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Complicated Grief and When to Seek Professional Help

February 01, 20248 min read

Grief is a natural, emotional and universal response to bereavement and  loss of any kind. It's something that every person will experience at some point in their life yet we are not informed or equipped to handle it well. While normal grief is a part of the human experience with the expected range of grief reactions and other  normal grief symptoms, there are times when it becomes acute grief with prolonged and intense feelings. This is  more challenging to cope with. 

In this blog post, we will explore what complicated grief is, possible causes,  signs and symptoms, and recognizing when it's time to seek the help of a mental health professional.

complicated grief


What Is Complicated Grief? 

Complicated grief, is sometimes also given other labels such as “complicated grief disorder”, "prolonged grief disorder (PGD)", persistent complex bereavement disorder and can have a significant impact on your emotional and mental health. Ignored or suppressed, it can lead to mental illness and a mental disorder such as clinical depression. The bereaved person may be left feeling stuck and unable to move forward with their life.

Complicated grief is a condition characterised by an intense and prolonged period of mourning that significantly impacts your ability to function in daily life. While the grieving process is unique to each person, complicated grief goes beyond the usual feelings of sadness, longing, and sorrow.

Possible Causes of Complicated Grief

Many factors can contribute to developing this and getting stuck:

  1. The relationship to and significance of the loss: When the deceased person is a family member, the bereavement  will affect each person in the family differently. The predominant emotion  experienced will vary depending on the individual relationship with the deceased person. In my own family, some had bereavement therapy and it helped somewhat, others tried and managed to progress on their own , someone else turned to alcohol . Sadly we didn't realise that my sister needed complicated grief therapy and she ended up have a mental breakdown taking her life through suicide.

  2. Circumstances surrounding the loss:  Tragic circumstances which you think could have been prevented if you or someone else had done things differently or better or more of can become a downward spiral of guilt, regrets and anger with replaying the scene over and over. Blaming yourself or others can add to it becoming complicated grief.

  3. Your capacity to handle the grief: This can vary depending on how well you have processed and integrated grief experiences from previous losses. Grief is not only negative, it is cumulative. If you have low emotional resilience, a high load of unresolved grief and tragic circumstances to contend with then you are more likely to get stuck and experience complicated grief.

complicated grief

Key Features of Complicated Grief:

  1. Intense Longing: If you or someone you know has lost a loved one, or are dealing with any other kind of significant loss, and are experiencing  an overwhelming sense of longing and yearning for the person or thing that has been lost, this may be complicated grief. This yearning may persist for an extended period, making it difficult to move forward.

  2. Persistent Sadness: The deep sadness associated with grief doesn't subside over time in complicated grief. Instead, it continues affecting your overall emotional state until you get professional help to identify and then deal with the unresolved issues. If these aren't dealt with, various mental disorders can develop. Sadly after the death of my brother, my younger sister had a delayed grief reaction which lead to a mental breakdown, depression and then suicide.

  3. Preoccupation with the Deceased: Individuals with complicated grief may find themselves constantly thinking about the loss, making it challenging to focus on other aspects of life. You may find yourself preoccupied with a particular moment in the relationship where you wish things had been different, better or there had been more of something. For years, whenever I thought of my sister, I could only focus on the things that could have been different that may have prevented such a sad ending to a beautiful young life. For a very long time I felt overwhelmed by feelings of regret and guilt.

  4. Avoidance of Painful Emotions: Some people with complicated grief may avoid situations or reminders that trigger their grief, which can lead to isolation and further emotional distress. Feeling avoidance behaviours (FAB), can also become a distraction, giving short term relief but not dealing with the underlying issues that are causing pain.

  5. Impaired Daily Functioning: Complicated grief can interfere with your ability to carry out daily tasks, make plans and decisions, maintain relationships, and find joy in life.

 

When to Seek Professional Help

While grief is a normal part of life, it's important to recognize when your grief has become complicated and is impacting your overall well-being. In typical grief a person eventually comes to accept what has happened and starts to think about moving forward and re-engaging with life.

Seeking professional help can be a crucial step in coping with complicated grief. Here are some signs that it may be time to consult a grief specialist:

  1. Intense and Prolonged Grief: If your grief persists for an extended period, typically more than six months, and shows no signs of improvement, it may be complicated grief.

  2. Inability to Function: If your grief is interfering with your ability to perform daily tasks, get out of bed, maintain relationships, or go to work or school, professional help is essential.

  3. Isolation: If you find yourself withdrawing from friends and family or avoiding activities you once enjoyed due to your grief, it's a clear indicator that professional support is needed.

  4. Suicidal Thoughts or Self-Harm: Any thoughts of self-harm or suicide should be taken seriously and require immediate professional intervention.

  5. Substance Abuse: Turning to food, drugs, alcohol, pornography, binge watching series, excessive cleaning, exercise as a means of distracting yourself from the pain of grief is a concerning sign that you should seek help.

  6. Overwhelming Emotional Pain: If your grief is causing severe emotional distress, anxiety, depression, or panic attacks, it's time to reach out to a professional.

when to seek professional help

As a Grief Specialist: How I Can Help You

Having experienced multiple losses growing up and being stuck in my own grief journey for many years, I am now passionate about helping others to move forward and get their life back without spending years in grief counseling and grief therapy.

As a Grief Specialist, I can offer:

  1. Knowledge, Tools and Processes: Through a practical step by step programme, I can teach you the right knowledge, tools, and processes that you need to identify and deal with the unresolved grief that is holding you back.

  2. Emotional Support: I create a safe and compassionate space for you to be emotionally honest about your situation so you can take steps to heal your emotions. I can provide valuable support and guidance if you are struggling with intense grief combined with post traumatic stress disorder.

  3. Coping Strategies: I can teach you healthy coping mechanisms and strategies to manage the intense emotions associated with complicated grief.

  4. Normalisation of Grief: I can help you understand that your feelings are normal and part of the grieving process.

  5. Processing and Healing: I can guide you through the process of grieving, helping you come to terms with your loss and find a path to move from grief to gratitude and healing your hurting heart.

  6. Improved Functioning: With my professional help, you can regain your ability to function in daily life and find meaning and purpose again.

 

Complicated grief is a challenging and overwhelming experience, but you don't have to face it alone. Seeking professional help can make a significant difference in your ability to cope and eventually find a way forward. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and it's a crucial step towards healing and finding hope in the midst of handling complicated grief.

If you find that general support from family and friends or an informal grief support group are not enough to help you move forward, and you still feel stuck, reach out when you recognize the signs of complicated grief. Over the last 3 years since I trained a Grief Specialist, I have helped many people and  I am available to help you through this difficult journey.

I recently had a client who had been diagnosed with prolonged grief disorder and was receiving complicated grief treatment but was still struggling with grief symptoms and anxiety disorders. She was being prescribed medication and grief therapy, but these had not really helped. 

The educational programme that I deliver is very different to traditional grief counseling and other talking therapies, and she has been regaining her peace of mind and the psychiatrist has started to reduce the medication, even though she has not yet completed the full course.

You can download my free guide, 5 Key Steps to Handling Grief, which includes a link to some testimonials of what clients say about working with me. Click on this link: https://handling-grief.com/5keystepstohandlinggrief

5 key steps to handling grief

If you aren't sure whether you have complicated grief or not, you can book in for a FREE discovery call. The purpose of this is to understand your situation thoroughly and explore your options moving forward. Schedule a call here.

how well are you handling your grief



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Grief Specialist

Ghulam Fernandes

Grief Specialist

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