Complicated Grief

What is complicated grief?  What are the causes of complicated grief?

1.  Cumulative losses

The idea that “we all have a breaking point” is surely apparent when people have a double loss, such as losing a spouse and a child in close proximity. This double tragedy is catastrophic, taxing the powers of making sense of it and adapting to a totally altered life. If the spouse was a breadwinner, the grieving person may also experience financial losses and the need to live with diminished resources. Depression following multiple losses is a common occurrence.

2.  Phobias and fears

When a child dies in the family, the siblings have memories of the loss, but they also experience the parents’ grief and fears for their safety. Parents may become overprotective, afraid of every minor symptom that occurs in their healthy children. The result can be to sensitize the child about vulnerability to illness. We sometimes see this reaction in adults who have excessive fears and phobias of illness, appearing to stem from their parents’ response to the death of a child and their fears about illness of their remaining children.

3.  Earlier psychological problems

If you have experienced significant psychological problems in the past, you are vulnerable to more severe grief. If you had a problem with alcohol or drugs in the past, you should be alert to avoid using them as a crutch. If you have been seriously depressed, you are vulnerable to the return of depression. Recognizing your vulnerability is important so that you seek help early.

4.  Complicated feelings toward the person who died

At times, death comes to a person who had caused pain and anger to others. A son or daughter might never have resolved feelings toward a difficult father. A surviving spouse may have had a marital life that was a mix between affection and hostility. On the surface, it would appear that these circumstances should make grieving easier since there was less attachment. But it doesn’t work that way. Grief that is colored by mixed emotions is more difficult. It is hard, when someone is gone, to admit to the negative feelings and harder yet to express them without feeling guilty. Counseling may be needed to sort out the mix of feelings accompanying this grief.

Taken from “Patterns of Grieving”


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