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The Full Story

Complex Grief & Loss

Grief | Loss | Complex Grief | Online | London

Grief is a natural and at times, complex response to loss. The process of grief can be difficult, painful and is different for everyone. Grief can be experienced from several different kinds of loss such as; the death of a loved one, a divorce or relationship breakup, a significant change of situation, loss of job, loss of status, death of a pet, loss of a friendship, miscarriage, house move, serious illness or retirement. 


People cope with grief and loss in a variety of ways and the impact can depend on individual beliefs, experience as well as the intensity, significance and situation surrounding the loss. When loss is sudden or shocking it can be traumatic and often further complicates the grieving process. 


Kübler-Ross (1969) propsed five stages of grief in her book “On Death & Dying”. These stages have since been understood as a common process in experiencing grief, loss and adapting to change. The 5 stages are:


Denial - The first response to loss or death is often shock and denial of the reality of the situation. It can take time for the shock to subside and to start to recognise the reality of the situation. Denial at this stage is a perfectly normal reaction and serves as a useful psychological and emotional buffer to what has happened, whilst we naturally begin to adapt to the change or loss. The grief process takes time.


Anger - As the reality begins to be realised, we often enter into a phase of feeling intense anger, resentment and hurt for the loss. We can feel anger towards loved ones, ourselves or even complete strangers or perhaps services or situations involved in the particular loss. This can be a particularly confusing, difficult and painful stage.


Bargaining - Another normal reaction to grief and loss is a process of bargaining. This is when we bargain with God, a higher power, ourselves or other figures. This part of the process describes a stage of helplessness and vulnerability where we consider “what ifs…” and “if onlys…” For example, “what if I could have done…”, “If only we had seen the doctor sooner”, “If only I had been nicer to them…” This stage can be complicated by feeling of remorse and guilt.


Depression - As the impact of the loss continues to be realised a deep sense of sadness and depression is experienced. This is a significant part of the process of grief and takes a very personal meaning to each individual. 


Acceptance - With time, support and compassion, a stage of acceptance can be reached around the loss or grief. This stage is often deeply reflective and life-changing for some. For some, this can highlight profound insight and personal change, life-meaning, growth, an altered perspective, acceptance and peace.


These stages are not always linear and in reality, many people will experience grief and loss as an emotional roller-coaster, some good days, some tough days, and shifting between different stages. In time and with the right support the process can continue in order to be able to fully come to terms with loss and process the grief. Some people experience greater difficulty in processing loss and this is referred to as complex grief. Complex grief can be trauma-related and specialist help may be needed in such cases.

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