Do people not understand the grieving process?

When you are grieving the loss of a loved one, you expect comfort and support from friends and family. But often, people’s reactions and comments show that they don’t fully understand the grieving process. Their lack of empathy and insight into what you’re experiencing can make you feel deeply isolated and alone. Grieving is a complex emotional journey unique to each person. There are many reasons why some people fail to understand or demonstrate awareness of what you are going through after a major loss. Their intentions may be good, but their words come across as hurtful instead of helpful.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Oct 12, 2023
3 min read
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Why People Don’t Understand Grief

There are several explanations for why people fail to understand grief:

  • They Haven’t Experienced Loss Themselves

If your friends haven’t suffered the death of someone close themselves, they may not relate to the profound pain, confusion, and duration of grieving. They lack context to understand the enormity of the loss.

  • Discomfort Discussing Death and Grief

Many people feel awkward and anxious talking about death and grief. They may avoid the topic or say thoughtless things to brush past it quickly. Their own discomfort prevents true empathy.

  • Expecting Grief to Fit Timelines and Stages

People often mistakenly think grief follows neat patterns and stages on a defined timeline. When your grief doesn’t conform to oversimplified models, they worry you’re grieving “too long.”

  • Minimizing Your Loss and Relationship

Even loved ones may unconsciously minimize your loss, not grasping the significance of your relationship or role of the deceased in your life. This dismissal of your grief often stems from ignorance.

  • Focusing Only on Moving Forward

In discomfort with your grief, people try to fast-forward you through it. They frequently tell you to “get over it” or “stay busy.” While positive coping skills matter, you must also process the gamut of grief emotions at your pace.

The Harm Caused By Lack of Understanding

When close friends and family don’t understand or acknowledge your grieving process, it can worsen your mental health and grief in several ways:

  • Increased Guilt Over Grieving

Their lack of empathy may cause you to feel guilty or “flawed” for still struggling with acute grief long past their expectations. You may question if you should be “over it” by now.

  • Reluctance to Open Up About Your Feelings

You may hesitate to share openly about your grief, sadness, loneliness, and pain if loved ones don’t respond with compassion. Their lack of understanding inhibits your processing.

  • Anger and Resentment Towards Unsupportive Loved Ones

It’s normal to feel anger when close friends and family continue dismissing or minimizing your grief experience. Protecting your mental health may mean limiting contact.

  • Increased Isolation and Withdrawal

When your grief is constantly misunderstood, you may pull away from unsupportive relationships, leading to increased isolation during an already lonely time.

  • Profound Sense of Being Alone

You expect love, care, and empathy from family and friends while grieving. Their lack of understanding can make you feel deeply alone in your grief journey.

  • Complicated Bereavement

Receiving insufficient social support after a loss puts you at higher risk of complicated grief reactions like depression, PTSD, and inability to function normally.

Finding Needed Support When Loved Ones Don’t Understand

If close friends and family lack empathy or comprehension of your grief process, it’s essential to find support elsewhere:

Connect with Others Who’ve Lost Someone Similar

Bonding with those grieving analogous losses fosters mutual understanding. Locally, you can search for support groups for loss of a spouse, child, sibling, etc.

Online groups also connect you with empathetic individuals.

Join a General Grief Support Group

Grief support groups provide a judgment-free space to share your feelings and experiences without needing to educate listeners. Therapist-led groups can help build coping skills.

Talk to a Grief Counselor or Therapist

An expert grief therapist truly comprehends the emotional agony and nonlinear nature of grieving. Counseling provides personalized guidance missing from other relationships.

Confide in Friends Who Validate Your Feelings

Cherish friends who make space for you to express any feeling without critique. They reassure you that your grief experience is normal.

Educate Unsupportive Loved Ones

Kindly explain grief resources to uninformed friends and family. Manage expectations without judgment. Removing misconceptions may improve their future support.

Prioritize Your Healing

While you can try educating loved ones, don’t waste energy trying to change those resistant. Focus on your personal grief journey above all.

Patience and Hope When Loved Ones Don’t Understand Your Grief

It can feel isolating and discouraging when even close family and friends don’t understand your grieving process. But there are compassionate people and professionals who do comprehend the complexity of grief. Seek them out. With time, education, and your modelling, uninformed loved ones may also become more attuned to better walk alongside you. What matters most is honouring your unique process and finding support that acknowledges your profound pain. You deserve warmth and understanding.