Every individual grieves in unique ways. No two people will ever share grief reactions that are exactly the same. And as many similarities that may exist, each individual's grief is their unique fingerprint on how they process loss. Although a highly emotional experience, grief is a necessary part of life. Common grief reactions manifest as shock, anger, disbelief, guilt, and sadness, among many others.
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The way an individual processes grief will vary from person to person. Grief is unpredictable and can be overwhelming. While some people will suffer greatly due to their loss, others will experience less intense emotions. Some may not experience grief at all or until some years later.
Acknowledging that people process their emotions differently, even when suffering from the same loss or type of loss, is essential to understanding how healing from grief works.
Why Do People Grieve Differently?
There are many types of grief, ranging from the ordinary to multi-layered and complex. As individuals experience loss or suffer through traumatic events in their lives, the way they respond to suffering will depend on factors linked to their personalities, past experiences, current condition, health, and mental wellbeing. These are only some of the things contributing to why people grieve differently from one person to another.
A person's psychological makeup also has a lot to do with tolerating stressful situations and emotional responses. A person who is emotionally mature and spiritually grounded may be more successful at coping with their grief than someone young and inexperienced in dealing with death and loss.
Interventions, such as family support and grief counseling, are proven to help grieving individuals get through some of the more challenging aspects of grief regardless of where their tolerances fall.
While different grief reactions are common among grieving individuals even in the same household, these responses will depend on many factors. Everyone's emotional and chemical responses are unique to their personalities and biological makeup.
Additionally, the relationship to the person who died also affects how a person grieves their loss. Other considerations include every household member's personality style, how they typically cope with stressful situations, and their outside social support.
All of these things combined lend themselves to the differences in grieving styles and grief reactions from one person to the next, even when they're residing in the same household.
What Are the Differences in Grief Timelines and Emotions?
Experts such as psychologists and grief researchers have conducted studies on how long grief lasts and the various stages of grief. Their findings conclude that everyone has a different path to processing their grief as they heal from loss. Not only does grief affect individuals differently, but it also shows up in many different ways depending on the person affected and the situation leading up to the loss.
Normal grief is said to last anywhere from six to twelve months, while more complex grief can take a lifetime of processing and ultimately may never go away for some.
The grief timeline that a person who's suffered through loss will go through depends on certain circumstances surrounding the death or loss, the closeness of the relationship to the deceased, and their personal past experiences.
There are five “stages” of grief that many grieving individuals will experience that include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, occurring in no particular order. However, this five-stage theory has diminished in popularity through the years as more and more research yields different results on how people grieve.
Other ideas that have gained popularity over the years include Worden's mourning tasks that imply or suggest a more task-oriented model than a tidy, linear or semilinear path for grieving. Grief is an ongoing experience for many bereaved individuals that ebbs and flows like waves.
With time, grief's intensity typically lessens. However, a bereaved person may still experience intense emotions on some days, mixed in with days that begin to feel normal once again.
The following are some differences to note when it comes to the time it takes a person to move through their grief and the emotions attached to these sometimes painful timelines.
In the aftermath of loss, there isn't a standard timeline to process grief. However, although everyone experiences grief in unique ways, some commonly shared grief responses help us recognize the signs and symptoms of complications as they may arise.
Common grief reactions may include those that affect a person physiologically. Responses to grief might include sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, and the onset of stress, all of which affect the body's hormones and, ultimately, the grieving person's overall health.
It isn't unusual to experience symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, trouble breathing, and changes to the immune system due to grief.
During grief, a person suffering through loss may experience overwhelming emotional responses to traumatic events. These emotions sometimes manifest as profound sadness, yearning, anxiety, and even anger and resentment. As a person's grief progresses, emotions may shift from feelings of sorrow to feelings of guilt.
It's not unusual for grieving individuals to blame themselves for the death of their loved ones. They may feel responsible for the circumstances leading up to the event, or they may think they let down their loved ones by not doing enough to keep them from harm. Other times guilt and shame may surface is when survivors feel ready to move on in their lives and relationships.
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As time passes and stress levels evolve, recognizing prolonged or complicated grief reactions requiring mental health treatment may lead to healthier ways of dealing with grief. When first experiencing loss, a bereaved individual may find it difficult to accept a lack of concentration and difficulty making critical decisions when necessary.
While they may recognize changes to their identity or the role they filled before their loss, they may not fully process what these changes mean for them as they move forward in life. Avoidance and difficulty controlling thoughts related to loss are indicators that grief may have evolved from normal to complicated, needing professional treatment.
After suffering a significant setback, there isn't a right or wrong way to process the way you feel due to that loss. Many bereaved individuals will feel shame or guilt moving on with their lives now that their loved one's died. At the same time, that same grieving person may be experiencing the effects of their loss in ways that manifest as loneliness and social withdrawal.
When this happens, moving forward after loss becomes more complicated because of conflicting emotions. A grieving person may feel tied to their loss, slowing their ability to move forward to rebuild relationships or a new life for themselves.
When grieving extends beyond what's considered a “standard timeline,” it's referred to as prolonged or complicated grief. This type of grief affects approximately one out of every ten people suffering from a significant loss or the death of a loved one. Prolonged grief can be defined as a continuation of the grieving process beyond the typical six to twelve-month range associated with normal grief.
Timelines like these only approximate how long people are expected to grieve after suffering a traumatic event. Many factors contribute to complications during this time, including past experiences, post-traumatic stress, and the ability to cope with stressful situations.
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Not everyone considers their spiritual and religious backgrounds when trying to cope with profound sorrow. Sometimes this experience gets lost in the shuffle of dealing with tying up loose ends after a loved one dies and participating in end-of-life matters that must be taken care of, including arranging for the funeral and other pressing issues.
After suffering loss, it's normal to feel let down by your religion or spiritual thoughts and beliefs. You may start to question God or your higher power, asking how they could have let this happen to your loved one. You may even lose faith and experience depression due to not understanding or accepting your loved one's death.
All of these different components add to the grieving process and are all natural and normal parts of suffering through grief. For some people, healing from loss goes through a typical trajectory without much complication. But, on the other hand, others will suffer through many months or years of sadness and depression following the death of a loved one or other impactful loss.
There's no one way to measure the amount of grief you might experience, and it's unfair to judge yourself against how others cope with their grief. Whatever method you choose to deal with your loss is OK. The most important part of this process is that you come to terms with your loss and get through your grief in healthy ways that support healing.
Grief is an Individualized Experience
There's no actual timetable that defines the grieving process. Every individual who's suffered a loss will experience sorrow in a very personal way. Some people may need specialized counseling or treatment, while others will independently manage to move through their grief.
Those needing added support can find solace in attending a grief retreat, seeking counseling, or working with a grief therapist to help get them through. The amount of suffering a person goes through is in no way an indicator of the love they had for the person who died.