In each of our lifetimes, almost everyone will experience loss. It's part of the human experience that's inescapable for most. We don't just experience grief following the death of a loved one. It can show up in other ways, such as losing a career, a ruined friendship, or even financial loss.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Can You Actually Get ‘Stuck’ in Grief?
- What Points Do People Typically Feel Stuck in Their Grief?
- What Can You Do If You’re Feeling Stuck in Grief?
The way we experience the different stages of grief is a unique journey for everyone. Frankly, the feelings of pain and sorrow following a significant loss are never the same for any two people. One person may withdraw into themselves, while another may choose to seek help from their support group or a professional.
Can You Actually Get ‘Stuck’ in Grief?
Yes, you can get stuck in grief. Sometimes the cycle can go on for years when grief is left unattended. How long grief lasts will depend on a culmination of many factors. Some of the more common reasons why you might get stuck in grief are not doing anything to help yourself heal from your pain and sorrow, avoiding your feelings, or getting so overwhelmed by your distress that you can’t move forward from it.
What Points Do People Typically Feel Stuck in Their Grief?
You may feel stuck in your grief when it’s been years, perhaps even decades, since you’ve suffered your loss, and you can’t move past the pain and suffering that it has created. Pushing past your loss seems almost impossible. You may find yourself not wanting to go forward with life regardless of any hope for the future. Feeling as though you are unable to let go of your loss can be typical when you’ve lost a close loved one such as your spouse or child at any age.
Some signs to look for that are typical of being stuck in grief include:
- Feeling irritable
- Feeling obsessed with your loved one or your loss
- Having an irrational fear of loss
- Overreacting to smaller losses
What Can You Do If You’re Feeling Stuck in Grief?
How can you move forward when it feels like you're stuck in your grief? You may feel as if you can't move on with life after a loved one dies or if you are suffering through some other significant setback. Dealing with loss is a natural part of life, but sometimes the grief associated with it can cripple you. You may find it challenging to pick up the pieces and move forward even years after you've experienced your loss.
When your sorrow becomes chronic and disabling, it's known as complicated grief. Although it may sometimes feel like depression, the symptoms of prolonged mourning are unique to grief. The way you treat prolonged grief is also different than how you would depression.
The following tips may help you with some ideas of how to move past your pain:
1. Lower your expectations
There are many types of grief. And no two people will ever grieve the same. If you're dealing with your mother's death from cancer, for example, your suffering will feel different from someone whose young child has died. Comparing your loss to another's and finding fault in the way you're grieving can cause you to feel stuck in your grief. You may think that you're somehow doing it wrong or that someone else is doing it better.
When you lower your expectations on how you're supposed to grieve, you allow the feelings and emotions associated with grief to ebb and flow naturally. You may need additional time to work through your grief, but you'll start feeling better in time.
2. Be kind to yourself
Stock up on self-compassion because you’ll need it after suffering a significant loss in your life. Feelings of guilt, shame, anger, and resentment are all a natural and normal part of the grieving process. For whatever reason, you might be laying blame on yourself for the death of your loved one. It is worth remembering that you’re not alone.
Many people go through this stage of grief, where they can’t get past all of the things they could’ve done differently to prevent their loved one’s death. It’s important to acknowledge that not all deaths are preventable, and even changing your course of action may not have yielded a different result. Be kind to yourself and accept that sometimes death is inevitable. It can happen even if you work your hardest to plan and prevent it.
3. Practice self-care
Choosing how you'll live your life after loss is up to you. You have the freedom to prove to yourself and your deceased loved one that you will do the best you can to take care of yourself and live the best life possible following their death.
Turning around your grief and showing yourself some self-care is a conscious decision that you'll need to arrive at to move forward from your pain and suffering. The road may not be an easy one, but in time and with a little practice, you'll be able to come to terms with your loss.
4. Don’t ignore your grief
The feelings you get when you're grieving can be uncomfortable. Understanding the stages of grief and how they affect you is the right place as any to help you open up about how you're feeling and how grief has affected you. Covering up or ignoring your suffering is responsible for causing complications in your healing journey that may take years to surface.
The stages of grief are not linear. Pretending some of the most challenging parts of grief don’t exist will not make them go away. Even when you think enough time has passed by. In denial, grief is left unattended. When you accept your grief, you reclaim the power to heal from it.
5. Recognize the symptoms
Recognizing the symptoms of complicated grief are essential to your healing journey. Some things to help you figure out if you are stuck in your grief are:
- Grief lasting more than six months after the death of a loved one
- A sense of disbelief regarding the death long after it has occurred
- Recurring pangs of painful emotions
- Intense yearning and longing for your loved one who's died
- Avoidance of situations and activities that remind you of your loved one
- Irrational preoccupation with thoughts about death
6. Talk about your loss
Not knowing why you're feeling stuck in your grief sometimes results from not talking openly about your loss. Some of the biggest reasons you may be avoiding talking about your loss are feelings of guilt, anger, and shame.
These feelings and emotions stop you from opening up to others over the fear of being judged, as is the case with overdose deaths or death by suicide. These are all normal responses to grief when you don't feel it safe to talk about your loss. Finding a trusted confidant to open up to will help you along your path toward healing.
7. Let go of your grief
Make a conscious decision to let go of the pain and suffering associated with your grief. You can let go of them both without letting go of the love you have for your loved one who died. It's a misconception to think that if you let go of your suffering, you end up letting go of the love and memory of the person who died.
To finally reach a place where you can let go, you'll need to spend time with your grief. Give yourself the necessary time required for you to mourn your loss. Don't rush the grieving process. It takes time for you to process all the emotions associated with it. However, letting go is necessary to move past your grief and healing from it.
8. Keep on trying
When all else fails, allow yourself to feel the pain of your grief and keep moving forward. There's nothing shameful in trying and failing to get past your anguish. When sorrow overtakes you down to the very core of your being, coming up from it can be challenging. It's essential to keep trying to get past the debilitating effect that grief can have on you.
If you give in to the feelings of despair, it may become more difficult for you to come up from underneath it as time passes. That feeling of drowning in sorrow is genuine for many people. Sometimes all you can do is keep on trying one day at a time.
9. Ask for help
Asking for help is not always an easy thing to do. Some situations may prevent you from opening up to others about your loss and experience. The things that may be holding you back from asking for needed help are possibly things that cause you shame when acknowledging them.
Keep in mind that grief and loss manifest in many different complicated ways. Although they only may be unique to you, your journey and experiences are not unusual within society as a whole.
10. Get counseling
When you're stuck in your grief, it's because there are usually other underlying causes or issues at the core of your suffering.
You may benefit from consulting with a grief counselor or therapist to help you discover where it is that you've become stuck. A skilled therapist can support you through your grief journey and guide you toward healing from your loss.
Getting Unstuck From Grief
There is no getting over the pain of losing someone you love. Grief will last you for a lifetime. However, the pain of your loss will ease over time, and slowly you’ll start to feel that you can finally breathe again.
Successfully managing your grief will depend on you taking action to reconcile your loss. One day, you’ll wake up and realize that you feel better and are no longer drowning in your sorrow.