Saturday, October 29, 2011

Coping with Grief and Loss

     Inevitably all of us will experience losing a loved one or losing something very dear to us. Shock, anger, and guilt, emotions commonly experienced with loss, can be painful, difficult, and even surprising to some. While these feelings can be frightening and overwhelming, it is important to know they are normal reactions to loss. Grief is a natural response to having someone or something important taken away from us and grief is the emotional suffering one actually feels. Grief is most commonly associated with the death of a loved one but any loss can cause grief
such as:

-The break-up of a cherished relationship.

-Loss of health.

-Loss associated with aging.

-Loss of a friendship.

-Loss of a cherished and important personal dream.


     Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's groundbreaking book, "On Death and Dying", introduced what has become known as the "five stages of grief". Her book was based on her pioneer study of terminally ill patients' experiences facing their own death. The five stages are as follows:

-Denial: "It's not true."

-Anger: "Who or what is to blame for my loss."

-Bargaining: "Make this better and I will in return do___."

Depression: "I'm too sad to take care of myself and anything or anyone else."

Acceptance: "I am at peace with my loss and accept it as part of my life."

     While there is no prescribed right or wrong way to grieve and right or wrong way to move through the five stages of grief as defined by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, there are in fact healthier ways to cope with loss. Accepting your feelings and giving yourself permission to feel whatever it is you feel is pertinent to one's healing. For example, grief that is expressed and experienced has a potential for healing that can eventually strengthen and even enrich one's life. Emotions related to grieving that are repressed can cause one to get "stuck" in a stage of grieving and block one from healing and eventually accepting the loss. If feelings of grief and loss are repressed for long periods, grieving can get more severe over time rather than diminishing. When this happens grief may become what is termed "complicated grief" or major depression. With complicated grief one has trouble accepting the reality of the death or loss long after it has occurred and may even become so preoccupied with his loss that his grief significantly disrupts daily life and negatively impacts other relationships.


-Acknowledge your feelings.

-Express your sadness to a loved one and a friend you feel especially close to. If you prefer to keep your feelings to yourself write about them in a journal.

-Take care of your physical health. Feeling good physically helps with feeling better emotionally.

-Be compassionate with yourself. Try not to tell yourself how you think you should feel and resist allowing others to tell you how they think you should feel.

-Plan ahead for difficult times of the year that can cause surges in grief, such as special anniversaries, holidays, or birthdays. Prepare yourself emotionally for these events by talking about your feelings and concerns with a relative or friend who will be at the event.


     If you think you are experiencing complicated grief or clinical depression it is important to seek professional treatment right away. Untreated complicated grief can lead to severe feelings of depression and worthlessness, thoughts of suicide, an inability to perform normal daily activities, and feelings of disconnection from loved ones. Treatment can help with accepting the reality of the loss and has the potential to even enrich one's life.

This article was written by Paula Durlofsky, Ph.D., a practicing psychologist in Bryn Mawr, PA. Send comments or questions to drpauladurlofsky@gmail.com or call 484-431-8710. Please visit my web site at  www.drpauladurlofsky.com to learn more about me and my practice.