Jump to section
Most people will experience a type of grief at some point in their lives. Recognizing the symptoms and offering support can seem like a daunting task. But, knowing what to look out for and the different types of grief can help you to provide the support a grieving individual needs.
To help provide insight into the ways grief manifests, here’s an overview of different types of grief and ways to manage the experience –– whether you’re going through it yourself, or know someone who is.
What is grief?
Grief is experienced in the face of loss, especially losses that helped form your identity. Though it is the most commonly felt, grief does not need to be caused solely by the death of a loved one.
It can be triggered by any event that involves an identity-altering type of loss. This can include living through a natural disaster, a divorce, one’s own illness or that of a loved one, and certainly the death of a family member or loved one.
Symptoms of grief
Though your grief may look completely different from someone else’s, there are common grief symptoms to look out for. Losing a loved one or even a job can trigger a grief response at any stage of the process, so it’s helpful to understand some of the signs.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these are the most common symptoms of grief:
- Strong feelings of sadness or sorrow
Inability to focus
Lack of trust
Feelings of loss of purpose or intention in life
Consuming thoughts of that which you lost
Denial of your loss
Types of grief people may experience
Grief is universal, yet everyone experiences grief in a way that is unique to them. This can complicate interaction with employees because there is no one “right” way to support them.
Let’s look at the various types of grief which will help to understand the emotions your employees may be experiencing.
1. Normal grief
The American Psychology Association defines normal grief as grief that lasts 6 months to 2 years following the significant loss. There may be cultural differences to consider as well. For example, some cultures have grieving practices that call families together over a period of several years to mourn the deceased.
2. Absent grief
Absent grief is when there is a complete void of grief in response to a great loss. This is more common when the loss is sudden. You can recognize absent grief by the presence of denial and shock. Absent grief should be addressed if it continues for an extended period of time.
That said, it’s important to remember that everyone’s grieving process is slightly different. So if you suspect someone is struggling with absent grief, you should be cautious to address it. They could be showing their grief in a more subtle way but still experiencing extreme turmoil within.
Just because someone doesn’t look like they’re grieving, doesn’t mean that they aren’t.
If you’re experiencing this type of grief, you could be grieving but completely unaware of it. There’s often a lot to manage around the time of loss, so you may not have the time or capacity for intense feelings right now. Or you may simply grieve more subtly, and that’s okay.
This type of grief is felt in anticipation of a significant loss. This includes things like the diagnosis of a terminal illness, anticipated layoffs, or impending divorce. It is common for caregivers to feel anticipatory grief over a terminally ill patient or loved one.
When experiencing anticipatory grief, you may start envisioning your life without that person. You might make plans for what how you will respond to the loss, or want to prepare for its occurrence.
Living in this anticipation can be challenging, however. You may feel conflicted over the guilt of planning for a loved one’s departure. Or you might feel resolved in the peace you have time to make prior to experiencing the loss. Either way, it is important to be patient with yourself as you navigate this type of grief.
4. Delayed grief
This grief reaction does not occur for a long time after the loss occurred. Sometimes delayed grief surfaces in the face of another significant loss down the line. It functions like a trigger, opening the gates from the initial loss.
This type of grief experience is marked by conflicting feelings for the loss. For example, grief over the death of an estranged parent or abusive partner, or the loss of a job that no longer brought joy.
6. Cumulative grief
Grief of this type builds up over time and is marked by a number of losses taking place in a relatively short period of time. The fatigue felt by many in the face of the COVID pandemic is a type of cumulative grief.
7. Disenfranchised grief
Kenneth Doka, Ph.D., writes in Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow that this type of grief occurs anytime someone feels that society has denied their “need, right, role, or capacity to grieve.” Examples of disenfranchised grief include hidden or secret relationships, pets, or where the loss is seen as small by others or minimized by the culture.
8. Distorted grief
Often characterized by an extreme reaction, distorted grief provokes an intense response from the griever. This type of grief can be identified by the griever's immense emotional response and often hostile behavior.
This anger is directed at other people and/or the griever themselves. Be aware of episodes of lashing out, and check in with the griever to ensure they aren’t in a position to hurt themselves or another person.
