Grief can make even the most put-together person act out of character. When trying to cope with a significant loss in life, the pain and sorrow can cause specific grief reactions that aren't typical. Grief can sometimes result in the bereaved person pushing people away instead of accepting love and support from their friends and loved ones.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Why Do People Push Loved Ones Away After a Death?
- How Can You Avoid Pushing Loved Ones Away After a Death?
- How Can You Reach Out or Help a Grieving Loved One or Partner Who’s Pushing You Away?
Although there's no timeline for grief, sorrow follows a sometimes predictable path. Dealing with the death of a parent during adulthood, for example, may create space and tension between spouses. The loss of a child might cause a mother to withdraw from her spouse and any other children.
Both of these reactions are a natural and normal part of the grieving process. With knowledge and acceptance, there's hope in maintaining relationships for people who are suffering through loss.
Why Do People Push Loved Ones Away After a Death?
Pushing loved ones away when grieving usually results from dealing with the significance of a tremendous loss. Withdrawing from others is sometimes easier to do for a bereaved person than facing their pain and suffering head-on.
Trying to understand and deal with the death of a loved one can feel isolating. When you think that no one else in the world understands your particular pain and sorrow, it causes you to push others away instead of receiving the love and emotional support offered.
When a grieving person faces mortality, the experience can be a painful one. Instead of accepting that death is a part of the life cycle, they might try to hide from the pain of loss. Withdrawing is one way of shielding yourself from grief after a loved one dies.
Severing your ties to the people you know and love is a natural psychological response to grief when your relationships start to feel threatened after someone you love dies. An automatic psychological response is to protect ourselves from any further pain and suffering. Therefore, pushing people away protects you from ever experiencing the pain of loss again.
How Can You Avoid Pushing Loved Ones Away After a Death?
Social withdrawal is a part of the grieving process. When someone you love dies unexpectedly, you don't lose that person all at once. You lose them in bits and pieces over time. Their presence in your life slowly gets tied up as loose ends, and their essence begins to fade over time.
As you grapple with their loss, getting wrapped up in everything you once had and lost may cause you to delve into more profound despair. It's normal to avoid talking to others, especially when you've yet to come to terms with your loss. Here are some ways to avoid pushing others away altogether as you grieve.
1. Be open about your feelings
Reacting in ways that are counterintuitive to getting the help you need is a normal grief response. Unfortunately, most people may see your withdrawal as a personal rejection of their love and support. To avoid hurt feelings:
- Explain to your friends and family how you're feeling and let them know that you need some time alone to process your loss.
- Ask them to keep you in their thoughts and prayers.
- Encourage them to show their support by sending you uplifting texts throughout the day.
2. Set clear boundaries
Unfortunately, sometimes the people closest to you need the most encouragement when you’re the one struggling to get through a major loss in life. This type of reaction is rooted in people’s need for validation and encouragement and may not notice how deeply hurt you are or that you’re struggling with your loss.
You may want to explain that you need this time to yourself to process your feelings and emotions. Remind loved ones that your withdrawal has nothing to do with them and that when you’re ready, you’ll step back into their lives.
3. Allow grief to progress
Most people who’ve faced the loss of a loved one will go through the five stages of grief at some point. Although grief isn’t linear, these stages outline some of the expected grief reactions to significant losses in our life. They detail some of the most common responses to pain and sorrow and teach us about what to expect after a loved one dies or when another equally devastating tragedy occurs. Almost everyone experiences the pain of loss at some point in their life.
4. Learn from others
Books about grief help you navigate through your pain and sorrow. Reading about others experiencing the very things you might be faced with may help put things in perspective from a different point of view.
Stories about death and bereavement related to your experience may help you deal with your pain and sorrow and overcome your grief. You can read to learn and understand why you might feel like isolating yourself from others during the first few weeks and months after a significant loss. You’ll also read about how doing so has the potential to change the dynamic of your relationships.
5. Reinforce your relationships
When grieving, you may not have the desire or energy to nurture your existing relationships, but your close relatives might have that expectation nonetheless. You can find ways of reinforcing the bond with your loved ones while working through your grief.
Some people who’ve suffered a significant loss will channel their grief and energy into working on special projects that help them overcome their pain and suffering. You can direct your grief into these activities. In the end, you might come up with a beautiful, hand-created commemorative gift to present to your loved ones in honor of the deceased.
Consider trying your hand at grief therapy activities such as:
- Arts and crafts
How Can You Reach Out or Help a Grieving Loved One or Partner Who’s Pushing You Away?
When someone you love loses themselves in their grief, it's challenging to find a way to reach out to them and reconnect when they're struggling with pain and sorrow. You may find yourself walking a fine line between being supportive and overstepping the line of giving them space to grieve.
Deep grief is disorienting and affects everyone differently, but it is possible to work through this period of profound suffering. Here are some ways you can counteract when a loved one's pushing you away.
1. Offer unconditional support
Giving unconditional support to someone you love who’s grieving may sometimes frustrate you because of their lack of response or continued pulling away from you. However, it’s essential to recognize this behavior as a normal part of the grief process.
Don’t give up your efforts even when things get challenging. Grief recovery is often a long journey through pain and self-discovery. Your loved ones may need extra love and support as they come to terms with their loss. Offering your unconditional love and support means that you keep doing what you know they need most without being judgmental or feeling resentful for doing them.
2. Be sincere in your words and actions
Carefully choose what you say to someone who's in pain after suffering a tragic loss in their life. They're more likely to have heightened sensitivities, and everything you say will be amplified in the context of that pain. You might already feel as if you're walking on eggshells with everything you say and do.
Know that you can never say the exact right thing when someone's grieving. There's also nothing you can say or do to alleviate their suffering or to change the circumstances. Don't make this your responsibility or place this pressure on yourself. The best thing you can do is be genuine and honest in your efforts to help and the things you say.
3. Show patience and understanding
Being patient and understanding can wear thin, especially when you’ve given all you’ve got, and your loved one still keeps pulling away from you. Don’t lose encouragement when this happens.
Keep supporting them through their darkest moments by being their life support when they feel as if they’re drowning. In time, their grief will lessen, and they’ll come around when they’re ready. Giving someone the time and space they need to grieve is essential in preserving relationships.
4. Listen without advising
Sometimes we all have the urge to give advice even when no one's asked us for it. We do it out of a place of love and wanting to help. However, a grieving person may need someone to talk to but is not necessarily looking for advice. Unless you've gone through a similar experience, hold back on offering advice on how to get through their pain. Your loved one can see even the most well-intentioned advice as hurtful or offensive.
5. Give of yourself freely
Supporting someone who's grieving isn't about what you can get out of it later. Sometimes, we give ourselves with expectations of being repaid sometime in the future when we need help and support. When you give to others with the expectation of getting something in return, it can lead to feelings of resentment and frustration when the other person doesn't follow through when you're expecting them to.
Instead, consider giving your time, effort, and resources without expecting anything in return now or in the future. When you erase these expectations, your life is more relaxed. In return, you don't live with the constant fear of being let down. Expect nothing from others, and you might get pleasantly surprised with how they show up for you when needed.
Keeping Relationships Intact After Loss
Grief is so personal, and it affects everyone differently. Learning to navigate the effects of loss pushes us to react in ways that are out of character that may end up hurting the ones we love and are closest to us.
Maintaining relationships throughout the grief process may seem daunting, but the pain of grief will lessen in time. Expect that your relationships will have changed after loss and that you will need to find a new way of reconnecting to your loved ones.