Will I Ever Stop Grieving?
Between a deadly global pandemic and a shockingly frequent barrage of gun violence, America has become a nation experiencing unprecedented grief. Individually, the loss of a loved one can cause deep detachment and depression. Mourning a loved one typically lasts 6-12 months, but about 10% of people who lose a family member or friend find the hold of grief seems impossible to release after a year or more. In 2022, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), added a new diagnosis: Prolonged Grief Disorder, to differentiate lasting grief from depression.
What Does Grief Feel Like?
From a distance, grief may look like any other kind of sadness or shock. But inside, mourning often feels empty and numb. You may experience muscle weakness or involuntary shaking, nausea or vomiting, chest pain or difficulty breathing, dry mouth, loss of appetite, and insomnia. These acute physical feelings tend to diminish with time, but the pain and sorrow from longing and loss are not so readily resolved.
Symptoms of Prolonged Grief
For decades, epidemiologist Holly G. Prigerson, PhD, Director of the Cornell Center for Research on End-of-Life Care pioneered studies of people living with complicated and prolonged grief, leading to its recent recognition as a distinct diagnosis. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) identifies key symptoms of prolonged grief disorder that may include:
- Identity disruption (such as feeling as though part of oneself has died).
- Marked sense of disbelief about the death.
- Avoidance of reminders that the person is dead.
- Intense emotional pain (such as anger, bitterness, sorrow) related to the death.
- Difficulty with reintegration (such as problems engaging with friends, pursuing interests, planning for the future).
- Emotional numbness (absence or marked reduction of emotional experience).
- Feeling that life is meaningless.
- Intense loneliness (feeling alone or detached from others).
There’s No “Right” Way to Grieve
Let yourself feel whatever feelings come up, without worrying about embarrassment or judgment. It may seem irrational to be angry or scared or relieved, but a lot of different emotions emerge while we’re coming to terms with death and loss. If you find yourself constantly reliving scenes from your loved one’s final moments, are consumed with intense sorrow, or feel certain you cannot move on, it may be time to seek help from a therapist. You can start by taking Prigerson's Grief Assessment, then print your results and bring them to your primary care provider or a counselor near you.
How Does Grief Counseling Help?
Grief counseling helps survivors adapt to the reality of life without their loved one. There is no complete “recovery” from grief, as if from an illness or injury. Feelings of loss can be life-long, but bereavement therapy can help us find ways to process our feelings, honor the memory of our loved one, and find community with people who can support us through this major life transition.
Grief counselors and bereavement therapists use a variety of techniques. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one approach counselors use to help you identify negative thought patterns that may be inhibiting your ability to adjust to life without your loved one. It’s been proven to be very effective for prolonged grief in individual psychotherapy and in group settings. Mindfulness techniques and psychotherapeutic yoga address physical and psychological symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia, discomfort, and difficulty concentrating. Spiritual counseling may also provide peace and healing.
No one else can tell you when you’ll feel ready to move on. But if you are wondering how long you will continue avoiding going to places that remind you of your loss, making excuses so you don’t have to see family or friends, experiencing guilt that just won’t go away, or being constantly overwhelmed from hiding your feelings, a counselor can help you develop progressive coping strategies that will help you process grief over time, at your own pace.
Don’t Let Others Define Your Grief
It can be painful to respond to outsiders who wonder why you aren’t behaving the way they think you should, either taking too little time to grieve or mourning for too long. Trying to be gracious to well-meaning friends and family members who offer platitudes and empty or intolerant advice is exhausting. We need space and time to heal, and we also need meaningful connections.
At Lifeologie Counseling Raleigh and Durham, our specially trained therapists provide grief counseling for both children and adults, using modalities from meditation to CBT to trauma recovery. Many offer telehealth visits, providing an option for days when getting dressed and driving in public feel too difficult to bear. We can also help you connect with grief support groups to meet others in a safe space who can empathize and understand your feelings of loss. You don’t have to go through it all alone.
Meet our counselors who specialize in treating loss and grief, contact Lifeologie Counseling Raleigh/Durham to request an appointment, or learn more about what our team is doing in the community on Facebook or Instagram.
About Elizabeth Grady
Elizabeth “Liz” Grady is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Clinical Supervisor (LCMHCS), a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC), a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP) and a Board Certified Tele-Mental Health (BC-TMH) Counselor. She earned her MA in Counseling and her PhD in Counselor Education from North Carolina State University. She has advanced training in Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). She specializes in stress management, school/employment, relationships, and past and present life experiences, including childhood maltreatment and trauma. She sees adolescents, adults, and families at Lifeologie Counseling Raleigh.Meet Me