9. Inhibited grief
This type of grief reaction occurs when someone does not show any type of outward grief. They often remain very busy or distracted. They could take on more work or start new projects to keep their minds occupied and avoid dealing with their grief.
This pattern continues for a long time. Often the individual usually develops a physical manifestation of their grief. This can be stomach issues, poor sleep, muscle and body aches, etc. The physical symptoms vary but are usually present with inhibited grief.
10. Abbreviated grief
Abbreviated grief passes quickly. This type of grief is short-lived as individuals move on quickly. They can feel the urge to find a substitute to fill the space the departed has left. Or they can already have made peace with their loss prior to it actually happening.
11. Chronic grief
If you still have very strong emotions around grief for months or years following the initial loss, you may be experiencing chronic grief. This differs from normal grief in that the feelings do not come and go. Nor do they lessen in intensity. With chronic grief, the griever has an incredibly difficult time dealing with their grief or overcoming it.
12. Collective grief
Some events cause entire communities and large groups of people to suffer. Events such as terrorist attacks, war, and pandemics are common causes of collective grief. There doesn’t have to be a direct connection between the loss or tragedy and the community, however. The death of a public figure can also cause collective grief.
How grief affects the body
In addition to the mental health issues that grief can cause or intensify, it can also affect the body physically
Grief manifests in different ways depending on each person. Perhaps you already carry tension in your neck. Or maybe you already deal with digestion issues when you’re stressed. Much like stress, grief can take up home in various areas of your body.
It may not be immediately apparent that grief is at the root of these physical ailments. To help identify them, here are some of the ways grief impacts the body.
Aches and pains: Muscle and body aches can be caused or exacerbated by grief. Though temporary, these pains can be quite uncomfortable. Be it headaches, backaches, or other muscle groups, these pains are all caused by the same thing. They’re caused by the increased release of stress hormones that cause your muscles to contract.
Impaired immune system: Oftentimes the stress hormones are so strong that they throw other hormones out of balance. This leads to fewer white blood cells, which are key to protecting the body from infection.
Sleepless nights: Trouble sleeping is a common symptom of grief. Given that sleep is such an important piece of physical and mental health, ongoing sleeplessness negatively impacts both your physical and mental well-being.
Gut issues: Stress hormones wreak havoc on the body during times of grief. The gut is particularly susceptible to these hormonal disruptions. Gut-related issues include being constantly hungry, lacking an appetite, and nausea.
Over and under indulgence: overeating, refusing food, and engaging in substance abuse all impact the body physically. Your body needs enough nutrients to function optimally, so eating a poor diet or ingesting harmful substances has a negative impact on the body.
Ways to support others dealing with grief
For most people who do not have training in grief and bereavement, supporting someone who is grieving may feel daunting.
You don’t need to be an expert though, just someone who cares, with the help of a few simple tips:
- Be present, be vulnerable. Let them know if you are not certain what to say but that you care and are sorry for their loss.
- Be curious. Ask them what would best support them right now. Be prepared that they might not be sure what would be helpful. Make space for them to explore or consider what they need. Allow the grieving individual to share as much or as little as they want.
- Offer to take tasks off their plate. If they want it, offer to take care of daily or weekly tasks. Cook meals for them or take out the trash, for example. Work with the individual to figure out how you can best support in this way.
- Offer resources. Keep an eye on how the individual is coping with their grief. Be careful not to overstep boundaries or be invasive. But also have resources or tools on-hand should the individual need professional support.
- Take care of yourself. Think of what you need to maintain your own resilience and ability to be there to help someone else.
Why understanding grief is so important
The mental health implications of effective grief counseling and support are invaluable. No matter the type of grief an individual is grappling with, understanding the signs of grief can help individuals overcome it.
If the individual is open to help, you're equipped to do so – to a degree. You're also in a position to help them seek out a grief counselor, grief therapist, grief support group, or mental health professional if needed.
Remember, the grief process looks different for everyone. So be patient and open to both yourself and others during this trying time.
Better Up Premier Fellow Coach