After a Loss: “Am I Grieving Right?”
In life, we experience many types of losses. These losses can be small and, perhaps, less significant, such as when a favorite pen is misplaced, or they can be significant, such as the death of a loved one. Regardless of the size of the loss, we all have to find a way to cope with it.
There are many different ways to grieve, and everyone grieves in their own way. Some people prefer to talk about their loss, while others find talking too difficult. Some people prefer to internalize and contain their emotions, while others need to express them more openly.
There’s No Wrong Way to Grieve
Losing a loved one is one of the most difficult things a person can go through. It’s important to remember that there is no wrong way to grieve. Each person’s experience is unique, and there is no single path to healing after a loss. If you don’t feel like you’re coping with your loss in the way that you expected, don’t worry.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve – just what works best for you. In the same way as there is no right or wrong way to grieve, there is also no right or wrong style of grieving, as long as the style that is expressed is authentic to the person.
Why We Grieve the Way We Do
One’s style of grieving is often influenced by a variety of factors, including gender, cultural background, spiritual beliefs, age, relationship to the person lost or deceased, circumstances of the loss, and history of other losses or traumatic events. There are also internal and external pressures to grieve in a particular way that can contribute to added stress and a desire to grieve against what may feel natural or authentic.
Different Grieving Styles
There are a number of different adaptive grieving styles, each of which can be helpful in different circumstances. Kenneth Doka and Terry Martin presented research on adaptive grieving styles and coined the terms “Intuitive” and “Instrumental” grieving styles to reflect the cognitive/rational and affective/emotional elements to expressing grief.
Someone who might reflect an intuitive grieving style may openly express their feelings externally through their verbal and nonverabl cues, such as crying, soft or loud tone of voice, or low mood, may appear emotionally dysregulated and/or uncontained, may experience difficulties completing daily functions and activities due to the pain of the loss, or may feel overwhelmed by emotions following the loss.
For individuals who connect with an instrumental grieving style, it would feel more authentic to manage thoughts about grief internally, act from a pragmatic standpoint, and focus energy on problem solving and planning after the loss for specific circumstances, such as organizing the funeral, collecting belongings and making decisions about finances. Often these individuals will respond to loss more cognitively and physically than emotionally and may choose to grieve more privately.
For individuals who connect with a more intuitive grieving style, it would be important to find support to openly express these emotions, such as with a grief support group or mental health group counseling session, as well as to work on emotion regulation coping skills to manage the intensity of these emotions.
For individuals who connect with an instrumental grieving style, it would be important to engage in activities to help with the grieving process and experience a sense of usefulness and empowerment to make decisions and contribute in some fashion. It is important to understand that each of these styles are on a spectrum and each one of us has a different balance depending on the specific situation and type of loss. Not one style is more healthy or ideal than the other and it is important to recognize which style and at what intensity seems most appropriate for you in any given situation when experiencing a new loss or a culmination of losses.
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