If you are dealing with a major loss in your life, you need to understand the difference between simple grief and complicated grief. Why? Because 20% of people who grieve suffer from complicated grief – and complicated grief ruins people's lives.
If you are suffering from complicated grief, everything you read about in grief books and hear about in grief forums isn't going to help you get better. I know – both from my own personal experience and the experience of my clients.
So let's talk about the key differences between simple grief and complicated grief.
First and most important, if you are dealing with simple grief from a significant loss, you can expect to go through a grieving period of six months to two years, gradually healing and integrating your loss into the fabric of your life.
But if you're suffering from complicated grief, you're not going to heal at all. People suffering from complicated grief stay stuck, and are mentally and emotionally debilitated by their loss for years – and even for the rest of their lives.
If you're experiencing simple grief, you are grieving a current loss. It might have been a death. It might have been a divorce. It might have been some other major life loss. But whatever it was, it is something that just happened to you in the recent past.
But if you're suffering from complicated grief, your current loss might be triggering grief from unresolved past losses as well. Grief from unresolved past losses is one of the main causes of complicated grief.
In simple grief, the predominant negative emotion is sadness. Of course it is natural to feel deep and even overwhelming sadness when you have a significant loss in your life. And it is important to experience that sadness fully in order to complete the recovery process.
But with complicated grief, other overwhelming negative emotions often are present as well. These negative emotions are another major cause of complicated grief.
- You might be angry at someone who you consider responsible for the death of your loved one. You might actually be angry at your loved one for leaving you. You might be angry at yourself.
- Or, your loss might be flooding you with crippling anxiety or fear.
- Your grief might be laced with debilitating feelings of guilt or shame. You might be haunted by thoughts that you didn't do enough, or say enough, or fulfill your responsibilities in one way or another to the person you have lost.
- And it's important to recognize that these negative feelings could be triggered in you, not just from the present loss, but from whatever unresolved losses you have from the past.
If you're experiencing simple grief, your path to recovery will resemble the "Five Stages of Grief" model defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. (Some people use a seven stage model instead, but that's just a technical detail.)
The point is that you will gradually ascend through various stages of grief, ultimately finding a new dawn as you emerge from the darkness of the grief experience.
But if you're experiencing complicated grief, the "stages" model doesn't fit your experience at all. You're not going to experience a gradual ascent through various stages. Instead, you will experience being stuck in a personal hell that no one else can truly understand.
If you're experiencing simple grief, you will be able to find the support you need from your family, friends and community. You may attend a support group specifically geared for your kind of loss, and you will find comfort and wisdom there. You may even see a counselor. But with friendship, love and support, healing will come naturally over time.
On the other hand, if you're suffering from complicated grief, the support that is typically available simply won't be enough to help you recover.
That's one of the most terrifying things about complicated grief: It will seem that no one is able to help, whether loved ones, or friends or even professionals.
When you read the testimonials of my clients, you'll hear that over and over again – and that was certainly my own experience as well, after working with two professionals and attending many support group meetings.
If you're experiencing simple grief, even in your darkest moments you're still going to feel like yourself. You're going to feel like the person you've known yourself to be before your loss, even as you move through the stages of grieving your loss.
But with complicated grief, people experience a terrifying loss of self. I experienced this myself, and I can't tell you how many times my clients have spoken about this as well, saying “I don't feel like myself anymore”, or “I don't know who I am anymore”.
This loss of the adult self is really one of the most significant markers of complicated grief, and one of the reasons that recovery methods that work for simple grief don't work for people suffering from complicated grief.
If you can't find your adult self, and you don't know who you are anymore, the basic tools of simple grief recovery aren't going to work for you.
But there's hope! I found a way to recover from complicated grief, and I have applied what I learned with my clients, who have also successfully recovered. You might want to read their TESTIMONIALS right now, or first visit the section on HOW TO RECOVER.