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The Differences Between Grief and Complex Grief Disorder

Complicated versus uncomplicated grief is a confusing statement to make.

This is because all grief seems complicated. If you have experienced any type of loss then you can agree that while all grief is hard, it can be manageable, depending on the coping abilities of the person experiencing the loss. Some people grieve in healthy ways while others use unhealthy methods to mourn a loss.

Defining grief, learning the difference between complex grief and uncomplicated grief, and finding healthy and creative ways to help you grieve are all important to living life after a loved one has died.

Learn more about Grief and Loss Treatment

What is Grief and Complex Grief Disorder

Grief is defined as the sorrow we feel after losing someone or something important to our lives.

Grief is such an individualized process. However, it involves stages that are common to most people. Stages include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The reason grief remains individualized is because it takes each and every one of us a different amount of time to work through these stages. Some people go through the stages quickly while others take years.

Defining complex grief or uncomplicated grief is well, complicated. However, the two have been broken down by research professionals to make understanding the two better for professionals and for those who are grieving.

Some people react to and deal with grief in what seems to be a very healthy manner.

They go through the grieving stages, get help when needed, surround themselves with positive supports, and do not isolate themselves from others or from the grieving process. This can be classified as uncomplicated grief.

Uncomplicated grief is different for each person and can be prolonged, with natural moments of intense grief compared to natural moments of happiness and moving forward. Uncomplicated grief is often referred to as normal grief. As long as the person grieving is still engaged in the many different areas of their lives, they can be considered to be grieving normally.

It is completely normal to feel shocked and cry a lot after a loss. It is also normal to feel like no one else understands you, to be angry because you were left here, or even feel guilty that you survived.

Depression can also occur normally after the loss or disappearance of something or someone important to you. Just because you don’t feel these emotions often, doesn’t mean they are not normal. Uncomplicated grief, despite all of the negative emotions you are feeling, allows you to feel hope, as if there is still a chance of happiness in your life once the grief eases.

It becomes abnormal or complex grief when you don’t have hope of brighter days or you don’t think you will ever find a moment of happiness in your future.

Complex Grief

Complicated grief has been associated with pain that does not subside as time goes by, pain that you feel will only go away if the deceased person could somehow miraculously return.

Recently, complicated grief is being more defined among professionals in the mental health field. Most of them agree that Complex grief lasts longer than six months and with the inability to move on, even if in small amounts, with living.

Complex grief takes the natural healing process of grieving and throws it all out of whack. It can make you feel stuck in your own grief, thinking life will never get any better. There is no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope, no happiness in your future. You think you could have done something to make the outcome different. You may have anger and depression that are all-consuming. You may even spend most of your time daydreaming about the one you lost or avoiding places that remind you of that person. For example, after losing your husband you refuse to enter the bedroom you two shared together for so many years.

Complicated grief can look a lot like depression but they are not the same. Depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder are often connected with Complex grief, however. For now, complicated grief is considered more of a syndrome rather than a diagnosis and can lead to serious interference in a person’s life and their ability to see a good life for themselves in the future.

Fortunately, complicated grief is receiving enough awareness that therapies specific to the syndrome are being created, including traumatic grief therapy.

Traumatic Grief Therapy

Traumatic grief therapy is also called complicated grief therapy and is relatively new in the area of treatment approaches.

One facet of traumatic grief therapy is prolonged exposure. This involves having the person relive or talk about over and over the loss of their loved one, exposing them to the trauma until they feel less threatened by it. This treatment also includes setting personal goals and working on personal relationships.

Interpersonal therapy, motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy, and positive psychology are the various treatments involved with traumatic grief therapy. Interpersonal therapy is based on attachment and communication theories in order to help people improve their abilities to form relationships and detach from behaviors that are unhealthy.

Motivational Interviewing is designed to help people realize they are capable of positive change and teaches them methods of achieving change. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on changing negative behaviors and thoughts into positive ones, which compliments positive psychology or teaching the client to focus on all of the positive aspects of their life.

Creative Grieving

While seeking help from mental health specialists is one of the best ways of dealing with grief, there are many other ways to enhance the treatment process.

Creative techniques can inject fun while also giving a sense of purpose to the healing process. Art therapy, memory bracelets, journal writing, memorial stones, song writing, video journals or blogs, and starting a foundation are just a few of the ways you can celebrate a person’s life while also working through your emotions regarding your loss. These, along with professional therapies, are a great way to get through the grieving process as natural as possible.

Make sure you learn and implement as many new skills as you can so that you can learn to live again, as your loved one would have wanted.

There are ways to make it through the grieving process.

While grieving will be hard, it does not have to be complicated.