Grief & Loss
Don't Grieve Alone
Support for Grief
Grief and loss, particularly when sudden, are among the most difficult and painful experiences that anyone can face. They can trigger a range of emotions, such as shock, anger, sadness, guilt, and fear. They can also affect one’s physical health, spiritual outlook, mental well-being, and social functioning.
Grief and Stress
Most individuals seek support because of the overwhelm or other responses that we recognize as stress responses as the body seeks to cope as well as adjust to a new reality without the loss.
It’s become a bit of a cliche, but there is no one right way to grieve. Mourning, (the way in which we grieve), is demonstrated differently by gender, culture and religion. It also depends on one’s capacity and resilience. Everyone’s journey is unique.
There are a number of interventions that therapists might use to support those who are struggling with grief and sudden loss. The interesting question is how support might help if grieving is natural? Various interventions can provide support, guidance, and healing for those who need it.
Attachment and Grief
An attachment focused approach to grief looks at the our early attachment relationships and how they factor into the way in which we manage emotions. According to attachment theory, there are four main types of attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant, and anxious-avoidant (referred to as “disorganized” when discussing childhood attachment).
Our Defensive Strategies to Avoid Pain Are Wired In
Therapy Teaches You How to Confront Thoughts & Feelings
Sometimes we cannot come to terms with our grief or attachment to a lost loved one because of a narrative that omits or distorts the reality of our relationship with an attachment figure. Distortion is a way of dealing with painful anxiety.
It is not uncommon for stress that often accompanies loss plunges us into the depths of unresolved hurts and unprocessed wounds.
Attachment-focused therapy helps us make new meanings out of painful loss to create a more reality and compassion-based narrative of our relationships.
Your therapist can support emotional processing creating change in the way we think through sustained and intentional interaction that often mimics that of an attuned and present caregiver in childhood.
Therapy Helps you Become Curious About Your Distress
Much of our suffering stems from the contortions we go through to avoid feeling distress. Therapy helps us experience our uncomfortable emotions in a safer context based on a secure relationship with your therapist.
Supportive Interventions for Grief
Part of the grief process is to find words to express one’s loss in an environment of safety. We are not all equipped to do so. Feeling heard is a fundamental aspect of the human condition. Some of the interventions for grief and sudden loss are:
- Professional help: Seeking professional help from a bereavement therapist who specializes in grief, attachment and trauma can be very beneficial for people who are experiencing intense or prolonged grief, or who have symptoms of depression, anxiety, or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). Therapy can help one understand the grief process, cope with emotions, and find meaning and purpose in loss. There are different types of therapy that can be effective for grief and sudden loss, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), and interpersonal therapy (IPT). The type of therapy that is best suited for each person may depend on their individual needs, preferences, and goals.
- Support groups: Joining a support group for people who have experienced a similar loss can provide a sense of safety, normalization, and validation regarding the loss and life changes associated with the loss of a loved one. A great place to start the process of finding a local support group is to talk to one’s primary care physician or mental health provider. They tend to keep these kind of referrals on hand.
- Self-care: Sometimes grief can be so daunting, self-care is the last thing one might think of. Taking care of one’s physical, mental, and emotional needs is essential for coping with grief and sudden loss. It need not be time consuming and can be as simple as remembering to drink and eat, step outside for fresh air or writing a gratitude journal. Self-care also involves finding healthy ways to express one’s grief, such as writing, talking or finding activities that bring joy, comfort, and relaxation.
Grief is a natural response to loss, but it can also be complex and challenging.
For example, people who have experienced multiple losses or traumatic events may have more intense or prolonged grief and develop what is termed complicated grief. This is grief that is persistent and debilitating to a degree that it interferes with daily functioning.
People who have experienced positive and secure relationships may have more resilience and resources to cope with grief, while people who have experienced negative or insecure relationships may have more difficulty trusting others and finding meaning in life.
Different types of grief experience can affect one’s comfort asking for help or expectation of what they might need to feel better whether that’s support or being left alone.
On another level, both temperament and experience can factor into one’s ability to process information and integrate new experience.
Death is Not The End?
While it used to be the case that interventions presumed people had to go through certain stages to “properly” grieve, this is no longer automatically presumed. There’s been a shift to acknowledge that many will maintain a continuing bond. Grieving is dynamic as healthy individuals shift between loss and restoration.
One of the ways to understand how people cope with grief is to use the dual process model, which was developed by researchers Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut. Their research rose in criticism to traditional models that proposed “grief work” as inevitable for loss and which lacked empirical evidence and validation across cultures and historical periods without much emphasis on health outcomes.
The dual process model suggests that people who are grieving switch back and forth between two types of coping processes: loss orientation and restoration orientation. What’s intriguing about their approach is that they suggest that sometimes distracting yourself from your grief is a natural way of coping with it. In this model, loss orientation refers to the emotional aspects of grief, such as sadness, anger, guilt, and longing for the person who died. Restoration orientation focuses on the practical aspects of life after loss that relate to everyday routines and activities that distract from grief. It’s been suggested that the back and forth model, also referred to as “oscillation,” might be more reflective of how men typically grieve (from a stereotypical point of view) and may be more helpful for those who find distraction soothing and do not want to confront emotions associated with loss directly.