Common Reactions & Experiences

We all know that loss is a fact of life, however it doesn't make our grief any less intense.

Grief as a reaction to loss is normal. People experiencing a loss have reported a variety of reactions and experiences, including but not limited to:

Often times people struggle with the lack of power or control they have over the situation and the loss itself. Many individuals report feeling as though they “could’ve, would’ve, should’ve”. There can be a tendency to bounce around from one extreme to the other in terms of all of the different reactions we can have. One minute you feel “okay” and can run errands and have pleasant, even happy conversations with others. And the next you feel disconnected, intense sadness, anger, and just want to be alone. It’s important to note this is all normal in terms of the course of grief and bereavement.

One theory proposed by Drs. Terry Martin and Kenneth Doka (1999) helps us understand how people grieve differently. Intuitive grief refers to a style of grief that is usually more expressive; the internal experience of grief mirrors the external reaction. Intuitive grievers talk about their grief in terms of affect and waves of emotion. Someone who is more of an intuitive griever will report that they felt intense sadness and other emotions, and their behaviors are more external: screaming, crying, and shouting.

For instrumental grievers, the experience of grief is often more about the physical and cognitive reactions. There’s a tendency to think more about the person, circumstances, and physical or somatic experiences in their body, such as pain. There’s less of an affective or emotional reaction, instead they talk about what they are doing rather than how they are feeling. Instrumental grievers can be seen taking an active role, such as handing out flyers to raise awareness, setting up fundraising campaigns, or creating something to memorialize their loved one who has passed. It may look different, but they too are experiencing grief.

Complicated Grief

Grief is normal and should not be pathologized as most people cope with their loss effectively. Complicated grief is “distinguishable from depression and anxiety, it is marked by broad changes to all personal relationships, a sense of meaninglessness, a prolonged yearning or searching for the deceased and a sense of rupture in personal beliefs” (APA Monitor, 2004). According to the Center for Complicated Grief at Columbia University, “complicated grief is the condition that occurs when the instinctive adaptive response to bereavement becomes stalled” (Center for Complicated Grief, 2016).

For more information on Complicated Grief, please visit the Center for Prolonged Grief Disorder.

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