GRIEVING THOUGHTS AND BEHAVIORS
Most people will experience loss at some point in their lives. Grief is a reaction to any form of loss. Bereavement is a type of grief involving the death of a loved one.
Bereavement and grief encompass a range of feelings from deep sadness to anger. The process of adapting to a significant loss can vary dramatically from one person to another. It often depends on a person’s background, beliefs, and relationship to what was lost.
Grief is not limited to feelings of sadness. It can also involve guilt, yearning, anger, and regret. Emotions are often surprising in their strength or mildness. They can also be confusing. One person may find themselves grieving a painful relationship. Another may mourn a loved one who died from cancer and yet feel relief that the person is no longer suffering.
People in grief can bounce between different thoughts as they make sense of their loss. Thoughts can range from soothing (“She had a good life.”) to troubling (“It wasn’t her time.”). People may assign themselves varying levels of responsibility, from “There was nothing I could have done,” to “It’s all my fault.”
Grieving behaviors also have a wide range. Some people find comfort in sharing their feelings among company. Other people may prefer to be alone with their feelings, engaging in silent activities like exercising or writing.
The different feelings, thoughts, and behaviors people express during grief can be categorized into two main styles: instrumental and intuitive. Most people display a blend of these two styles of grieving:
Instrumental grieving has a focus primarily on problem-solving tasks. This style involves controlling or minimizing emotional expression.
Intuitive grieving is based on a heightened emotional experience. This style involves sharing feelings, exploring the lost relationship, and considering mortality.
No one way of grieving is better than any other. Some people are more emotional and dive into their feelings. Others are stoic and may seek distraction from dwelling on an unchangeable fact of living. Every individual has unique needs when coping with loss.
Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. Some people recover from grief and resume normal activities within six months, though they continue to feel moments of sadness. Others may feel better after about a year.
Sometimes people grieve for years without seeming to find even temporary relief. Grief can be complicated by other conditions, most notably depression. The person’s level of dependency on the departed can also cause complications.
The grieving process often involves many difficult and complicated emotions. Yet joy, contentment, and humor do not have to be absent during this difficult time. Self-care, recreation, and social support can be vital to the recovery. Feeling occasional happiness does not mean a person is done mourning.
Grieving the loss of a loved one be a difficult process, whether the loss is due to death, a breakup, or other circumstance. One of the hardest challenges is adjusting to the new reality of living in the absence of the loved one. Adjusting may require a person to develop a new daily routine or to rethink their plans for the future. While creating a new life, a person may adopt a new sense of identity.
The DSM-5 does not define bereavement as a disorder. Yet typical signs of grief, such as social withdrawal, can mimic those of depression.
So how can one tell the difference between grief and depression?
Grief is typically preceded by loss. Depression can develop at any time.
The sadness present in grief is typically related to the loss or death. Depression is characterized by a general sense of worthlessness, despair, and lack of joy.
Symptoms of grief may improve on their own with time. Someone with depression often needs treatment to recover.
Despite their differences, depression and grief are not mutually exclusive. If someone is vulnerable to depression, grief has the potential to trigger a depressive episode. If someone already has depression, their condition may prolong or worsen the grieving process. A therapist can help a person in mourning recognize and manage any depressive symptoms.