memories?
You can always try other creative forms of expression. Some examples include writing a letter, composing a song or poetry, creating a video, a picture collage, drawing, painting, sculpture or other expressive means such as drama, movement and dance.
Finally, you can begin the process of unblocking the places where your grief has become stuck by expressing your emotions in a way that is most comforting to you. With plenty of self-compassion, you will gradually replace your grief with tender love and honoured memories.
Please know that you do not have to struggle through your grief on your own. It helps to have someone to talk to. If you would like extra guidance on how to cope with grief, book in for a therapy session with Laurinda today.
Hi, feel free to comment on this post!