5 Types of Grief Nobody Talks About
Grief is most commonly understood as a reaction to a death. However, death is just one of the many different types of losses that trigger grief. Here are five types of grief that people often experience that are not related to death:
1. Loss of Identity
This type of grief involves the loss of an important role or affiliation in life. Some examples of this include:
- Mourning the loss of the role of parent or caregiver when becoming an “empty nester” after children move out and become independent.
- Going through a divorce can elicit grief over the loss of the role or identity as a spouse.
- Grief surrounding the loss of professional role and identity can occur following job loss or retirement.
The loss of identity means grieving one’s sense of self. People derive much of their self-esteem and sense of purpose from their roles in life. Grieving involves finding other sources of purpose and meaning and integrating the loss into a new personal narrative.
2. Loss of Autonomy
This type of grief involves the loss of independence or agency in life. Some examples of this include:
- Dealing with chronic or degenerative illness or injury involves adjusting to a decline in functioning and the loss of one’s ability to manage life independently.
- A person who suffers a financial loss and is unable to support themselves or their families and must rely on others for help.
- An older person who is no longer able to care for themselves and live independently.
The loss of autonomy touches on themes of control and powerlessness. Grieving is focused on the loss of a sense of control or agency in life. This type of grief may be compounded by a corresponding loss of identity if being independent was an integral part of a person’s sense of self. In order to move forward from this type a grief, a person must reconceptualize who they are within their new limitations and regaining a sense of agency in life.
3. Loss of Hopes & Dreams
This type of grief involves coping with disappointment and unfulfilled expectations in life. Some examples of this include:
- A person who is unable to succeed in the career that they have planned for.
- A couple struggling with infertility when trying to have children.
- Going through a break-up with a person with whom you planned to build a life with.
- Political or economic changes, such as going through a recession or war, that negatively impact a person’s plans for the future.
Growing up, we all have a vision of what our life will look like and expectations for the future. When our reality falls short of our dreams and expectations, we can experience deep and profound feelings of sadness, depression and even anger. It is an incredibly disorienting and confusing experience, and grieving involves broadening our perspective on life and building a new vision of the future.
4. Loss of Safety & Security
This type of grief involves the loss of a sense of physical or emotional safety and security. Some examples of this include:
- Survivors of trauma who struggle to feel safe again and struggle with symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
- A person experiencing financial instability and economic uncertainty.
- A child dealing with the divorce of their parents and the dissolution of the family unit.
- A person living in a community where they are exposed to frequent violence.
- Experiencing cheating or betrayal in one’s relationship with their partner and struggling to feel emotionally secure in the relationship.
The loss of safety really touches on our base instincts for survival. In order to survive, we have to be able to anticipate and notice threats, and then act quickly in order to avoid danger. When we go through traumatic experiences, our brain goes into survival mode and we remain in a state of anxiety and hypervigilance in an effort to stay safe from that threat. Feelings of numbness are also a common response to trauma, especially in those with post-traumatic stress disorder. Grieving this type of loss involves processing the trauma and rebuilding a sense of safety and security in the world.
Relinquishment is a loss that people actively choose, generally in their own self-interest. Some examples of this are:
- A person struggling with addiction who makes the decision to quit smoking, drinking or using drugs.
- A person who makes a decision to break-up with a partner or end a friendship that has become toxic or unhealthy.
- A person who chooses to leave a group, such as a religion or a cultural or political affiliation.
Making the choice to let go of something that has become toxic or unhealthy is a positive step toward a better life. However, even “positive” losses can bring about feelings of grief. This is because people are biologically wired to develop attachments, and any time we sever an attachment, for better or worse, it is painful. This type of grief may be compounded by the individual’s ambivalence to leave something that they will also mourn, as well as not feeling entitled to their grief since it was a choice they made.
At its core, grief is the process that we must go through to accept and emotionally adjust to change. Change is constant in life, and the spectrum of grief ranges widely from coping with the pain of losing a loved one on one end, to dealing with mild disappointment of ruining one of your favorite shirts. Some losses can take days, months, or even years to grieve, while others may take only a few minutes. The severity of a loss is subjective and reflects an individual’s beliefs and values.
It is important that we as a society begin to broaden our understanding of grief in order to meet the emotional needs of the mourner effectively. An overly narrow definition of grief serves to invalidate the pain of those whose losses do not fit within those parameters. Using the word grief to describe our internal experience serves to legitimize our pain and concretize the process to ourselves and others.
Hidden grief can manifest in many ways including but not limited to depression, loss of interest in things you once enjoyed, isolation, anger and irritability, or increased use of substances. If you think that grief may be at the core of your symptoms or discomfort, psychotherapy can help support you through the grieving process. Take the first step toward healing and schedule a free 30-minute consultation today.