Grief has the power to fundamentally and irretrievably change a person. Profound grief can change a person's psychology and personality forever. The initial changes that occur immediately after suffering a significant loss may go unnoticed for several weeks or months after the death of a loved one or other traumatic experience.
As we learn to cope with our losses, the way we perceive things, how we act, and how we interact with others will see a gradual shift from what we used to be to the new person we've become.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Can Grief Change Your Mind or Personality?
- Ways Grief Can Change You in the Short Run
- Ways Grief Can Change You in the Long Run
These changes are irreversible, and we must learn to accept the new version of the person we now are. Allowing the grief journey to take shape without relying on a timeline for grief and, instead, working towards healing helps us transition into this new existence and way of being.
Can Grief Change Your Mind or Personality?
When someone you love dies, it has the potential to affect you in all aspects. The resulting pain and sorrow can be overwhelming, making surviving and moving forward almost impossible.
Everyone's grief experience will be different from the next person's. Since there's no timeline for grief, it's possible to experience the effects of your loss for several years afterward. The way you move through your sorrow will be your unique experience, but you can expect some shared responses with others who've experienced a similar loss.
Recognizing the ways grief changes you is a vital part of the healing process. Experiencing grief reinforces a shift in the brain's wiring. Your brain can rework itself into a locked stress response that'll require you to work through these changes to reverse the adverse effects.
To promote healthy rewiring, you'll need to work on strengthening your mind's responses to grief. There's a wide range of activities you can do to promote therapeutic healing, including reading books about grief. Some ways that you can start reversing the effects of grief-related changes to your mind and personality are:
These are all therapeutic exercises in grief healing known as “grief work.” In time, the cumulative effect of each activity you undertake will help you heal from grief.
Ways Grief Can Change You in the Short Run
Grief has ways of affecting you and changing you in the short term. Significant losses trigger physical distress and emotional responses you might be unfamiliar with and unprepared to deal with.
Some standard links found between unresolved grief and physical responses include hypertension, cardiac issues, and immunity disorders. Being in constant distress causes long-term changes to your genetics and immune responses. Other more immediate reactions to grief are:
1. Changed eating and sleeping patterns
When you suffer the loss of a loved one, you might immediately notice a change in your sleeping and eating patterns. Some of the more common grief reactions you might experience are changes in appetite and the inability to fall asleep during regular bedtime hours.
For some people, the same responses trigger an opposite effect leading to constant overeating and sleeping. A person suffering from a profound loss may find it challenging to get out of bed and function in a regular daily routine.
Either of these extremes typically lasts for a few days after the death of a loved one. Most people suffering from ordinary grief will go back to their regular routines within a few weeks following the traumatic event.
2. Trouble coping after significant loss
After suffering through a significant loss, many people won't know how to handle their lives without their loved one. They may have trouble coping with their daily lives and moving past the pain and suffering associated with their loved one's death.
Dealing with the death of a parent during adulthood, for example, may leave a bereaved person in a state of shock and disbelief, having lost a significant part of their lives. They may have trouble adjusting to not being able to call their parent for advice when needed or stopping in to see them. One way of coping is by allowing feelings to manifest naturally without denying them.
3. Unable to forge a new identity
When a loved one dies, your entire existence changes. You can expect that your life will never go back to how it was before your loss. Holding on to what used to be can cause you to become stuck in the past, rendering you unable to accept a new life for yourself.
You may never go back to how things were before your loved one's death, but you can work at creating a new life and identity for yourself. You may need to adjust to and accept the way things are now.
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4. Build a resistance to change
Grief changes you in many significant ways. One of those is the building of resistance to change in many different aspects of your life. Sometimes, resistance to accepting new things is a psychological reaction to grief from not knowing how to handle life without your loved one in it. Some things to look out for are:
- Not accepting your life has changed
- Denying that your loved one died
- Refusal to move on and adjust to your new identity
- Hesitating on downsizing your house
- Not wanting to stick to budgetary changes
5. Experience heightened anxiety
A loved one's death, especially when sudden and unexpected, may create fear, panic, and anxiety in your everyday life. After suffering a tragic loss, the psychological change that takes place is that you begin to perceive everything as a threat. Even small and ordinary events are transformed in your mind into potential opportunities for great catastrophe.
You may experience the development of an unreasonable fear of injury or death. When the realities of your loss begin to sink in and become more apparent, you may go through periods of heightened feelings of anxiety and panic.
Ways Grief Can Change You in the Long Run
The changes resulting from grief are sometimes complex and difficult to discern from naturally occurring changes that take place as you get older. In the long term, grief puts the entire body at risk. When you deal with the death of an estranged parent, for example, the way grief affects you will be much different from other types of loss.
Although every loss has the potential to create profound changes in your psychology and personality, one may affect you more than others. These changes may not become apparent until many months or years after the death. Here are some other long-term changes caused by grief.
6. Unable to carry on after loss
When you've become so overcome with grief after a loss, and you're unable to carry on, your bereavement can turn into a chronic grief condition. When members in a family are all mourning the same loss, you may be unable to turn to them for support as you might expect.
Not having an outlet for the expression of your grief can make moving forward may seem impossible. Many people experience this adverse reaction to distress and may need to seek outside professional help. An experienced grief counselor or therapist may help you figure out how to manage and heal from your grief in a healthy way.
7. Withdraw from social and support groups
Unresolved grief can spin you into feeling chronic anxiety and depression, causing you to withdraw from your friends and loved ones. Social withdrawal is a common effect of grief and mourning and is expected to last anywhere from several weeks to a few months.
You can normalize your grief and loss experience by learning about your grief responses and why you’re feeling the way you do. Needing time alone to work through your grief is an essential part of the grieving process. Pay close attention to how long this period of your recovery lasts. In time, you should gradually begin to integrate social activities and interactions into your life after loss.
8. Gain inner strength
Manifestations of unresolved grief generally cause a slow adjustment to life without your loved one. In the process, some people tap into an inner strength they didn’t know existed that allows them to move forward in life. Others experience a slower shift and overall change in their values and how they want to spend their lives going forward.
Grief allows for space and time to reflect on what’s essential in life and what truly matters. Once the worst of your suffering is behind you, life provides you an opportunity to choose differently for your future. Inner strength gives you the willpower and self-discipline to persevere and withstand life’s challenges and difficulties.
9. Personalities change
The resulting strength that emerges after suffering the death of a loved one forces a change in your identity and how you view yourself. Your mind experiences an internal shift in how you see yourself and your life in the aftermath of tragedy.
You may go from being a carefree, fun-loving person to one who is reserved and a bit sensitive to everyday challenges. On the other hand, you may begin living your life more freely due to recognizing your mortality.
10. You stop worrying about the things you control
After loss, you might start seeing things in a completely different light. Things you used to think were substantial issues may no longer seem like such a big deal.
Overall, you stop overly caring about the things that are out of your control and start focusing more on the things you can change. For example, it’s typical to go from constantly worrying about finances to living from day to day without placing too much focus on what comes next.
Grief Has the Power to Transform
With grief, you’ll go through shifts and changes in your mind and personality as you try to understand the depths of your loss. Healing may take months or even years and the journey is often painful but necessary.
Your emotions will go from feeling full of gratitude to completely drained, sometimes all in one day. Eventually, you’ll notice grief has transformed you, and that’s when the most challenging part of your journey is behind you.