Avoidance of unpleasant experiences is part of human nature. Almost everyone at some point avoids the things, people, and places that they don’t want to confront or that make them feel uncomfortable. The avoidance of grief isn’t much different in that grieving individuals may not always feel up to facing their pain and sorrow, so they do whatever’s necessary to circumvent those emotions.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Are Some Signs That You May Be Avoiding Grief?
- Why Do People Avoid Grief?
- What Are the Consequences of Avoiding Grief?
- How to Stop Avoiding Grief
- How to Help a Loved One Stop Avoiding Grief
The accumulation of loss experiences teaches us to differentiate from everyday setbacks and those much more painful to navigate. When we avoid the more profound types of grief, we keep things bottled up inside us until something happens that forces us to confront our pain.
Although keeping grief locked inside is common for many bereaved individuals, the effects of doing so may be more harmful than you think. Recognizing the symptoms of grief avoidance and knowing how to ask for help is essential when dealing with grief.
What Are Some Signs That You May Be Avoiding Grief?
Recovering from the death of a loved one isn’t like getting over any other type of grief. It can take much longer to feel like your usual self again. It’s essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of distress by tapping into online grief resources and those made available to you in your community. By doing so, you’ll be able to more clearly pinpoint the effects of grief. You’ll also learn how other bereaved individuals get through challenging times after suffering a significant loss.
The following are some signs that you may be avoiding grief based on the reported experiences of others, along with what some of the grief experts have to say. Take a close look to see if you recognize yourself in any of these scenarios.
You can’t talk about it
If you find yourself unable to or not wanting to talk about your loss experience, it’s OK. It’s often challenging in the first few days or weeks after suffering a significant loss. For most people, the suddenness and confusion are too much to bear. You might find that there are so many other necessary tasks that need to be done that obliging your emotions is not only inconvenient but stressful.
Undoubtedly, the death of your loved one might feel surreal to you in the beginning. Give yourself some time to take care of everything necessary, but don’t forget to allow yourself time to understand how you’re feeling. After a few weeks go by, consider getting grief counseling to share your story of loss.
Some individuals may need the help of their doctors to get them through the first few days and weeks following the death of a loved one. Doctors who deal with grieving patients understand that sometimes the pain of grief is unbearable. They may prescribe relaxation aids or other drugs designed to calm the mind and help their patients cope with the initial symptoms of distress.
However, if you find that you’re self-medicating, this may indicate that you’re avoiding your feelings. Remember that you can’t self-medicate through the grieving process and expect to come out feeling like your old self again. It would help if you allowed yourself to feel the pain and sorrow to work through your loss.
You avoid certain places
Bereaved individuals tend to avoid the places that trigger their memories of their loved ones. When locations tied to your loss exacerbate your grief and mourning, you tend to want to keep away from them as much as possible. Avoiding your favorite restaurants, stores, or parks is normal after your loved one dies.
When you’re ready to acknowledge your loss, you’ll find yourself wanting to go back to visit these places. You’ll find yourself welcoming the beautiful memories linked to those special times shared with your loved one.
Why Do People Avoid Grief?
Avoiding grief and the related complex emotions that come from it is how many grieving individuals deal with their pain and suffering. Grief avoidance is a shared grief reaction following the death of a loved one or another type of significant loss. While avoiding grief adds to the burden, stress, and duration of your grief, it’s sometimes necessary to help you cope with the painful emotions that follow.
Know that you’re not alone in your grief. Many people suffer from the inability to confront and accept their suffering. Here are some of the common reasons people choose to avoid their grief.
Grief is painful
The more significant the loss is, the more profoundly painful the sense of grief is for bereaved individuals. It only makes sense not to want to feel the pain of your suffering. As you learn to accept your loss, you’ll become more receptive to the painful feelings that result from losing someone you cared for and loved deeply.
You’ll learn to work through your grief even when the feelings are uncomfortable and result in profound suffering. In time, you’ll find that the sooner you confront these feelings and emotions, the sooner you can recover from your loss and move forward with your life.
Not ready to confront loss
No one’s ever truly ready for the aftermath of loss regardless of how well in advance they prepare for their loved one’s death. Everyone experiences grief uniquely, and often it’s impossible to predict how one will react to the death of a loved one.
