Defining Grief and Loss
Though grief and loss are universal experiences, they are not experienced or perceived in the same way among individuals. Sometimes there are cultural differences surrounding grief and loss. Many cultures and religions have their own take on death and some form of afterlife.
However, grief and loss do not always have to refer to death. Grief by definition, is an emotion brought on by loss and how a person experiences that loss. 1 Loss is defined as “the real or perceived deprivation of something deemed meaningful”.1
The loss can be anything. Death of a loved one or an animal, divorce, losing your job, moving or changing schools, even loss of a routine or a tradition can be defined as a loss. It is okay to feel upset, sad, angry, or confused about a loss.
Because not everyone experiences grief and loss the same way, there is no wrong or abnormal way to experience these emotions. What we must be careful of is developing unhealthy coping mechanisms as we attempt to recover from these losses. We must also be careful not to overgeneralize the experiences of others as we attempt to empathize with them as they go through a difficult time.
Styles of Grief
Although grief is unique, the actions we take well we are in grief can be generally defined by a particular style of grief. There is intuitive style grief, instrumental style, and blended grieving style. 1
People who experience intuitive style grief may feel very intense emotions, want to express those emotions and talk about the loss often, and use affective language when talking about their grief.1People who grieve this way benefit from building skills around emotional processing and making connections with others. 1
Instrumental style people experience grief and deal with their emotions through action.1 They may not even outwardly appear to be grieving because they do not verbalize their grief as often. These individuals benefit the most from coping mechanisms that allow them to connect with their emotions through pensive thought and activity. 1
Rarely is a person entirely one way or the other. It is more likely that we grieve through a blended grieving style that involves parts of both intuitive and instrumental grief. 1
Many times we see the argument that in order to get through our grief, we must sever our emotional attachments to our loss. This concept is somewhat outdated, and not necessarily the most helpful to the recovery process. It is unreasonable for anyone to expect you to completely “let go” of a bond.
Counselors today are beginning to move towards a style of therapy that allows for the redefinition and continuation of our bonds towards our loss, rather than severing those bonds.1 It is possible to come to terms with your loss, and feel comforted by the memories from before you experienced the loss. It may take a long time, and a lot of hard work, but it can be done. You might feel guilt when you have a good day or have fun, and that’s normal. It is okay to feel happy even while grieving, and it is okay to feel sad. However, don’t fall into the pattern of never being happy. Remember that you deserve to be happy.
Please remember that mental health and grief is not a linear process. Nor will you ever completely be free of grief. You cannot completely wipe away a loss from your memory. However, your grief will change overtime and become easier to cope with as you work through your emotions and come to accept your loss. We do not have to undergo these experiences by ourselves, there are many therapists and support groups centered around grief and loss.
You can also reach out to your loved ones to obtain the emotional support you need to heal. This process is complicated, and it can take a long time, so don’t feel rushed or wrong if you take a longer time to recover then others you may know. No two people will recover in exactly the same way, and that’s okay. Your emotions and your experience is valid. It is okay to have struggles and bad days.
You may even experience symptoms of depression that cause you to feel nothing surrounding a loss. It is okay to feel this way. It doesn’t make you a bad person, and it doesn’t mean that you didn’t care about what you lost, it is just how your grief is manifesting. You may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional who is specialized in grief and loss.
With the right help and support, you can find coping mechanisms to move into a better place.
Humphrey, K. M. (2009). Counseling strategies for loss and grief. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
This article was written by Caroline Sebren, a senior at the University of South Carolina and current volunteer writer for Carolina Assessment Services, LLC. Caroline is a current Psychology major with a minor in Counselor Education and hopes to pursue work in the future as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
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