As a grief recovery counsellor, one of the most common questions I get asked is, “Are my emotions normal?”. And sometimes people worry, “Am I going crazy?”. Read on to learn more about common emotional responses to grief and loss, and what you can do to recover from this painful experience.
People often worry about their emotional responses to grief, and ask me if what they are feeling is normal, healthy or sane. The answer is almost always yes. Emotional responses to loss can feel unfamiliar and upsetting, but that does not mean they are wrong. And although the way individual people grieve is as unique as a fingerprint, there are still some common emotional reactions which, though painful, are signs of healthy recovery from loss.
Typical responses to grief and loss include feelings of numbness, shock or ‘going blank’- especially in the early days; tearfulness and sadness and denial that the loss has occurred. Other reactions can range from anger, including anger towards the deceased if there has been a death; obsessing about the loss; and guilt, especially the grieving person wishing they had done something different that might have prevented the loss or death.
During the early stages of grief, it is not uncommon for people to be completely pre-occupied with their loss, and to return to it over and over again as they try to make sense of and come to terms with that loss. Mental and physical fatigue can also be high in early grief, as the energy that is normally available for day to day living gets channeled into the hard but important work of grieving. Again this is a normal response, as the healing process from grief initially requires a lot of energy in order for healthy recovery to occur. However, if grieving people give themselves permission to mourn their loss, and find appropriate supports, then they usually pass through this most exhausting time and find their life energy gradually beginning to return to normal.
Sometimes grieving people fear that the intensity of their grief means that their mental health may not be the best. It is completely normal for the intensity of grief to feel in direct proportion to not only the type of loss, but also what the loss means to the grieving person on a deeper level. For example, the loss of a love relationship may or may not feel as intense as the death of a loved one. It depends on the importance of the relationship, and the meaning the relationship had for the grieving person. In other words, although the depth of a grief response is unique to each individual, and is dependent on the meaning of that loss, there are a range of healthy responses that can include intense mourning. The good news is that with healthy grief – i.e. approaching varied emotions with acceptance and getting positive support - intense mourning is usually time limited.
At the same time, it’s important to be aware of potentially unhelpful reactions to loss. For instance, if a grieving person becomes overwhelmed by grief symptoms, or views their loss as insurmountable, their response to loss can become a barrier to healthy recovery. Unhealthy responses to loss can include normal sadness deteriorating into depression, or anger turning into rage. If constructive coping skills are not present or deteriorate into depression or rage the healing process becomes blocked, and unhealthy or ‘traumatic’ grief can take over. People experiencing traumatic grief likely require formal psychological support in order to heal from their loss and regain their emotional well being. But whether grief is healthy or traumatic, most people can benefit from counselling to help them recover from their loss as quickly as possible.
For more information contact Glynis Sherwood