16 Different Types of Grief People Experience

Published on: 23 Sep 2021
Clinically Reviewed by Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD
eldery woman looking out of window

Grief is a very common, yet largely misunderstood, aspect of life. At one time or another, we all must go through the grieving process. But there are many forms and types of grief, and understanding the differences is key to being able to move through the grief process in a healthy way. Acknowledging your grief is often the healthiest way you can come out on the other side. Choosing not to deal with grief can have a long-term, lasting, negative impact on your life. 

So, what are the different types of grief? Read on to learn more and to see how you can get help with grief counseling if you’re experiencing any of the following forms of grief.

1. Normal Grief

Grief in and of itself is normal. Any time you suffer a loss, it’s the most normal thing in the world to have feelings of grief. There is a huge range of emotions that you may experience during your grieving process. Some of these can be physical, while others may be behavioral, emotional, or social.  

Examples of physical reactions to grief: 

  • An actual tightness in your chest
  • Feeling weak
  • Lack of energy
  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Restlessness 
  • Tearfulness
  • And many more

Examples of behavioral reactions to grief: 

  • Forgetfulness
  • Confusion 
  • Dreaming of the person you’ve lost
  • Absent-mindedness

Examples of emotional reactions to grief: 

  • Anger
  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Numbness
  • Loneliness
  • Relief
  • Apathy
  • Irritability
  • Misplaced anger

Examples of social reactions to grief:

  • Being unusually dependent on other people
  • Withdrawing from friends
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Avoiding family
  • Avoiding colleagues
  • Avoiding friends
  • Increased substance abuse
  • Neglecting yourself but caring for others

Grief can feel like such a difficult topic because of the weight of the pain. It is important to remember that all living beings will, at some point, experience the hurt that goes along with the normal grief process.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT

2. Anticipatory Grief

Anticipatory grief or anticipatory mourning can be common if you’re expecting the loss of someone close to you in the near future. To prepare for the impending loss, you might begin trying to envision life without them. It can be especially common in cases when someone you care for is facing a terminal illness. 

During anticipatory grief, you might try to anticipate how you’ll be reacting and mourning once your friend or loved ones passes away. You might feel loss or even incredible fear or emotion for the dying person. 

There are some positive sides to anticipatory grief, though. Many people feel like they were able to take the time they needed to say goodbye or to have tough conversations about forgiveness. Even just having the time and space to say “I love you” can be healthy. All of this can help in preparing for when you do begin the grieving process after you experienced a physical loss.

3. Complicated Grief

Complicated grief occurs when your grieving process does not move all the way through the steps of grief. It can be prolonged and much more intense, and it’ll typically have a significant impact on your ability to function. You might feel more depressed and have increased anxiety. With complicated grief, your reactions and behavior will likely extend for very long time periods, with little to no improvement.

Complicated grief typically requires help from a mental health professional. Someone experienced with complicated grief can be beneficial, as complicated grief is one of the more difficult types of grief. It’s very important to understand that complicated grief will not resolve on its own.

4. Chronic Grief

Chronic grief results when extremely intense reactions to loss do not subside. These emotions will last for a very long time and cause you to have incredible distress that continues to intensify. You’ll have difficulty making much, if any, progress in moving through your grief so you can heal.

5. Delayed Grief

Delayed grief can happen if you’re experiencing incredibly stark feelings of sorrow and longing even if the loved one’s death occurred a very long time ago. It can be felt for years after a loss, and it essentially means that your emotional reaction didn’t happen when it should have. This might be due to disassociation, which is common when things are too painful for you to feel. To cope, your mind blocks many of the thoughts, emotions, and feelings associated with the loss until you’re ready to process and deal with them.

6. Distorted Grief

Distorted grief can be defined as a very intense or extreme reaction to a loss. There typically will be a noticeable change in behavior overall, and self-destructive behavior is also common. Anger and lashing out, both towards yourself and others, is one of the most common emotional symptoms of distorted grief.

7. Cumulative Grief

Cumulative grief happens when you experience a second loss shortly after (or while you’re still processing grief from) a first loss. Also known as grief overload or bereavement overload, this can be one of the more difficult forms of grief to recover from. Compounding loss can result in a feeling of “I just can’t do this anymore.” But with the right therapy and guidance, you can move through all types of grief, including cumulative.

