Unresolved and Delayed Grief

Tess Thompson

There are different theories regarding the grief process. Most of them differ only in the terminology used and sometimes in the emotions that surface during the different stages of grief. Initially, we tend to deny the loss of a loved one for a short time. One can often see such a situation during funeral rites. A sense of guilt or anger usually follows. This can be directed towards nurses, doctors or others whom we feel could have saved our loved one. Sometimes it is directed at ourselves for not having done enough. A heavy pall of gloom hangs over our thoughts and feelings, often leading to depression. Over time, we start accepting the changed situation as irreversible and settle down.

The various phases of grief and what one can go through sound simple on paper. However, actually living through it can be nightmarish. Many people fail to move through different stages and get stuck in the denial, anger or depressive stage. Non-acceptance of the reality of loss means that the grief has not been resolved.

Unresolved grief is a mostly a consequence of denial of the loss. Nobody likes to experience pain, and denial actually acts like a painkiller – the pain is still there, but you do not feel it. Denial of a loss is an unconscious psychological response against the pain caused by grief. However, unresolved grief prevents the healing process and has serious consequences. Unresolved grief eventually turns into delayed grief, the effects of which can surface years later as inappropriate reactions/behavior. Most of the time, we ourselves do not realize the reasons for such bizarre reactions and are unable to relate them to the loss we experienced some time ago.

The absence of mourning and the symptoms associated with it are warning signs of unresolved grief. Mourning rituals are in fact meant for emotional healing. Mourning rituals are effective ways of completing the emotional relationship with the deceased. These, well done, help in focusing on the future after the mourning is complete. Although mourning processes have been in place for ages, they have been termed as psychoanalytic treatment of grief. Mourning rituals allow concentration of emotional energy on an object or person. While facing what has transpired, you move some of those emotional values to others and your own self. As you return to your previous self, you are better placed to use the past for a better tomorrow.

It is extremely important to vent your emotions. Some people carry an impression that they must be strong and always in control, and therefore suppress their feelings and do not allow themselves to grieve the loss of a loved one. These people are the ones that get hit the hardest in the long run. There is an old oriental proverb that "strong trees fall hard". Grief is actually a sign of strength, not weakness. If your emotions are not released through words, tears and apprehensions, they are bound to find other ways for release. That can prove to be very detrimental to your emotional wellness and physical health.

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