A guest article from our newest team member, Addie Michlitsch, MA, LPCC, LADC:
One definition of grief describes it as “the normal process of reacting to a loss” (medicinenet.com). Many people think that you have to experience a death in order to grieve but that is just not the case. You can experience grief in response to any type of loss/change including:
- Break ups
- Job changes
- Quitting a bad habit/addiction
- Health challenges for yourself or others
- Life transitions
- Loss of a dream
It is helpful to recognize that grief is considered a NORMAL reaction. In order to be able to cope with a loss, regardless of the cause, grieving may need to take place. Sometimes changes are for the best but can still lead to a grief-response since they cause you to leave what is known and comfortable.
There are common stages of grieving. It is important to note that these stages are not necessarily linear, meaning you can go back and forth between stages or skip some altogether. Also, be mindful that grieving may look different for each individual and each situation.
1. Denial – being unwilling to accept that the loss/change has taken place. Denial can be overt (e.g. “no I can’t believe it’s true, I won’t believe it’s true”) or covert (e.g. stating that you have accepted the loss without acknowledging/dealing with the feelings associated with it).
2. Bargaining – can involve making deals with your Higher Power (e.g. “I will stop doing ____ if you just ____”). Or this can involve getting caught up in asking too many “what if” questions, trying to come up with ways that the scenario could have turned out differently.
3. Anger – can often include looking for someone/something to blame and can be a defense against experiencing the deep pain or sadness of the loss. Anger can sometimes be compounded by guilt associated with feeling angry.
4. Depression – this is the sadness and depression that accompanies a loss. It does not necessarily refer to clinical depression, though it could trigger it in some situations.
5. Acceptance – this is more than just admitting that a loss has occurred, it involves coming to a place of peace with what has happened.
It is important to remember that when you experience a loss to be kind to yourself. Grief reactions can show up immediately or may be delayed by a few days or a few weeks. Your behavior could be predictable (e.g. feelings of sadness or crying) or rather unpredictable (e.g. outbursts of anger, laughing at inappropriate times, crying over “small things”). It is important to ask for help when you need it, utilize supports that are available, and give yourself the time and space to feel whatever it is you are feeling. It is common to engage in self-destructive behaviors during this time which is why it is important to stay connected to others who can provide perspective and help out as needed.
This could also be a good time to seek therapy. A therapist can help you process the sometimes confusing emotions surrounding grief. Therapists can help keep you in touch with your long term goals, and reflect on any not so healthy or helpful responses to the transition that triggered the grief response in you.