February 6, 2024

The Complexities of Grief

Grief is a word that is often used to describe the normal and understandable reaction to the death of someone close to you. However, this somewhat simple definition is limiting and does not take into account a range of other experiences which may cause someone to feel grief. Whilst all of the examples below include the loss of something, none of these include bereavement.

Loss of Identity

When we experience a significant life change, such as a change in something personal to us, this may lead to feelings of a loss of identity. This could be as common as choosing to retire from your profession or going through a separation or divorce. A change in role can lead to us feeling like we have lost part of ourselves or who we are. One of the difficulties with coping with this kind of grief can be that we may feel less entitled to these feelings, particularly if it is something we have chosen to give up or change. In some circumstances, this sense of identity can feel stolen from us rather than lost.

Loss of Safety

One of the most fundamental needs we have in life is to feel safe. In order to thrive it is important to maintain a positive well-being in terms of feeling physically, mentally and emotionally safe. If something happens that causes us to lose any one of these, this can also elicit feelings of grief. This can apply to those who have experienced trauma who now struggle to feel safe in day to day life. This sense of loss of safety can also be emotional, whereby an individual can feel insecure or unsafe in a relationship. This relationship could be within their family, a friendship or more intimate.

Loss of Autonomy

Losing the ability to look after or do things for ourselves as we once did can be very distressing, and it’s not surprising that people may grieve during the adjustment process. Whilst part of this can sometimes tie into a loss of identity, it may also be an unwanted addition to our identity. For example, someone who has experienced a serious accident or injury which has resulted in significant disability, understandably may experience a loss of autonomy which could impact their current sense of self. Loss of autonomy can cause feelings of grief due to a feeling of loss of control over the situation as well as altering how we may view ourselves.

Loss of Dreams or Expectations

Realising that a dream or expectation that we had in life, such as to own a house or start a family, is likely to go unfulfilled can cause feelings of grief. Whilst this feeling of loss is focussed on something that we never had, that doesn’t make the loss any easier to cope or accept. Occasionally, the loss can lead to a sense of failure or injustice which can accompany the grieving process.

The above are all losses which are equally entitled to feelings of grief. It is important to remember that there are no set guidelines as to how long or how much you should grieve in any situation. All you need to know is that it is important to allow yourself to feel, and to remind yourself to seek support when needed.

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