For those individuals that mask their pain and refuse to deal with their loss, it’s because they’re not usually ready to accept the painful truth. Grief avoidance is a survival mechanism that allows bereaved persons to process only as much of their pain as they can handle at a time.
What Are the Consequences of Avoiding Grief?
Dealing with loss can be extremely difficult and will take a long time to recover from it entirely. Avoiding your grief can lead to complications in your grief recovery. The healing process takes time. When you prolong dealing with your emotions, it can lead to isolation, anxiety, and depression. Here are some things to look out for when dealing with grief and loss.
Differentiating between profound sorrow and chronic depression can be challenging unless you’re a trained professional or have experience dealing with significant losses. One of the most common effects of prolonged grief is feeling hopeless and losing the desire to enjoy what life has to offer. The longer you avoid processing your loss, the more apt you are to experience the symptoms of depression.
One significant effect of grief avoidance that not many people consider is the loss of relationships. Bereaved individuals who avoid dealing with their feelings post-loss tend to experience an overall shift in their outlooks and demeanor. Their relationships tend to become strained, making it difficult for others to engage with them authentically. Some people will recover most of their lost relationships, but others will permanently suffer this consequence.
How to Stop Avoiding Grief
When someone you love and care about dies, you may experience an initial sense of shock and disbelief. The first few days pass by so quickly and become nothing more than a blur that you can’t remember later. Your shock turns into confusion, and for some, it turns into denial.
You can’t anticipate how your body and mind will react to this type of loss, even when you’ve experienced significant losses before. And, despite past losses, your grief reactions are different with each one. Avoiding the pain and suffering that accompanies loss isn’t unusual in these circumstances. Here are some steps you can take to stop avoiding your grief.
Set aside your guilt
Many people suffering from the pain of loss tend to blame themselves as a punishment for their loved one’s death. Feeling guilty is the only way they can accept their loss and, as a result, spend months, even years, burying their sorrow. Talking to others about why you might be feeling this way helps you gain a different perspective on your loved one’s death. While guilt is an effect of loss, it doesn’t have to keep you from healing.
Permit yourself to grieve
Permitting yourself to grieve after the death of a loved one seems unnecessary and maybe even a little absurd to some. You might be thinking, "Of course, I'm going to allow myself to grieve." But, you may be surprised how many people don't allow themselves to go through the motions of grieving, especially when they feel shame or guilt over their loved one's death. There are many reasons why this happens. Here are some of the more common ones:
- You suffered abuse from the deceased
- You had a difficult relationship with your loved one
- You were estranged from each other
How to Help a Loved One Stop Avoiding Grief
Grief is very much a personal experience. Your loved one’s loss is theirs alone to grieve and process in whatever way makes sense to them. But when they find it difficult to acknowledge their loss and accept their feelings of pain and sorrow, you might be able to help them understand what’s going on inside of them. Here are some tips to guide you in helping your loved one who might be avoiding their grief.
Allow them to feel
The grieving process will undoubtedly uncover many scary and uncomfortable emotions. Your loved one might not be fully prepared to deal with such strange feelings and find themselves avoiding them.
Avoidance happens quite often, especially in people who are used to dodging complex situations and their effects. Your loved one doesn’t need to explain how they’re feeling or defend their actions. Grieving takes time, patience, and understanding. Start by going easy on them and encouraging them to let emotions flow naturally.
Dig deep to uncover past trauma
Sometimes you have to go deep to figure out what may be causing someone to avoid confronting their pain. Perhaps your loved one already knows what’s causing them to feel a more profound sense of loss than what’s deemed normal to some.
Their past experiences might lead them to react differently from others who haven’t dealt with significant trauma in their lives. Regardless of how they’re feeling, realize that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve. Pinpointing traumatic events in life might help your loved ones stop avoiding the grief of their current loss.
Grieving takes time and is often painful. The emotional pain from suffering a significant loss is a normal reaction to grief that not everyone’s ready to face. There’s nothing wrong with dealing with grief when you’re prepared to do so. Everyone’s grief journey is different and will evolve in response to your emotional needs.