Bereavement and loss
Bereavement is one of the most painful human experiences we can go through.
Losing someone we loved or cared for deeply can leave us feeling as if our life has been shattered and that nothing will ever be the same or will bring joy again.
Grieving, our reaction to death and loss, is a vital, yet often misunderstood, psychological, emotional, physical and social human process.
Grief often involves a broad spectrum of emotions including shock, numbness, fear, guilt, anger, sadness and despair.
Bereavement is also a physical experience, affecting the body, mind and spirit.
Sometimes, all kinds of losses from earlier in life can return following a recent loss. This can feel unsettling, yet it is also a completely natural part of how the heart acknowledges, remembers, and lives through periods of intense personal loss.
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Whilst a timetable of grief doesn’t exist, a feeling can sometimes emerge that the bereavement process is becoming stuck or blocked.
Numbness, anger and despair are common and natural feelings to have around loss.
But if you're noticing an unsettling absence of feeling or persistently overwhelming emotions which continue for a long time, it might be time to talk to someone.
It’s possible there may be some underlying tensions, conflicts, or emotional wounds which require attention before you’re able to proceed with the invaluable work of grieving.
Pathways Psychotherapy and Counselling provides skilled and open-hearted support for clients living through periods of bereavement and loss in Brighton, Hove and surrounding areas in Sussex. Online bereavement counselling is also available.
Differing views of grief and loss
Grieving varies greatly from person to person and according to cultural norms around death, dying and loss.
In certain Western countries, for example, there is a tradition of avoiding talking about death and dying perhaps because people worry about ‘tempting fate’ or appearing morbid. Death tends to be portrayed as something to be afraid of, fight, or run away from.
Certain Eastern cultures, by contrast, tend to conceptualise death as simply a part of life. It is viewed as something akin to a doorway, rather than a dead-end.
Research shows that people who live in so-called ‘death denying’ countries tend to experience more anxiety and distress around loss and death than those whose culture promotes more of a pragmatic or holistic view.
Various psychological models of grief have been proposed in a further attempt to describe this process.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' '‘Stages of Grief’ model proposes bereavement is a five-stage process involving a gradual progression through periods characterised by denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance.
Conversely, Margaret Stroebe and Hank Schut’s ‘Dual Process Model’ suggests we actually engage in two main coping strategies when we're grieving which both, in their own way, help us to find a balance between the reality of our loss and the restoration of some semblance of ‘normal’ life.
Loss-oriented coping strategies directly connect us to the death of our loved-one. These include yearning, crying, handing their possessions, and dwelling on their death.
Restoration-oriented strategies, by contrast, are driven by the need to eventually recover our life, despite our loss. These include things like exercise, work, and re-engaging with social relationships.
These two opposing forces might explain why we often feel like we''re on an emotional roller coaster of grief, sometimes reaching out, at other times unable to speak, think, or even feel.
Mourning and melancholia
Grief and depression
Signs of grief can be very similar to those of depression.
With grief, the sadness is usually directly connected to the loss or death, whereas with depression there are feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and despair.
If you’re prone to depression, a loss can trigger another episode although this is by no means a certainty.
If you’re suffering from depression following a bereavement or loss, you might benefit from counselling.
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The psychologist Kenneth Doka described disenfranchised grief as a loss that isn’t ‘socially sanctioned, openly acknowledged or publicly mourned’.
Disenfranchised grief is a terrible feeling because this indicates that a normal grieving process has become restricted or cut off.
This can happen when society stigmatises the mourner, the mourning, or even the death itself.
An example might be an adoptive child grieving the loss of her birth parents, even though she didn’t know them when they were alive.
Another could be the loss of a beloved pet which might prompt less sympathy from others than might the death of a human relative.
The ensuing sense of being ‘shut down’ by others in bereavement can cause real problems since if no one else accepts someone's loss, how can they?
Counselling provides a non-judgemental, empathic space where you can express and explore whatever it is you’re feeling.
No loss is too big or too small for therapy
Grieving on your own can prolong intense pain and any sense of disconnection from the world.
Getting adequate support is important in learning to live with grief and loss.
If you're looking for a bereavement counsellor in Brighton & Hove click here to start a conversation with me about your loss
In bereavement therapy, the focus is on helping you express and, if needs be, untangle some of your feelings about your loss. This might include your relationship with the person who has died and any other important aspects of your life at the moment.
Without any fear of censoring or judgement, your counsellor will welcome you as you are.
Tears, fears, anger, and silence have all got space in therapy.
Adjusting to the loss of a loved-one often involves developing different ideas about yourself, others, life and death, as well as an adjusted sense of your own identity.
All these parts of you and every aspect of your experience will be made welcome in therapy.
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