8. Exaggerated Grief

Exaggerated grief includes more intense types of reactions than what you’d typically see in any other type of grief. When it’s exaggerated, your emotions and actions may become more noticeable and disruptive. You might experience self-destructive behavior, nightmares, thoughts of suicide or self-harm, drug or other substance abuse, or even abnormal fears. Additionally, sometimes exaggerated grief can result in the development of a psychiatric disorder.

9. Secondary Loss

Secondary loss grief can occur when a loss affects several areas of your life. The end result can be that you actually experience a number of losses, all stemming from the original loss you experienced.

10. Masked Grief

Masked grief can present as physical symptoms or behaviors that tend to impair or hinder normal functioning in life. However, most often, you won’t be able to recognize these things as being the result of a loss or even see that they’re related to it in any way.

11. Disenfranchised Grief (Ambiguous)

Grief can be disenfranchised whenever you feel that your loss isn’t validated by others. This can happen when a culture or society doesn’t recognize your loss. For example, there can be a strong stigma attached to death that results from an overdose or suicide, and your feelings of grief may be discounted. 

Alternatively, perhaps the death was someone others think you shouldn’t or wouldn’t grieve for, say of a former spouse or a gang member, or even a same-sex partner. Any time a loss isn’t recognized, or you don’t feel seen or heard in how you’re feeling and grieving, the result may be disenfranchised grief. 

Note that disenfranchised grief can also occur in cases when a loss isn’t due to actual death, but rather the result of a traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, or a mental health condition that alters a relationship significantly.

12. Traumatic Grief

Traumatic grief is a common result of trying to process grief when there’s added trauma that comes from a horrifying, unexpected loss or violent death. It can result in an impairment of your daily functioning in life.

Traumatic grief is often accompanied by survivor’s guilt and moral injury. It is important to seek out the help of a trained therapist if you are experiencing grief as a result of a traumatic incident.”

Talkspace therapist Ashley Ertel, LCSW, BCD, C-DBT

13. Collective Grief

Collective grief happens when a tragedy affects an entire community or large group. It’s common during times of war and after major natural disasters that can have long-lasting impacts. Other times we see collective grief can be after the death of a beloved public figure or a terrorist attack, after a mass casualty, or when a national tragedy occurs. 

14. Inhibited Grief

Inhibited grief means you aren’t showing any obvious or outward forms of grief. This typically happens for a long period and results in not being able to effectively move through the stages of grief. You’ll likely eventually have physical reactions due to not dealing with your emotions if you’re experiencing inhibited grief.  

15. Abbreviated Grief

Abbreviated grief can occur when the person who passes away is replaced after a short time with someone or something new in your life. Generally, this might be the result of being able to quickly accept the original loss. Or, it can be due to the fact that there wasn’t a strong connection or attachment to the person lost. 

16. Absent Grief

Absent grief means you aren’t showing any of the typical signs of grief. Perhaps you’re acting as though you haven’t experienced a loss at all. It can happen due to complete shock or total denial, and it’s seen a lot in cases where a loss is sudden or unexpected. While absent grief can be normal,  it should be addressed if it continues for an extended period of time.

How to Get Help for Grief

Now that you know more about the different types of grief, if you feel that you’re experiencing something you need help with, it’s important to recognize that these feelings are normal. You can seek help for your grief through therapy, by joining a grief support group, or by looking online for other resources. 

Online therapy can be extremely helpful in overcoming grief. You can learn grief therapy techniques and identify any behaviors or thought patterns that are keeping you from moving through your grief in a healthy manner. With the right help, you can learn how to manage grief, recover from it, and be able to move on.

Sources:

1. THE GRIEF EXPERIENCE Types of Grief and Loss. National Hospice Foundation. https://www.nhpco.org/about-nhpco/patients-and-caregivers/the-grief-experience/types-of-grief-and-loss/. Accessed August 28, 2021.

2. Us C, Now D. Characteristics of “Normal” Grief. Sfsuicide.org. https://www.sfsuicide.org/prevention-strategies/dealing-with-grief/characteristics-of-normal-grief/. Accessed August 28, 2021.

3. Speaking Grief | Understanding Grief: Types of grief. Speakinggrief.org. https://speakinggrief.org/get-better-at-grief/understanding-grief/types-of-grief/ Published 2021. Accessed August 27, 2021.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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