The Trauma of Complicated Grief

black and white illustration of woman's silhouette in window, sad and alone - complicated grief

There are many reasons why people might spiral into an abyss of grief. What makes it more challenging is when they also feel they can’t fully express themselves or seem to come to terms with the loss. Finding support to not only accept grief and loss but also learn methods to move through it often takes professional help.

A Snapshot of Normal Grief

The loss of someone you love is never something you can predict or prepare to overcome. Author Arthur Golden once wrote, “Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less, and one day we wonder what has become of it.” This might be true in many circumstances, but for all that mental health and other medical experts know of grief, it’s still unpredictable and immeasurable.

Each individual has a unique grief journey defined by various personal factors, but University of Michigan Health indicates normal grief often includes characteristics such as:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Fear
  • Guilt
  • Illness or a worsening of a chronic condition
  • Numbness
  • Pining
  • Sorrow
  • Sleeplessness
  • Shock

A person might also experience moments of happiness, peace, or relief.

There isn’t a “normal” or “expected” time period for grieving but eventually, many feelings ease and don’t appear quite as intense. This is usually an indication that you’re ready to move through additional phases in the bereavement process. What might this look like? The Mayo Clinic suggests that most people:

  • Accept the reality of their loss, and allow themselves to experience the pain of it.
  • Then, they adjust to a new reality in which the deceased is no longer present.
  • They’re able to reshape and maybe even form new relationships.

So if there’s not a typical response to grief, what defines complicated grief?

Understanding Complicated Grief

Mayo Clinic states that for many people, the acute sharpness of grief starts to fade over time. But if someone is caught in a web of complicated grief, symptoms last much longer than expected and maybe even get worse. This intensity of continued mourning is a barrier to effective healing.

The warning symptoms and signs of complicated grief often aren’t as apparent to the person suffering from it as they are to those who know and love the person. The Mayo Clinic outlines typical emotions and behaviors:

  • An inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one
  • An intense and persistent longing or pining for the deceased
  • Believing that you could have prevented the death
  • Choosing to spend most of your time with reminders of the loved one or conversely, displaying excessive avoidance of reminders
  • Choosing maladaptive coping mechanisms such as drug or alcohol use
  • Experiencing depression, deep sadness, guilt, or self-blame
  • Experiencing deep sorrow, pain, and rumination over the loss
  • Experiencing numbness or detachment
  • Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
  • Feeling that life isn’t worth living without your loved one
  • Focusing on little else but your loved one’s death
  • Having bitterness about your loss
  • Isolating from others and withdrawing from social activities
  • Lacking trust in others
  • Problems accepting the death
  • Trouble carrying out normal routines
  • Wishing you had died along with your loved one

And while everyone handles grief differently, most people are able to reach some level of acceptance after about a year.

However, individuals suffering with complicated grief might be deeper in that proverbial abyss and unable to process the myriad of emotions or manage various behaviors in healthful ways. This state of being causes even more complex dysregulation—which is an inability to manage emotional responses and behaviors—and can eventually shrink brain tissue. Fortunately, there are compassionate professionals who can help.

Complicated Grief & Loss Treatment at Cottonwood Tucson

Learning to move through the pain of extreme grief and loss isn’t about forgetting the person you loved—far from it.

It’s more about understanding that our human experience includes a range of all emotions, and where there is darkness, there is also light. Moving through the pain of grief is a courageous, necessary action, and while life without your loved one is most certainly different, you deserve to enter this new phase of existence fully supported and free from the smothering weight of loss.

At Cottonwood Tucson, we have a certified thanatologist on staff. Thanatology is the science and study of death and dying. So this expert provides insight from various perspectives, including ethical, medical, physical, psychological, and spiritual. Together with our other experienced clinicians, this expert helps people experiencing severe bereavement learn to develop new thought processes and behaviors to recalibrate neurological balance and maintain a healthy brain during the grieving process.

Clients of Cottonwood’s grief and loss treatment and depression program have numerous holistic methods available to better manage their health and reduce triggers to depressive episodes. For example, a personalized continuum of care plan might include:

  • Individual counseling and trauma therapy
  • Grief groups
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Brainspotting

Navigating grief and loss alone shouldn’t be your burden to bear. Please reach out today.

Looking for mental health treatment near Tucson? For more information about Cottonwood Tucson, call (800) 877-4520. We are ready to help you or your loved one find lasting recovery.

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