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How We Experience Grief

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From the Center for Grief Recovery

Grief is the natural healing process that occurs after a significant loss. It is experienced uniquely by each of us, often in waves, with emotional, cognitive, physical and social responses varying in terms of the intensity, duration, and order of our reactions to the loss. There are many components of a loss, and many variables that can affect your grief reaction.

Emotional components of loss can include:

•Shock, numbness, feeling of unreality
•Anger, irritability
•Emptiness, loneliness
•Carelessness, harming oneself or others in any way
•Outbursts, euphoria

Cognitive components of loss can include:

•Slowed and/or disorganized thinking
•Confusion, aimlessness, difficulty concentrating
•Preoccupation, rumination
•Unaffected, no thoughts at all about the person or the circumstances
•Decreased self-esteem
•Altered perceptions, sensing the presence of the deceased person

Physical components of loss can include:

•Fatigue, sleep disturbance
•Decreased or increased appetite
•Physical distress, nausea
•Anxiety, hypo- or hyperactivity
•Greater susceptibility to illness

Social components of loss can include:

•Being unaware of others' needs
•Withdrawing from or avoiding others
•Decreased work productivity
•Loss of interest in usual pleasures, including hobbies and/or relationships
•Strained relationships, differences in grieving needs between self and others

Variables that can affect your grief reaction:

•Your own history of past losses, through deaths, divorce, relocation, lost dreams, phase of life changes
•Violations of one's safety (accidents, fire, personal trauma, world crises), or health changes
•Your current personal and situational stressors
•Your personal beliefs in a faith tradition or spiritual practice
•Your cultural and family expectations about loss
•If the loss is anticipated or unanticipated
•If the loss is marked by traumatic events
•The degree to which closure with the person was possible
•A "loss out of season," for the person who has died or for you
•Your ability to share the loss with others
•Your coping style and use of stress management resources
•Working through past hurts and forgiveness issues
•Finding a way to make meaning of the loss

As you can see, grieving is a multifaceted, individualized process for which there is no definitive timetable. As you grieve, you may wish to share your personal journey with family, friends and work colleagues. Professional and community organizations can offer helpful support, as can online resources like this website.

The Center for Grief Recovery is a full service, non-profit nationwide Counseling Center helping persons who are dealing with emotionally intense experiences such as Grief, Loss, Trauma, Depression or Abuse. You can learn more at

Image via Flickr Creative Commons / sara biljana

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