There are cases where the coping skills a mourner is using to deal with his or her grief become destructive and unhealthy to the mourner and others around them. An unhealthy mourning style can be indicated when the observed mourning negatively affects for a duration of time such factors as:
- The mourner’s ability to function in everyday, necessary tasks at home, at work or in social settings
- The quality of the mourner’s lifestyle
- The mental and emotional wellbeing of the mourner
- The physical wellbeing of the mourner
- The stability and strength of important relationships in the mourner’s life
- The ability of the mourner to make continued progress in moving toward reconciliation of his or her grief.
Every grief is complicated in its own way. There are certain aspects of every grief that cause the individual mourner to struggle. Complicated grief generally refers to when mourners make no progress or become stuck in their grief.
There are two types of complicated grief generally speaking. The first type is when there are no observable signs of grief or progress being made. Often observers watching a mourner with this complicated grief would not even know this person had suffered a loss. Again, another factor in determining complicated grief is when the mourner appears to be making no progress in his or her grief. Sustained arrested grief progress indicates a mourner may need professional help and support. Do not rely upon assumptions reached by what you subjectively deem as unhealthy or abnormal mourning behavior from personal experience. Many times well-meaning comforters and caregivers around mourners can cause additional emotional trauma by mislabeling a mourner as abnormal, unhealthy or inappropriate.
Here is a good thought to keep in mind for friends and caregivers viewing mourning behavior that they find troubling. The determination or diagnosis of unhealthy or complicated grief should be left to professional caregivers and mental health professionals.
The second type of complicated grief involves the hyper-exaggeration of a natural grief response. This might be uncontrollable crying, wailing, and physical reactions displayed usually only during the initial period after a loved one’s death. The difference is in complicated grief this uncontrollable reaction often happens each time the mourner re-visits the loss.
Please remember there is no one way to mourn and heal. Each individual mourner will vary in what natural reactions in grief they personally experience. There is no one set of rules for how to navigate through grief in a healthy way. There are only suggestions based on the commonly held experiences and feelings of a majority of mourners.
Sustained difficulties in one or a combination of these areas can indicate that the mourner is in need of additional support or help. Professional help may be indicated depending upon the severity of the difficulties.
Written by Larry M. Barber, LPC-S, CT author of the grief survival guide “Love Never Dies: Embracing Grief with Hope and Promise” and the Spanish version “El Amor Nunca Muere: Aceptando el Dolor con Esperanza y Promesa” available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and http://grief-works.org/book.php . Also available for Kindle and Nook. Larry is the director of GriefWorks, a free grief support program for children and their families in Dallas TX http://grief-works.org.