Lianna Champ has over 40 years of experience in grief and bereavement counselling and is the author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ. Here she shares the signs of unresolved grief she sees in her treatment room, along with advice to help you heal...
Healthy grief is what we experience when we allow ourselves to feel the pain of our loss. We take time to identify and understand what we are feeling and, over time, come to accept what has happened. Even though we never lose the pain of missing that person, we are still able to continue with living and experience happiness.
As humans we live through our intellect, planning our actions and reactions. But grief is not an intellectual reaction, it is an emotional one. We can’t think ourselves through grief, we have to experience it. We need to climb into the rollercoaster and let go. It is OK to hurt, it is OK to lose our way.
Telling yourself that you are fine when you are not just buries the pain even deeper, as you try to ignore it and carry on as normal. You may even tell yourself you will be OK in two years time, as you have been told that is how long it takes to get over losing someone you love.
That just isn’t true. If you don’t do anything, you just get used to burying the pain and you build your life around it. You know it’s there and it will remain there, unresolved until you do something about it.
That is grief. We can no more control it than predict it. But it is much easier to bear your sadness if you aren’t also berating yourself for being sad. We live in a society that seeks easy and instant results to everything, so it is important that we learn the benefits and beauty of patience, effort and perseverance when we experience emotional trauma.
If we have been unable to grieve our losses, for whatever reason, we may suffer from unresolved grief. Unresolved grief is like trying to drive a car with the handbrake on – we will only be able to function at a certain level.
Grief that is withheld and not recognised can have a negative impact on us emotionally as well as physically. If we unconsciously delay the grieving process and withhold emotions, this can manifest itself in physical ways such as headaches, difficulty sleeping, ailments and stomach problems.
UNRESOLVED GRIEF: 6 COMMON SIGNS THAT YOU HAVEN'T GRIEVED PROPERLY
You don’t want to speak about or acknowledge the loss
Overactivity – you are either working too hard or spending too much time on a hobby to distract yourself
You have started to isolate and detach yourself from family and friends
You are indulging in bad habits – over or under eating; drinking too much alcohol; risky behaviour etc
You are sleeping more than usual
You are overreacting to a relatively small event
You avoid getting close to people and starting new relationships for fear of being hurt
If you don’t do anything to reconcile your losses, it doesn’t matter how much time passes, the pain still remains and will be as strong as ever. If you have been surprised by your reaction to a lesser loss, it may be a sign that you have unresolved grief from previous losses.
You may be left with a feeling of being out of control, burying your pain deeper and losing your voice in the process. So, it is valuable for our recovery to recognise if we have created negative coping mechanisms to block out our painful feelings.
Here are some tips to help with unresolved grief:
Talk about your loss with those you feel safe with. Remember if we can talk about our losses at the time they occur, it is more likely that we will have a support network around us and can work through our grief in a way that is right, natural and authentic for us.
Write down what you are feeling. Be honest with yourself. Sometimes we feel guilty if we missed an opportunity to say, or do, something and this can keep us stuck in a loop.
Remember that grief evolves. Not only do we grieve at the time of our losses, but also as we enter new stages and milestones in our lives. Accept that we will always have those moments of sadness and let that be OK.
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