What is Unresolved Grief?
Unresolved grief, also called complicated grief or prolonged grief disorder, occurs when the normal grieving process is disrupted. Grieving people become emotionally stuck, suffering from painful emotions for an abnormally long time after a loss.
Unresolved grief may stem from the circumstances around the death, such as a violent death or lack of social support. Risk factors also include insecure attachment styles and a history of depression or trauma. When a grieving person is unable to make sense of a loss or find meaning, they can remain locked in the early stages of grief for months or years.
Signs and Symptoms
How can you identify unresolved grief?
Signs and symptoms may include:
- Prolonged and intense sorrow, anger, loneliness, or guilt
- Preoccupation with thoughts about the person who died
- Longing and yearning for the deceased
- Avoidance of reminders of the loss
- Feelings of disbelief or confusion over the loss
- Detachment from relationships and loss of interest in activities
- Blaming oneself for the death or feeling the death was unfair
As time passes after a loss, these feelings typically soften. But with unresolved grief, they persist and even worsen. Sufferers may develop depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, or complicated grief (persistent complex bereavement disorder).
Physical and Mental Health Impacts
Unresolved grief takes a toll on both physical and mental health. Impacts may include:
- Physical effects: Headaches, loss of appetite, insomnia, lowered immunity, hypertension, cardiac issues
- Mental health effects: Clinical depression, anxiety or panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder, compulsive behaviors, complicated grief
- Social effects: Withdrawal from friends and family, strained relationships, reduced productivity at work, isolation
- Behavioural effects: Increased substance abuse, suicidal thoughts or self-harm behaviors
The suffering caused by unresolved grief should not be underestimated. Seeking help is critical, as symptoms can worsen over time. With treatment, healing is possible.
Healing from Unresolved Grief
If you or someone you love suffers from prolonged grief or complicated mourning, know that you don’t have to face it alone.
Consider these tips:
- Talk to someone.
- Confide in a friend, join a support group, or seek counseling.
- Therapists can help you process emotions and make sense of your loss.
- Consider what’s preventing you from moving forward, like regrets or lack of closure.
- Then address these issues through writing, discussion, or ritual.
Take care of yourself. Don’t neglect your health. Make sure to eat, sleep, and exercise, and avoid using alcohol or drugs to cope.
Embrace your feelings. Allow yourself to fully experience emotions like sadness and anger. Trying to suppress them will only prolong the grief.
Redefine your relationship. The person who died is gone, but find ways to memorialize them and foster an inner bond.
Look to the future. When you’re ready, focus on re-engaging with life and discovering new meaning.
With time and effort, unresolved grief can be overcome. By facing emotions head-on and leaning on others for support, healing and growth is possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – you deserve to find peace.