• Jennifer Klesman, LCSW

The Various Types of Grief



When the word ‘grief’ is mentioned, typically one idea comes to mind: the death of someone, typically a loved one. The images that accompany it are someone’s somber expression, looking drained of life, crying, curled up, tissue after tissue crumpled.


Grief doesn’t only occur when someone dies. This may be the greatest misperception of our culture and society. We believe that someone must be dead and gone for there to be grieving, that the loss must be large and obvious. In reality, grief takes many forms large and small. It often invalidates other forms of grieving when we fail to recognize and acknowledge that other types of losses are just as impactful to our lives. Losses of friendships, jobs, trust, stable living situations, health, or a sense of safety are all experiences worth grieving. People will avoid negative feelings and incorrectly label what they are going through due to not being able to or wanting to see the grief that they are struggling with.


Below are various types of grief that impact us just as much if not more than the grief of losing someone to death.


Normal/Traditional Grief - When we think of the sadness of losing someone, that is normal grief. It can be all-encompassing. It includes but is not limited to “feelings such as: longing, crying, dreaming of your loved one, anger, denial, sadness, despair, insomnia, fatigue, guilt, loss of interest, confusion and disorganization, disbelief, inability to concentrate, preoccupation with thoughts of your loved one, fleeting hallucinatory experiences, meaninglessness, withdrawal, avoidance, overreacting, numbness, relief, sadness, yearning, fear, shame, loneliness, helplessness, hopelessness, emptiness, loss of appetite, weight gain.” - Whatisyourgrief.com


Abbreviated Grief - This is a short grief response that could be caused by not knowing the deceased well, someone else filling the role (remarriage), or someone able to adapt after experiencing Anticipatory Grief.


Absent Grief - When the signs of loss and grief are completely absent. Often when a loss is sudden and the grief is replaced with shock or denial. This is normal initially but abnormal when lasting for a prolonged period of time.


Ambiguous Loss - This is when you are grieving someone who is still alive, such as a breakup or the end of a friendship. It can be unclear to who or what has been lost, sometimes invalidating an individual’s experience.


Anticipatory Grief - Some tell themselves if they grieve someone before they pass, they won’t have to grieve so much when that person finally goes. In reality, that could happen, but you may also just grieve twice. There is no avoiding grief when someone dies, but we typically grieve the loss beforehand as well. Anticipatory grief can look like grieving someone’s loss of independence and ability to take care of themselves, loss of cognition, and loss of identity. These are the many small losses that occur as someone’s condition deteriorates before they pass.


Collective Grief - Grief felt by a group such as a community, city, or nation as a result of an event such as a natural disaster, war, or death of a public figure. September 11th 2001, the Kennedy Assassination, the Columbine High School shooting, and Hurricane Katrina are such events; often having mass casualties.


Chronic Grief- As the name implies, this is when the symptoms of grief are long-lasting with no signs of improvement over time, sometimes caused by the avoidance of grieving itself. This is similar to Prolonged Grief where daily function is impaired for an extended period of time unable to process and move on with life.


Complicated Grief - Complicated grief is when reactions and feelings of loss are long-lasting while being crippling and impairing normal functioning. This can occur when grief reactions are occurring alongside other mental disorders such as Depression and Anxiety. Exaggerated grief is similar to this which is characterized by nightmares, self-destructive behaviors, drug abuse, suicidal ideation, and the development or emergence of psychiatric disorders.

Cumulative Grief - This occurs when someone experiences a second loss while still going through an initial loss. Losing multiple family members in a row, or seen in breakups when the previous breakup was never grieved and felt, causing the grief to compile.


Delayed Grief - When the symptoms of grief are delayed, often seen in persons who organize the arrangements of a loved one’s passing which causes them to have to put their feelings aside to function and be productive. Once the services are over and others may have been moving forward with their lives, grief symptoms then appear. In other situations, the griever is avoiding the pain of loss and suppresses these feelings and reactions.


Disenfranchised Grief - This occurs when a culture, society, or support groups make someone feel like their particular loss is invalidated or insignificant, sometimes labeling them not as “real losses”. Examples of this are suicide, gang-related deaths, a loved one going to prison, loss of a partner from an extramarital affair, a miscarriage, or loss of an ex-spouse or pet.


Distorted Grief - This reflects when someone’s response to grief is abnormally extreme or intense, seen in the form of being aggressive towards others or self-destructive towards themselves.


Inhibited Grief - When an individual shows no obvious or outward signs of grief for an extended period of time; often coming out in physical manifestations and somatic complaints. An example of this is having severe back pain after a loss with no physical cause that can be identified by medical tests.


Masked Grief - This occurs when someone’s daily function is disrupted by the grief but the individual is unable to see and label the cause connecting it to the loss. Examples are when someone develops anxiety or sleep issues after losing a loved one, or an inability to be affectionate or social after the loss.


Secondary Loss - This is reflective of how a loss impacts multiple areas of someone’s life. Such as losing a parent can lead to loss of financial security, traditions around the holidays, or plans and expectations for the future.


Traumatic Grief - Produced by a loved one passing in a traumatic way, perceived by the griever to be unexpected or horrifying. This often causes impairment in daily functioning.


Reference source- Whatsyourgrief.com


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