What’s Abbreviated Grief? Definition + Examples


When we lose someone we love, the grief we feel can be profound. Coping with the sorrow and loss that follows can at times feel overwhelming. Although grief is understood to be a natural and normal part of loss, not everyone reacts to a significant loss in the same way. Some people experience an abbreviated form of grief that is short-lived and sometimes almost non-existent. 

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Everyone processes their grief differently. Someone who can’t bring themselves to grieve may have nothing wrong with their individual grieving style. But sometimes, when grief is abbreviated, it may signal deeper emotional issues that manifest later as time goes on. Whatever your grieving style, know that you’re not alone. The way you react to loss is as unique to you as your fingerprints.

What Is Abbreviated Grief?

Abbreviated grief is just that: a shortened version of the grief experience felt by some mourners. Along with types of grief and stages of grief, there are languages of grief. The different languages of grief represent the differing grieving styles among bereaved people—expressions of grief vary from one individual to another.

Not everyone will suffer through a prolonged and complicated grieving period, nor will everyone suffer emotionally through loss, whether the suffering is normal, complicated, or abbreviated.

Grief is a universal reaction to loss. Abbreviated grief is just one example of an expression of grief, and it's nothing more than a shortened version of a more extended grieving experience. However, there are significant differences in the consequences of grief based upon the longevity of suffering.

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What’s the Difference Between Abbreviated and Normal Grief?

Bereavement professionals usually describe grief as something that's a normal and healthy part of suffering through loss. Normal grief can also be defined as a healthy way for the grieving soul to heal and transform from a significant loss. Normal grief doesn't require professional intervention because most people suffering from this type of grief will heal independently over time. 

While there's no definitive timeline for grief, research in the field of death, dying, and bereavement shows that most people dealing with healthy amounts of normal grief will need six to twelve months to move through their suffering to return to a normal life post-loss.

On the other hand, bereaved individuals may experience abbreviated grief shortened by several weeks or months compared to normal grief. Abbreviated grief doesn't mean that a person who experiences a shorter grief cycle isn't normal in their grieving. It just means that they're processing their grief in a condensed amount of time that's typical of normal grief healing.

There are many reasons why a person might experience abbreviated grief. Some of those reasons include the relationship to the deceased or the attachment to what was lost. 

What Does Abbreviated Grief Look and Feel Like?

First things first, abbreviated grief doesn't mean that you're not grieving. Some people don't show grief in what's considered typical ways. Many factors affect the way a person suffers through loss.

Sometimes when it seems like they're not grieving at all, it's just that their grief may be prolonged or delayed. Abbreviated grief can show up much later in the same way as delayed grief can. However, the difference is that abbreviated grief can and sometimes does end with no further manifestations later on.

Suppose you or someone you know is suffering from abbreviated grief. You may already have noticed that several psychological or physiological changes are occurring within you or your loved one. You may recognize these changes but may not know why they’re occurring. 

Abbreviated grief shows up as physical or mental health complications in some people. Sometimes it shows up as both. Recognizing what abbreviated grief looks like is essential to understanding the grieving process.

There's nothing wrong with you if you get through your grief quicker than others. However, if your lack of grieving is affecting you in negative ways, it may be time to take a closer look at why you're not allowing yourself to grieve fully and openly.

Complicating factors to your grieving that you should look out for include:

  • Interrupted sleep
  • Lack of concentration
  • Depression
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Physical aches and pains

Examples of Abbreviated Grief

There are times when a person who’s suffered a profound loss will try to protect themselves from further pain. They'll make the necessary changes in their lives to either accommodate their life after loss or change certain aspects of their existence to avoid thinking about the person or thing that they lost or to mask the pain of suffering.

One example of abbreviated grief could be someone who’s suffered the death of a spouse and jumps right back into the dating pool in hopes of finding someone to marry sooner rather than later. When they date or remarry too soon, their pain and sorrow get set aside while they focus on building the current relationship.

Remarrying or jumping into a relationship soon after the death of a spouse or significant other doesn't heal the pain caused by what was lost. It just serves to delay the grief experience. Sooner or later, the bereaved spouse will experience signs of prolonged grief, and they may not understand where their emotions are stemming from.

Another way that abbreviated grief manifests is when a person attempts to get pregnant soon after miscarrying. Bereaved parents suffer an extraordinary amount of loss after the death of a child. All the hopes and dreams they had for building their family are wiped out when their child dies.

As a way of coping with their loss, many parents try again to get pregnant almost immediately after a miscarriage. Their grief is abbreviated because they're focusing on getting pregnant and preparing for the birth of another child, not on grieving their loss. If they're able to conceive and birth a healthy child, they can expect to suffer the delayed grief from the child who died mixed with the joy of the birth of the new child.

This grieving complicates things and may require outside help to move through their pain and suffering and other conflicting emotions.

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How to Cope With Abbreviated Grief

A grieving individual can cope with abbreviated grief on their own without the need for professional help. There are a few things that you can do to help you process your grief and understand the reasons why your grief didn’t last that long. The following tips may help in moving through the most challenging times of your distress while opening the door to a different perspective on why you're not grieving as long as you might have expected.

Be kind to yourself

Learning to cope with abbreviated grief starts within yourself. A person who suffers genuine but short-lived grief experiences their loss as much as someone with a different grieving style. The length of time spent grieving doesn't indicate the love you had for the person who died.

This type of grief can happen to individuals who have dealt with a long-term illness or suffered some detachment from the person they lost. Remember to be kind and gentle to yourself as you learn to deal with your grief regardless of how long it takes you to get through it.

Know that everyone grieves differently

It's essential to recognize that everyone grieves in their unique way and will take however much or how little time to grieve as is necessary for them. Remind yourself not to compare your grief to others.

There's no wrong way to grieve over a significant loss. Allow yourself enough time to process the emotions that manifest shortly after suffering through loss. Your grief may not be ready to display in the days and weeks following the death of a loved one or other significant loss in your life. Remain open to the possibility of your grief ebbing and flowing during the initial six to twelve months after your loss.  

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You don’t need to feel guilty 

Release yourself from feeling guilty for not grieving in a way that's expected of you. No one should affect how you process your grief other than yourself. Whenever someone tries to shame you into feeling guilty about not grieving long enough or not showing your emotions, know that their personal opinions have nothing to do with the way you think and the way that you suffer.

Shame has no place in grief. Remove yourself from that negative environment and focus on yourself and your emotions so that you're able to process them without these outside influences.

Abbreviated Grief Can Also be Healthy

There's no formula for how long grief lasts when suffering through a significant loss. If you're able to move through your grief quicker than you expected, it could mean many things. For some people, it just means that they can better control their emotions as they heal from the pain of suffering.

And for others, it may mean that there are past issues left unresolved. Whatever the reason for your shortened experience, you may want to look within and ask yourself why this has been your experience with a particular loss.


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